2011 Agenda



8:00 to 8:15 am:    Introduction

Gary Strohl, Richard Mandell Golf Architecture


8:15 to 9:15 am:   Affordable Golf Survey Results: "Needs, Wants & Desires"

  • RMGA conducted a survey of golfers to determine what they think about the golf experience. Our Symposium will begin with an open group discussion about the results from that survey.

Richard Mandell, President, Richard Mandell Golf Architecture


9:15 to 10:00 am:    The Evolution of Perfection in Golf Maintenance

  • Terry Laurent has been at the pinnacle of golf course maintenance as the Superintendent of Saucon Valley Country Club, answering to demanding members and preparing the courses for the highest levels of competition (two USGA Senior Men's Opens). He now finds himself answering to himself as Owner of Cross Creek Golf Club in Decatur, Indiana. Over thirty-five years of experience has not only exposed him to a spectrum of maintenance budgets, but also maintenance demands have changed over what they were in the past.

Terry Laurent, Owner, Cross Creek Golf Club


10:00 - 10:15 am


10:15 to 10:45 am:   Case Study: Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, California

  • Alister Mackenzie's Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California is one of the jewels of the golden age of golf architecture. Although Pasatiempo may not fit the bill of affordable golf, golf course superintendent Paul Chojnacky has developed a few innovative maintenance practices that certainly can be considered sustainable from an economical as well as environmental standpoint. The ideas Paul will share can be applied to a variety of golf courses regardless of historical pedigree, greens fees, or reputation.

Paul Chojnacky, Golf Course Superintendent, Pasatiempo Golf Club

10:45 to 11:45 am:   The Many Facets of a Sustainable Golf Facility

  • Sustainability and affordability are terms that should go hand in hand when considering the financial viability of a golf facility. Unfortunately, the attitude that accompanies anything environmental usually has the connotation of expense. Tom Mead shares with us the many ways a golf course can be sustainable both with the pocketbook as well as with the ground through smart planning, day to day operations, and key sacrifices that won't negatively affect the perception of even the most elite clubs.

Tom Mead, Golf Course Consultant

11:45 am to 12:45 pm


12:45 to 1:45 pm:   "Management" in the U.K. or "Maintenance" in the U.S.?

  • Is conditioning supposed to be about aesthetics or simply creating a fair challenge? That is a fundamental difference between attitudes in the United States regarding golf course maintenance and the approach taken in the British Isles. Efforts at managing the grounds there aren't nearly as time and energy-consuming as they are in the United States. Although climates vary much more in the U.S., there are ideas to be gleaned from not only practices of management but attitudes as well that can directly apply to American golf courses on all levels.

Gordon Irvine MG, Golf Course Management Consultancy


1:45 to 2:15 pm:   Case Study: Huntercombe Golf Club, Oxfordshire, England

  • Huntercombe Golf Club was designed by Willie Park, Junior back in 1901 and on opening day, the 18 hole layout had just twenty-two sand bunkers. Today it boasts an even more modest thirteen sandy hazards. Yet it remains a testament to strategic golf at its finest. With an emphasis on the lay of the land and simple hazards such as grass hollows, swales, and other undulation, Hutercombe is a great example of how golf courses don't have to be inundated with sand and expensive aesthetic features to remain relevant in the modern age. Following the lead of a course such as Huntercombe can result in a return to affordable golf for many who think the "wow" factor is the only answer.

Ran Morrissett, Founder, GolfClubAtlas.com

2:15 - 2:30 pm


2:30 to 3:30 pm:   To Enhance the Experience, Visit the Tour Neighborhood

  • Barney Adams believes that time and lack of enjoyment are the primary reasons for the participatory decline in the game of golf. After researching the subject, he found that the distances we all play the game from not only takes away from our enjoyment of the game but is the cause for slow play as well. If we can enhance the experience first by being realistic about our abilities, then we can address the cost issue later. His answer: Play golf like the pros. We play courses that are relatively much harder for our levels of expertise and his Tour Neighborhood idea may be a solution.

