There is a movement afoot. Across the country, from Goat Hill to the Schoolhouse Nine, from Sharp Park to Winter Park, there are a growing number of community golf projects getting attention and serious support.
I have experienced the vibe of this movement first-hand as I work with folks from the game and my fellow volunteers to transform Canal Shores. The enthusiastic response to our efforts has been humbling and inspiring. This energy took on a new dimension recently as media coverage of our project has increased, particularly from the Global Golf Post article by Jim Nugent.
Admittedly, I was a bit surprised at the magnitude of feedback, and it got me to thinking – what is happening here and why is it so impactful for so many people?
The first place I went looking for answers was within the projects themselves. There are similarities among them, but there are also significant differences. Are there common threads that are universally resonant? Mike McCartin, architect of the Schoolhouse Nine defined several principles for his facility: inclusiveness, architectural interest and fun. A solid list to be sure, to which I would add sustainability.
These are just words though. What do they mean on the ground? From my own experience and from what I have observed, I would translate the principles as follows:
Inclusiveness – People are communal by nature, but we also need our personal space. Where boundaries provide us comfort, barriers produce a sense of confinement and isolation. At its inception, golf was not a game played behind walls. It was a game that was played at the community center, respectfully intermingled with other community activities. The new wave of community golf projects revive the spirit of inclusiveness by integrating with their surroundings and embracing a multi-use approach to recreation. From a golf perspective, they also foster inclusiveness by promoting play of all ages and skill levels.
Architectural Interest – In creative endeavors, the difference between good and great is often attention to detail and a refusal to settle. Golf architecture and maintenance are no different than any other creative endeavor. Players may not know much about GCA, but they know great when they see it. It is evident to all when someone cares about their work. The architects, superintendents and operators within this movement are clearly unwilling to settle for less than the best that their budgets will allow.
Fun – The game of golf is the greatest form of recreation ever invented. If the experience of golf relentlessly beats players down though, it can hardly be considered recreation. Plain and simple, to recreate, players need fun. Challenge and exercise are wonderful, but without fun, what is the point? These community golf courses are bringing back the fun of the game, much of which has been lost in the chase after “championship” golf.
Sustainability – This word has been used so widely as to be nearly meaningless. For community golf, a more narrow definition is appropriate. In order to be embraced by its community, a golf course must be in harmony with its surroundings and ecologically responsible. It must also be operated and maintained in such a manner as to be economically viable. There is a fine line between a valuable community resource, and an unsustainable burden. The courses in this new movement are working mindfully and diligently to make sustainability more than an empty platitude.
These principles are powerful, but they do not fill in all of the blanks. I went looking for answers next in my own experience. Although golf took hold for me during my caddie days at Old Elm Club, that is not where I originally learned to play.
My first exposure to golf was playing with my dad and grandpa on the Fort Sheridan Army Base course near my home. The base and course no longer exist, but my memories remain. The Fort Sheridan course wound through the base among the barracks and military hardware. My dad would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker, and I would play in with a sawed-off 9 iron and putter. On those afternoons, experiencing “guys time” and the thrill of the ball disappearing into the hole, I fell in love with the game.
Old Elm was the place where my mind was opened to just how special golf can be when played over a course created by men like Colt and Ross, but it was on the scruffy links of Fort Sheridan that the game captured my heart.
Perhaps that is why it strikes me that this community golf movement is a revival. It is a revival of the Scottish spirit of the game, embodying the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun, and sustainability. More powerfully though, it is a revival of the love in each of our hearts. The first love that was born the day that we initially experienced the feeling of a well-struck shot and a ball falling into the cup.
What’s your take? As I explore The Revival further, I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, feelings, and observations in the comments below.
Going forward, much of my focus here will be on following The Revival as it takes shape. I will profile the courses, and interview the revivalists who are breathing new life into community golf in America – the champions, the architects, the players. Stay tuned for much more to come.
Community golf is getting more airtime thanks to Matt Ginella and others. Golf Channel video links are available on my GCA video page.
This is the YouTube channel that I have created to track these course and the various revival projects taking place around the country:
I have also started to compile a map of community golf courses that are attempting to uphold the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun and sustainability. Is your favorite community course helping to revive the spirit of the game? Let me know about it so that I can add it to the map (and the hit list to visit).
There are some truly talented folks giving their time, energy and expertise to these community golf courses. Their passion for reviving the spirit of the game is inspiring.
- Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Keith Rhebb, who is currently working on the Winter Park Country Club renovation.
- Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Brett Hochstein, who pitched in on the creation of the Schoolhouse Nine.
- Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Dave Zinkand, lead architect on the Canal Shores renovation.
- Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Drew Rogers, who has been a great sounding board for me in my dream chasing at Canal Shores.
- Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Andy Staples, creator of the Community Links concept.
This is an exciting time for the game of golf. Please join me in supporting the Revival by spreading the word about these courses, and the people who are working hard to make them thrive.