Silver Linings

Now, the Good News

Granted, times are tough. And just like you, the golf world is feeling it. In the U.S., the number of course closings exceeded the number of openings last year. The number of rounds played flatlined, and no pulse is expected anytime soon (Medic!). Equipment sales are soft. Tour operators are nervous. Event sponsors are filing Chapter 11. And if you don’t know, don’t ask about television ratings with Tiger on babysitting duty.

So what’s the good news?

Let’s start with the obvious: Courses are less crowded. So even if you’re one of those cutting back on the amount of golf you play, what you do play is improving in a crucial way. The concept of “a quick eighteen” is inching back.

Second, as previously noted in this space, the courses that are being built have to live up to a higher standard. Nobody’s getting by building dog tracks anymore. That should be evident just about everywhere you play.

Third, the absurd emphasis on manicuring every course to make it look like Augusta National is falling victim to the bean counter’s blade. A return to a more natural aesthetic is sneaking in under the cover of cost-cutting, which is fine by me.

And finally, prices across the board are stabilizing. Green fees, for example, are being capped—most notably at all seven courses in St. Andrews. And I’m sure you’ve noticed the dollar’s recovery against the pound, a gain of some 25 percent in the past few months. That hotel bill doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

Okay, airline tickets are still criminally expensive. Hey, it can’t all be good news, can it?

T+L Golf Ratings

Throughout the magazine you’ll find the T+L GOLF Ratings, our guide to courses around the world. The system works on a five-star scale, as follows:

Top tier: St. Andrews, Pebble (5 stars)

Must play, outstanding (4 stars)

Very good, with distinctive holes (3 stars)

Average, not memorable (2 stars)

Only if you’re desperate (1 star)