Flipping through an old edition of Compleat Golfer I came across an article on Ballybunion Golf Club in Ireland, the favourite course of Tom Watson and a revered links, writes Mike Taylor.
The quality of the track, an ‘A-grade’ venue as our senior copy editor would put it, is what makes the round so special. The same could be said for South African venues such as Leopard Creek, The Links at Fancourt, Pinnacle Point and several others.
Most golfers don’t get to play those courses often, because they’re expensive and remote. The dedication and investment to get there is part of what distinguishes the experience (See also impossible holes).
Regular golfers play regular courses, those bread-and-butter weekend rounds.
A year ago I sat around the braai with Alan McDonald, a member of Rondebosch Golf Club’s strategic task force, which aimed to improve membership. We chatted about nine-hole golf, dress codes, tradition, and young players. Basically, we rehashed the ‘focus points’ that clubs are trying to address.
Long gone are the days of jam-packed Sunday carvery, even drinks at the 19th hole are shorter by a round or two. Things have changed.
I recently played at Stellenbosch Golf Club, where (I reckon) they tick a few of the right boxes.
My first experience there was three years ago with Dirk Cloete, the former Western Cape Director of Golf. The moment we left our vehicle he began talking up the pizza and view we’d enjoy after the round. Here’s a guy who lives and breathes golf with his mind on the food and atmosphere.
It spoke volumes for how the club is perceived.
When I returned last week with new colleagues I told them it was a course where you can post a ‘personal best’. It’s wide open and simple, easy to enjoy.
We lost a ball each on the day, eight less than my previous weekend at Erinvale Golf Club, and had a really fun time. Stress-free golf is pretty rare when you play off 18, like myself.
We started on the 10th and had a quick chat with the guys playing ahead of us, who were some large characters enjoying a day out.
One of them made a hole-in-one on the par-three ninth (our 18th) which we learned about when he received a laminated certificate at the bar. His 11 amigos looked on in admiration and a round of drinks was poured.
Stellenbosch curates good sentiment, from staff to players. Even the starter came over to chat before our round. The welcoming atmosphere added genuine enjoyment, over and above the golf.
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and in golf membership it has to be the clicky nature of things.
A column appeared in the March edition of Compleat Golfer discussing the contribution of hackers to golf clubs. They’re the ones constantly buying balls, hiring pull carts and forking out for bar rounds due to freshies.
Golf can be embarrassing if you’re not a great player. Few things are more daunting than a tee shot where your playing partner quips ‘Don’t worry, nobody is watching!’
Everybody is watching and we know it. We just want to feel like it’s okay to miss a shot or six, that we’re on equal terms with the guys striping it, and that we can all have a beverage together afterwards. Make it about the day out, not the scorecard.
If you get that right, you’ll find it much easier to keep new guys coming back.