Six-time Major winner Sir Nick Faldo has joined a growing chorus of current and former players and industry icons who have called for a new approach to golf course design and alternative formats for amateur golf, writes Paul Myers.
Speaking during the Laguna Golf Classic, an amateur tournament he hosted at Laguna Lang Co Golf Club in Vietnam, Sir Nick – who owns and operates Faldo Design from its London base – said new resort courses should embrace 12-hole layouts and other variations of the traditional 18-hole layout.
“We have to break down the mentality and design courses, especially around hotels, that enable people to get out for two or three hours. Obviously, full courses with length are necessary for tournament golf, but there has to be a change of thinking for people who want to go and have some fun.”
Sir Nick also said it had become essential for golf course designers to embrace environmentally-friendly, sustainable concepts in their plans.
He said he and his Faldo Design team were “looking at all these things” in their future planning. So far, Faldo Design has 24 courses in play and 10 under construction worldwide, including the acclaimed Laguna Lang Co layout that he opened in Central Vietnam in 2013.
Among the courses he has designed is Bad Saarow at the Sporting Club Berlin, which is a candidate to host the 2022 Ryder Cup and, possibly, the 2024 Olympic Games golf tournament if Berlin is named host city.
One of Sir Nick’s greatest on-course rivals, Australia’s Greg Norman, who also has a global golf design business, Greg Norman Golf Course Design based in the US, last year said golf had to “get out of its box and develop different concepts”.
Also speaking in Vietnam, where he opened The Bluffs Ho Tram course he designed south-east of Ho Chi Minh City, Norman said golf had failed to attract young people and that six and 12-hole formats of the game were needed.
Like Sir Nick Faldo, Norman believes tournament golf should continue to be played on full-length courses over 72 holes, but proclaimed that, to grow the game, “we have to make adjustments”.
He said golf was seen as being boring and stuffy by many young people because authorities hadn’t recognised what would attract them to – and keep them in – the sport.
One of the most compelling statistics reinforcing the need to attract young players is that only 17 percent of almost 26 million golfers in the United States are aged under 40 and barely 10pc are in their 20s.
Golf participation in most developed countries is falling – the US has lost more than four million golfers, down from 30 million to 25.7m, in the past 15 years.
The founder and ex-CEO of Adams Golf, Barney Adams, says participation could drop by up 60pc in the next 30 years unless courses are made easier and more fun.
He says the best tour pros, on average, hit 8-irons into the green on par-4 holes. He argues courses should be set up to give players similar approach shots. Instead of making courses longer, he says 6000 to 6400 yards is more realistic.
“You have people wanting to change the equipment, change the rules. Why? Why not just make it more playable?”
In June, Lee Westwood said changes were needed to encourage young players and especially women to take up golf.
He proposed a shorter format, making golf cheaper and more accessible and, possibly, enlarging the hole.
“Maybe, the hole maybe needs to be bigger, easier – it’s a tough game that can become painful at times, so it needs to be made fun.”
Westwood also said the stigma that “golf is an old man’s game and is for ‘toffs’ ” needed to be removed.
“There needs to be more municipal courses. Golf also needs to be quicker, with a shorter format – five hours on a Saturday or Sunday is too long to be out of the house. It needs a two-hour format,” he said.