US golf clubs are ’embracing fun’ in order to attract more members

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 25, 2021 09:59

American golf clubs are using the pandemic to embrace changes to their venues in order to attract more people to join them, according to a report.

The New York Times states that venues like the PGA National in Florida have embarked on the changes in order to safeguard their futures.

‘PGA National used to have five courses that were stout tests of golf and attracted business golfers and vacationers, and it hosted tournaments for elite amateurs and professional golfers,’ it states.

‘One of its courses — designed by Tom Fazio, an architect who has worked on Augusta National — was sliced and diced into a family-friendly nine-holes and another venue just for match play — where winning and losing a hole matters more than the score.’

Covid-19 was the impetus for the change, said Jane Broderick, club manager and director of golf at PGA National, who has been there for 35 years.

“When you see this resurgence of golf, you think, how do we keep these golfers?” she said. “They may not be the die-hard golfer. What we’re trying to do with these courses is make them a social experience.”

Broderick said converting the Fazio course to two, more-relaxed courses was driven by the club’s new owner, Brookfield Asset Management, which bought the club in 2018. “We’re unbuttoning the top button of our golf shirt, and we’re relaxing the rules,” she said. “We want people to have fun.”

Firestone Country Club in Ohio, a private club that has hosted several PGA Tour events, has recently opened up to visitors.

“We always had three really good golf courses,” said Jay Walkinshaw, the club’s general manager. “As the club and the membership has evolved, we realised we had these 86 guest rooms on property and some excess capacity. That was when we started thinking about opening up Firestone.”

Opening it for some public play has brought in revenue without hurting member play, he added. “It’s a destination for golf enthusiasts, and now we’re accessible to them,” he said

Even Pinehurst, the host of four United States Opens in the next two decades, has changed. It has opened a nine-hole course, the Cradle, with music piped in.

“There’s this theme at Pinehurst of going back to our history and tweaking it for the modern era, and the Cradle is a great example,” said Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst. “Having music at the Cradle is lauded now, but it was a very difficult decision. It’s added to the relaxed atmosphere we wanted. It’s part of the charm now of playing the Cradle.”

Pebble Beach Golf Links in California this year converted an underused par three course into the Hay, a short course designed by Tiger Woods with lengths that commemorate historical moments at Pebble, including a replica of the course’s seventh hole, the short par three surrounded by water.

“One of the nice things is it’s challenging for the good golfer and still accessible for the new golfer,” said David Stivers, chief executive of the Pebble Beach Company. Its main course also now offers shorter sets of tees to attract more golfers.

And Sea Pines in South Carolina, which is open to the public, operates three courses. John Farrell, director of sports operations at Sea Pines, said his focus was not on adding new things but on speeding up rounds, which can be slow at sought-after courses.

“Our focus has been to take care of the core values of the golf experience,” he said. “If you do that, everything else takes care of itself. We check the pace of play every single day.”

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 25, 2021 09:59
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1 Comment

  1. Saunders September 27, 11:55

    – imagine waiting this long to think “fun” might be important!

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