So your design strategy hasn't changed?
HURDZAN: Well, although we allow for the guy who hits 300-yard drives, we design our courses with average golfers in mind. That said, things have changed in the fact that we used to have three sets of tees and now we have five. We try to build golf courses over 7,200 yards, where before we might have been happy at 6,800. But a lot of that is just marketing. People don't think it's a first-class golf course unless it's over 7,000 yards.
JONES: That's been the case for a long time, though.
You're not worried about existing landlocked golf courses that can't be lengthened anymore?
HURDZAN: What can I say?Personally, no, I'm not.
JAY MORRISH: I remodeled Dallas Country Club a couple of years ago. It's on 117 acres. . . .
HURDZAN: That I'd worry about.
MORRISH: . . . and Hank Kuehne was there. The first hole was 345 yards, and he asked for a one-iron because his three-wood would go over the green. I know a lot of guys who hit the ball, maybe not like Hank Kuehne, but they are long, and they are also wild, and they go out there and there is nobody safe anywhere on that golf course.
HILLS: At many, many courses the potential for expansion has been realized. They just can't go much farther back. Augusta had to buy more property for the thirteenth tee.
It's expensive to run a big golf course. We've been involved in numerous golf-course renovations that have required an investment by each member of the club— anywhere from three to seven thousand dollars. If you transfer that same kind of cost to public golf courses—where the majority of golfers play—it's going to cost more to play. Another fifteen or twenty dollars more, but it's not going to really enhance anyone's enjoyment of the game. You're paying for something that isn't really of value. So there's a need to carefully consider all the implications of equipment that enables you to hit the ball farther and farther and balance it with the interests of everyone who likes to play the game.
I hear a lot of talk about courses being made obsolete. . . .
HILLS: Courses are not becoming obsolete for the average golfer, the eighteen-handicap golfer. They're not becoming obsolete for most golfers. But fifty or seventy-five years ago, championship golf courses were built at 6,100, 6,200, 6,300 yards. Now we're up to 7,000, and very quickly we're expanding that to 7,500, 7,600, 7,700.
Name some courses that you think are becoming obsolete for the very top players.
MORRISH: I was a consultant at Cherry Hills in Denver for four or five years. It's a marvelous course, but it's driver, nine-iron or wedge for touring pros today. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt that Cherry Hills will ever hold another major, unless it's a Senior Open.
HILLS: Merion, which is a tremendous course, among the top ten in the country, is now largely discounted for any top tournaments because of its length.
HURDZAN: I know some good golfers who played Merion East recently, and they were saying that even at 6,500, 6,600 yards, it's still a great test of golf for them. I don't know whether it would be for Tiger Woods.
How is it that they continue to have championships at venues like the Old Course at St. Andrews?
JONES: They added length there. Plus, the wind is a factor at St. Andrews, and the bunkers are so severe—more severe than ours. It's a penalty when you go in them. And the heathland courses are not as well-maintained. The greens aren't well-maintained. Furthermore, in the British Isles the game is match play. I play against you, mano a mano. It doesn't matter what our total score is. It doesn't matter if it's a short or a long golf course. Here, it's the golf course versus the player. Everybody adds up all their scores—everything is stroke play. So over there they can have a par sixty-six and still have a good time. The technology doesn't affect their pleasure as much as it does ours.
But I think it's affected our older golf courses—the 6,200-, 6,300-, 6,400-yard courses that can't expand. Fortunately, a lot of these golf courses have very strong green contours that still make you position the ball on a certain part of the green or not miss it in a certain place. But now players are hitting wedges instead of five-irons to some of these greens. So they're more apt to be on it. The game is becoming less of a challenge even for the strong average golfer. Plus, I think there's been so much emphasis on the driver that when a new player comes to the game, all he wants to do is hit that club. It's like hitting home runs, going to see Barry Bonds in the new park with a short fence. They love hitting it farther, which is helping young people come into the game and enjoy it, but they're forgetting their short game, the putting, the recovery and the long irons. To some degree it's taking a lot of the pleasure out of the game. If we don't stop it soon, it's going to be a driver, wedge, utility wedge and putter game for everybody.
MORRISH: I saw Gary Player on the Golf Channel a few weeks ago, and he said the way things are progressing, he expects the touring pros to be routinely driving four-hundred-yard holes in the next five years.
PASCUZZO: I had a client a couple of years ago who insisted we design a 7,800-yard golf course. I laughed at him until I realized he was serious. I said, "Why do you want to do that?" He said, "In twenty years, when they're regularly hitting it 350 off the tee, I don't want to have to trick up the greens to defend par."