Designing For Increased Revenue

Tech Opinion: Golf Course Design for Increased Revenue.

Part 1

In today’s climate, we all understand that building golf courses is less about the golf and more about the profits from surrounding resort facilities and real estate. This is especially true as we’re seeing an incredible recovery of many countries real estate market. However, this definitely does not entitle us to forget about the golf course entirely. In the majority of situations, if the developer chooses to retain the asset of the golf course, it should be designed in such a way that maintenance is reduced, speed of play is retained and revenue is maximised. All of this is so fundamental to the way a course operates but must be kept in line with the end users experience to fully utilise the golf course as the marketing point is was intended to be.

There are many ways in which a designer can increase the revenue of the course by speeding up play and maximising revenue opportunities. However, there is also a balance to be struck between being technically interesting for the tournament golfer, looking challenging and being enjoyable to play for the weaker players. Finding this balance is key to creating a golf course which has maximum pleasure for the players leaving a desire to play again, recommend it to fellow golfers (the best source of a reputation) and a course which generates the maximum revenue for the developer.

This is a big topic, far too big to cover in one blog post so let’s start by considering speed of play first.

Speed of Play – General

Obviously, the less time spent on the course, the more players on the course during the day. For many golfers a round at a busy course can take 5-5.5 hours and slow play is now a major issue to the number of people giving up the sport. Whilst resort golfers tend to be a little more relaxed, it is a mistake to create a course which does not allow a reasonable round time. This deters golfers from returning. There are examples which disprove this philosophy but such situations are often unique and rely on attracting the more masochistic element!

When designing for a fast game, the designer must consider the rhythm of the course. A par 5 first hole will get golfers out onto the course and away from the tee as quick as possible, whereas par 3’s will slow the speed of play. On a basic level, this is due to players having to hole their putts before the next group can tee off. Therefore, leaving par 3’s for later in the round is a good idea. However, a par 3 followed quickly by another is a certain recipe for a bottleneck in playing speed so a degree of sense is required here.

The designer can give the course the best chance of fast tee times by avoiding fast play at the beginning of the round to avoid major jams. As well as this, the designer must avoid difficult holes too close together.

Note that at no point are we attempting to make a course easier. It’s critical to retain a level of challenge on the course or golfers will start flocking to a more challenging venue.

Distances between greens and subsequent tees must be minimised except where carts are mandatory. However, in some cases longer distances can be used to the courses advantage by creating a buffer between groups. In this planning we try to ensure that the golf course takes up the smallest amount of land commensurate with the Brief and the protection / enhancement of the landscape. Excessive land take is, in our experience, the biggest blight on a developers bottom line. In most development situations land is valuable and tight planning maximises development value. The best land is usually reserved for residential development and the course is then routed to exploit front line premium values.

Tech Opinion: Golf Course Design for Increased Revenue.

Part 2

Speed of Play – Tee to Green

When on the tee, tournament players must be presented with different challenges and designers usually try to create a course where golfers are forced to use all the clubs in their bag.

In design terms most of our holes are strategic – golfers have to decide how to play the hole and there is a balance for the pros and the amateurs which if correct will create an enjoyable course from the forward tees on a resort prepared course and a challenging course from the back tees when the course is prepared for tournaments. Generally, a more difficult tee is not only further back but also will take a different line to the IP, for example carrying more water.

Case Study: Meland Golf & Nature Park, Norway.

Firstly, as designers, we have agreed a Brief with the Client to ensure that the product we design meets the aspirations. When we designed Meland Golf & Nature Park, the brief was clear – it was to be primarily a tournament / championship course but it had to be playable by members.

The members were given free lessons whilst the course was being built so that they were no longer novices when the course was ready to play. Tee intervals were set at maximum to give them a chance of enjoying the course.

The design meant that the back tees were designed well back and the forward tees reduced the length considerably to retain a challenge for the tournament players but also allow an easier option for the weaker players.

When the public play the course, they should be presented with the illusion of the same challenges as the pros would see but to a lesser extent. The psychological similarity between the resort user and the professional golfer can be a useful tool to achieve the “feel good” factor.

Tee beds should be large enough to cope with the increased demands of a high throughput golf course with multiple tee positions allowing the better golfers to choose to play longer. With modern construction techniques, blind shots are generally frowned upon and undoubtedly create slow play. Hazard positioning is therefore critical. They can be placed in play or out of play in relation to different tees. While we would not encourage an “easy” course except in countries where golf is an emerging sport, the designer should be mindful of the possibility of creating a hazard that will cause slow play.

Preferred landing areas should be large enough to accept a well hit shot and level enough to reward the shot with a reasonable following shot.

Mowing patterns are very different for tournament play than everyday resort play. By seeding the same grass to the extent of the playing area, the maintenance staff can widen or thin down the fairway to the desired difficulty. This process needs to be started 6 weeks before the tournament is due to be played and the course will be closed to members play for about 2-3 weeks.

