The First Call Inbox

How to improve the golf experience

The First Call readers offer suggestions for making time spent at the golf course — from the bag drop to the 19th hole — more enjoyable

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2022
From making courses more walker friendly to tactful marshals, The First Call readers offer a wide range of suggestions to improve the game.

We first mapped out the entire process of playing golf from the moment you decide to play to exiting the club. Then we surveyed members on how important each step is to their overall experience, and asked them to grade us in each step. We focused on strengths and opportunities to improve — take your strengths even higher. We generated a list of over 100 ideas and began implementing. To generate more ideas, we conducted focus groups and added more to the actions.  

Bo McBee
The Woodlands, Texas
(Editor Note: McBee is the outgoing golf committee chair at The Club at Carlton Woods)

As new courses are built and old courses renovate and tweak their layouts, make them more walker friendly. This will also provide improved pace of play. Tom Snyder  Huntingdon, Pa.

Golf courses can improve [the player experience] by pushing ready play. Eighteen holes should not take any more than four hours.

Chris Ferrara
North Versailles, Pa.

After 65 years of playing golf, my biggest golf course beef is the use of powered golf carts when the course is wet and soggy. The course doesn’t say a word to the golfer while he is paying green fees, but once he gets out to the first tee the starter will say, “It’s cart path only gentlemen.” And this is after the golfer has paid full price for a cart he can only use about half the time. It’s especially infuriating when you are a senior golfer.

Ed Randolph
Plymouth, Mich.

For public and resort courses, add simple paint marks on the cart path near the green to designate the best place to park the cart.

Jay McNamara
Susquehanna, Pa. 

A well-educated and tactful marshal would be invaluable. Well educated, meaning the person understands the reasons for slow play. Tactful in that they possess the skill to persuade the slow groups to pick up the pace.

The marshal must be empowered to take action to maintain pace, including warnings, requiring slow group to let faster groups play through, asking groups to skip finishing a hole or a hole in its entirety, and asking them to leave.

Mike Kukelko
Manitoba, Canada

Both public access and private golf courses have the responsibility to have staff members with people skills and the motivation to serve guests in a friendly and efficient manner.

The objective of any course would be to have guests have a great experience at its facility. And have them want to return to play again.

However, the onus of a pleasant experience at golf courses starts with the golfer. He/she/they should plan on being at the course early enough before the scheduled tee time to check in, purchase refreshments, organize equipment, warm up on the driving range and gage the speed of the greens. 

Be respectful to the cart staff and tip appropriately. Introduce yourself to the starter and listen carefully to any information — including possible restrictions for that day — about the course. Remember they are there to help. They are not adversaries. 

Then go play and establish a new best personal round.

Dave Richner 
St. Johns, Fla.

How can courses improve the golfer experience? Keep the numbers moving.

I'm sure I'm not the first to find issue with slow play, and I'm sure I won't be the last. But while golf course operators look to deliver on the customer experience with glitz, glamor and glory, the players continue to complain about one thing — well, maybe more than one thing, but I digress — slow play.

Be courteous to your players. Let them learn the game somewhere else, where slow play is acceptable. After they've learned the game, and after they've learned that play can be enhanced when moving faster than a five-hour round, they'll turn to your course for a loyal experience, and return time and again.

Now, about those greens that don't get cut on a regular basis, and the cups that haven't been moved in three days …

Tommy Jennings
Winder, Ga.

I grew up working at golf courses and playing golf. Golf is affordable when you work there. Ironically, now in my mid-60s, I am back working at a golf course. Obviously, much has changed — no persimmon [woods], balata [golf balls] or three-wheel carts. The industry has struggled, but is seeing a resurgence. But there are still some consistencies: People show up at the golf course excited about playing or having time to hit a few range balls. They have worked all their adult lives or busted it all day to get to the course and pursue their quest for improvement.  

