By Eric Newman
Golf coaches, players and course designers discuss what makes a fabulous fairway.
With year-round warm weather and nearly 200 golf courses across metropolitan Phoenix, golf course designers in the area have to continuously create new methods and course designs to lure players to their fairways.
Andy Staples, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and the owner and president of Staples Golf Design, an international golf course architecture firm based in Scottsdale, says the first aspect a successful course requires is a connection to the land.
“For some places around the country, it is great water views, or interesting greenery,” he says. “For here in Scottsdale, and really Arizona, my belief is the best golf courses have leveraged unique and interesting parts of the Arizona landscape, and combined it with a unique and strategic golf design.”
Some of the best courses have utilized high-elevation desert land unique to the Scottsdale area, as well as close-up views of the Valley’s various mountain ranges, to attract tourists and locals alike.
Other courses, and their designers, have had to spend money and time importing rocks and plants to simulate desert terrain. The end goal for all courses, Staples says, is to be visually appealing and provide consistent one-of-a-kind experiences for its customers.
“It comes down to having good landscape. One of the universally accepted ways to be successful in the golf industry is to find a really special piece of land, and Scottsdale seems to just have some of the best land for it,” he says.
In deciding what course to play, the beauty of a course can only go so far, according to Joseph Fraher, a Valley golf coach. The strategy of the course has to be enticing as well.
Variety in shots and clubs necessary on each hole is paramount for players looking to build skill on the course, as well as for playing an entertaining round, Fraher says.
“You want not just the same sort of flat lies all the time,” he says. “The greens have some break to them, and it’s going to test their skills on certain shots. So they get to see what they have to do in different situations. When it comes to the course, in building a player’s game, you want a challenge.”
Will Fraher, Joseph Fraher’s son, agrees. “I don’t want the same type of hole, straightforward every time. Maybe a downhill, then a dog-leg, or something to keep it different during a round,” says Will, a sophomore golfer at Gilbert High School, which participated in October’s AIA Boys Division 1 State Championship.
However, variety in the strategy of holes does not necessarily mean difficulty. Staples says that, for many years, course designers saw creating tougher courses as a badge of honor. He says the industry is not necessarily trending toward easier courses now, but rather toward providing unique experiences.
Staples says courses that stimulate strategy and intrigue are becoming more popular with golfers, and subsequently with the people who design the courses.
With players coming to golf courses with a multitude of skill levels, the best courses are not one-size-fits-all but offer different players the opportunity to approach courses in a safer, easier way, or to have the option to take chances that lead to either more risk or reward.
“Variety, width, options and strategy in golf typically means something along the lines of, I can play conservative, and play out to an area, but yet I’m left with a more difficult approach, but yet it’s more daring and aggressive,” Staples says.
Brady Haake, another high school golfer coached by Fraher at Gilbert, shares a similar sentiment. “At a place with more strategic options, you can change the way you play for what you need to work on and what you want to do, which is always fun. You can go different speeds, too,” he says.
The time investment required to play an 18-hole round has been another significant conversation in the course-designing industry, according to Staples, as different golfers have varying amounts of time to dedicate to the game.
He says the trend for a number of Arizona residents, especially locals in Scottsdale and the surrounding areas, is that they want to play, enjoy their experience quickly and then go about the rest of their day.
The area’s golf scene is still resort-driven, though, which means people come from all over the world to play at the courses, plan their whole vacations around a course, and are thus content to spend the majority of a day on the links.
“The trend is to use less, spend less time on the course so you can come play, and then get out to do whatever you have to do. That’s definitely the national trend,” Staples says. “However, when you come to a resort area like Scottsdale, people generally don’t have a problem with the time it takes. They’re here to enjoy themselves, and they’re not in a rush,”
What matters in the end is whether the course is fun to play or not. And much of that, coach Fraher says, comes down to upkeep.
“They have to have adequate facilities to work on all aspects of the game,” he says. “That’s a well-maintained driving range, where you can hit off grass and not just mats all the time, a nice putting and chipping area that is close together, and all of it just has to work and look adequate.”
For course designers like Staples, the reality is that the industry is results-based, and the hours of effort to make the course look and play as beautifully as possible on the front end means nothing if owners or managers do not come out and make the course enjoyable.
“When it comes down to actually attracting golfers, the visitors don’t care about what the owner was trying to accomplish,” he says. “They just want to know whether it’s a good course. People are either playing the course or they’re not.”