For instance at The Belfry the course is normally set up with 55 yard wide fairways as a resort golf. This means that it is possible to land anywhere on the fairway and the only indication that you have landed in the designers preferred location is that the lie of the ball will usually be better it you are playing the intended or one of the intended routes. This course is reduced to 25 yard wide fairways with semi rough and rough heights allowed to grow very much higher for tournaments. Since this is a hotel situation and the course cannot be closed for the whole growing period the round times increase dramatically up until the course is closed just before the tournament date.

In an effort to make the course seem difficult, certain visual tricks can be used to give the illusion of a difficult shot. For example bunkers can be staggered to appear to be a wall of sand whereas in fact there is plenty of space for the errant golfer to land. One of my favourite psychological tricks is to design a very difficult looking bunker complex in front of a par 3 green but leaving a landing zone between the bunkers and the front of the green.

Hazards should be used as and when necessary for the design of the hole and to maximise the value of the landscape. The WOW factor is still important to most golfers and certainly to television commentators. There are many different types of hazards with varying degrees of difficulty. Water can be used to great effect within a tournament set up course but can slow play dramatically when used in the wrong place. The designer can still use water to achieve an aesthetic effect in out of play areas whilst avoiding the need for a “drop”.

For quick and easy play from the rough, a flat, compacted material is preferred. In the case of Augusta National, a pine needle mulch is used which has a very manicured look and retains a reasonable playing surface.

Excessive contouring makes for an interesting green complex but can slow play dramatically, putting is one of the most time consuming shots. The green should be large enough to accommodate well hit shots and flat enough to enable the resort golfer to putt out in a reasonable time. Greens can be designed to “catch” the ball from the preferred incoming shot direction but penalise errant shots.

However, if the green is too large, players can take a long time to putt out and increase their score; both adverse effects. As before, there is a balance to be struck which needs to be agreed at the initial stages of the development.

Just as excessive contouring makes for an interesting course, so does a forced carry. Playing over water, onto an island or over a strip of longer grass can give an exciting challenge but again can slow play. There has to be a balance between the challenge, the attractiveness of the golf hole and the effect on play. This is another example of where the course can play very differently from different tees.

Generally we try to create a tournament course where the level of difficulty increases right to the end but when designing a resort course the level of difficulty stops increasing at around hole 15 with 16, 17 and especially 18 giving the resort golfer the chance of a good score.

There is nothing better for a resort golfer to finish hole 18 in front of his friends with a birdie.

Tech Opinion: Golf Course Design for Increased Revenue.

Part 3

Boosting Revenue

Laying out a course with all loops of nine starting and finishing at the clubhouse maximises revenue at peak times by starting on all loops at the same time. This does present an operational challenge but increases revenue opportunity by increasing possible rounds. Of course, bringing players past the clubhouse on their journey from hole 9 to 10 tees doesn’t hurt the sandwich & coffee sales without having to operate a remote facility.

Within the initial design brief, we will always consider whether the course has mandatory cart operation. On some courses this can reduce tee intervals whilst on others it can extend the time when carts are restricted to cart paths. Revenue from carts can be significant and this is an important decision not least since cart paths mean that fairways are wider apart for safety and thus the course takes more space. This enables us to carry out a capital expenditure vs. expected cart revenue calculation to assist the developer in this decision. Of course, the maintenance of the facility will suffer due to carts running on grass rather than paths so this also needs to be taken into account.

Within a larger resort masterplan, integrating various elements of the resort can also prove to be a big revenue generator. Our latest concept combines the spa, formal gardens, kitchen gardens of the restaurant and the tennis club with the journey to the first tee. Increasing the visibility of each and every component of the resort creates marketing opportunities that don’t cost anything to run and will keep on giving.

Of course, much of the revenue difference between courses is not in the design of the course but in the operator. For instance in approximate terms a Marriott hotel will have a room rate of $200 and a greenfee of $100 with 50,000 rounds per year whilst a Four Seasons Resort will have a room rate of $400 a greenfee of $200 and it will do 25,000 rounds per year on the same golf course. The profit is similar but with much less wear on the course, presentation on the Four Seasons resorts tends to be better. Other opportunities for revenue streams include f&b carts, simulators, caddies and coaching. More on this in a later operations post!

In Summary

Matching product and demand is the skill of the Designer – this is often misunderstood by many golf course designers who build ego trips rather than creating a piece of environmental engineering where the rhythm of the holes can be exploited to deliver a course where people want to play again and again.

So what do we learn out of this? It’s critical to create a good brief before design work starts and that the Designer has to have sufficient skill to transform the brief into the desired product.

Just as the player, (both tournament, members, pay & play and resort) wants to score well, he must also feel challenged by the course. There must always be a fair test of golf. Golf is a psychological game; the player should always leave the course with a sense of achievement and the desire to play again. Any efforts at increasing revenue should be invisible to the player.

Golf courses are generally considered by the developers as expensive landscaping which most treat at infrastructure – the object of the golf is to add value to front line property or to improve room rates or occupancy for hotels. Courses are seldom enormously profitable in their own right but if designed well they can add enormous value to the development.