We, as golf course employees/staff, are not doing them a favor by being here. Without the golfers, we have no job. From the bag drop, to point of sale, through the starter, we need to make their arrival experience as pleasant as possible. It is OK to greet them when they come in, and thank them for coming in. As a starter, I do not see the need to be extraordinarily gruff and assume each individual is a pain in my rear. However, having worked as a starter, I have a better understanding of that mentality. I actually had a customer compliment me by saying, "You could never work in Myrtle Beach, you're way too nice."

Our ground crew does a good job of keeping our public facility in good shape; a task considering the number of rounds played daily. People come back because we are providing a good product, at a fair price. Let's put our best foot forward, Thank the golfer for coming out, and make their experience as pleasant as possible. 

Joe Dobson
Durham, N.C.

1. I absolutely love when a course is prepared and everyone knows your name from when you check in to the time you pull out of the club...making it feel personal and not simply referring to you as your tee time is great.  It's amazing how far a smile and a warm welcome can go.

2. Be organized. I think a lot of courses get this wrong. The bag drop needs to be in sync with the shop, the shop in sync with the starter, etc. Requiring a guest to check in multiple times is silly. The communication should be easy. They should also know in advance if you require a cart, a caddy or any other services offered that were established pre-round.

3. Pace of play. Sadly, some courses just get this wrong and have tee times set every seven minutes to maximize the money they can make, but it sacrifices the experience for their guests. I love a minimum of 10 minutes, but would suggest 15. It helps the day go along smoothly when you don't wait on every shot.

4. Setting of expectations. I love when a pro in the shop preps you on the course. For example, “We have water stations/comfort stations on holes 4, 10 and 15,” “We have a beverage cart” — or no beverage cart, “The tee box on 13 is in rough shape, we're sorry.” When you are prepped better in advance — even with bad news — it's easier to deal with. If you are thirsty but you didn't realize they don't have water on the course, or if you rock up to 13 and the tee box is terrible, it's unfortunate unless you already knew what to expect. It's much easier to deal with it that way.

5. Have an outdoor sitting area by 18. A cold beer, a cigar and watching others come up 18 is always an option people want and request.

Overall, the most important is to be welcoming

Ryan Gano
Marlton, N,J.

It is an idiotic idea to even think of closing down 22 percent of municipal golf courses [in California] and replacing them with affordable housing. Doing so will take the sport away from all ethnic groups of all ages.

Most of the junior golf programs are held at public municipal golf courses. Many of the juniors in our junior golf programs are minority kids. Municipal golf courses are very diversified from every age group of men and women. Many are on fixed income who cannot afford the luxuries of high-end, privately owned golf courses. All golf courses are open space and are home to many species of wildlife.

The water they put on the golf courses filters into the ground water system. Public golf courses pay income taxes and provide jobs to many different age groups, which the State of California also receives taxes from. Thousands of people will be put out of work. How much money does the state receive from city soccer fields, tennis courts, beaches and city parks? To single out golf to solve the problem of an affordable housing shortage doesn’t begin to make any sense.

Maybe we should look into why the person from Bell Gardens [state representative Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from the 58th Assembly District] even came up with this bill. What is in it for her down the road?

In closing, I have taught hundreds of young juniors of all ethnic groups and very few of them ever got into trouble with the law. Most of them, because of golf, are and are becoming model citizens.

Lee M. Martin
Camarillo, Calif.

The women’s game has improved tremendously and it is much more exciting to watch them hit longer shots. It used to be that three ladies would tee off and you could throw a hula hoop around the three balls. Fairways and greens got very boring. Good to watch their short game prowess, but otherwise boring.

Now it is fun to watch. I hate to say, this but it seems people want to see American women in contention. And there are many women who are second-generation Americans who don’t get the attention unless fans are paying careful attention. I think those women need more publicity so fans will realize they too are Americans and we can get past this chauvinistic hurdle.

Bigger purses may be useful and I’m delighted to see the big bump for the U.S. Women’s Open to $1.8 million for the winner in 2022.

Paul Rust
Warren, N.J.