Barney Adams, Founder, Adams Golf

3:30 to 4:30 pm:   Round Table: Resolving the Conflicts of the Typical Golf Business Model

  • Owner – Mike Hatch, Brandermill Country Club, Birkdale Golf Club
    Golf Course Architect – Drew Rogers, ASGCA
    Real Estate Developer - Ron Willard, Sr, Owner, The Willard Companies
    Golf Course Operator – Rob Waldron, Billy Casper Golf
    Golf Course Superintendent – Bob Ehrler, Organic Golf Maintenance & Design
    Golf Pro – Doug Thompson, Head Professional, Southern Pines Golf Club
    Golfer – Steve Culberson, Rome, Georgia

4:30 to 5:00 pm:    Final Thoughts


5:30 pm:   Gathering at Southern Pines Golf Club Clubhouse Bar


Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Golf Outing at Southern Pines Golf Club

Tee Times Beginning at 7:30 AM


Executive Summary on the 2011 Symposium on Affordable Golf

The Symposium On Affordable Golf raises awareness and understanding of the challenges of the golf industry through open discussion, exchange of ideas and highlighting successes that promote the health and sustainability of the game of golf.


On November 7th, 2011 the second Symposium on Affordable Golf was held at the Southern Pines Golf Club.  Speakers included Mr. Terry Laurent of Cross Creek Golf Club in Decatur, Indiana; Mr. Paul Chojnacky, Golf Course Superintendent of Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California; Consultant Tom Mead, a former superintendent who focuses on sustainability; and Gordon Irvine, who compared and contrasted principles of golf course management in the UK and the US.

Ran Morrissett, founder of GolfClubAtlas.com, shared a classic golf architecture success story of Willie Park Junior’s Huntercombe Golf Club.  Barney Adams, Founder of Adams Golf, shared his perspective on the growing challenges of the golf industry as well. The final discussion was a round table of varying opinions and perspectives clearly demonstrating the conflicting efforts required to develop, build, maintain, and profitably operate a golf course in the United States.

This year’s symposium brought forth many interesting ideas shared from a variety of sources.  In addition to golfer participation throughout the day, it was inspiring to hear a golfer debate the usual challenges of a golf operation from the perspective of who matters most:  The golfer.  The information gleaned from the 2011 Symposium can be broken into the following topics:

A New Business Model

The business of golf must need a new business model to move forward.  The Symposium revealed a few ideas about what that new business model may look like:

  • The end user should have a better product, because the product the golf industry currently sells just isn’t that good for a variety of reasons. 
  • The new business model will require an upgrade from “Sustainabiltiy-lite”.
  • Even if there was a one size fits all business model for golf courses, that model cannot possibly lean toward the Augusta National model. 
  • The fundamental challenge in this business is reducing inputs (especially water). 
  • The new golf business model should follow a model based on expenses, not revenues.
  • The new business model for raising revenue should simply be about getting more people onto the golf course and getting more people to play the game faster. 
  • On the maintenance side, the principle of keeping things simple in order to provide as little resistance to a smooth round of golf as possible should be considered. 
  • Provide enjoyment and don’t beat golfers up from the residue of aesthetics and reputation.
  • More realistic conditioning is another aspect of the new business model.

At the end of the day, if the experience is still bad…

Barney Adams believes it really isn’t just cost that is hurting the business of golf.  He likens it to getting people to drive to a bad movie. “If you tell me that golf's too expensive, just that approach, and then you take me to a bad movie (so to speak), you can't make it cheap enough.  All the initiatives to get people to go see a movie are worthless if the movie is just bad.  “Let's concentrate on fixing the movie. If we have to have initiatives to get people playing golf and we get six more [golfers], that's like getting three cars to drive to the bad movie.” Adams said.  

Re-Educate the Current Golfer or Educate the Potential Golfer?

Too often, the perception of what the golfer wants is formed by the industry itself.  As a result, the perception of the golfer’s value then becomes a part of the golfer’s thinking as well.  In return, the non-golfer’s perception of a game that is high-priced and high-cost becomes a barrier to the growth of the game.  Maybe many ‘growth of the game’ initiatives are failing because the perception of the game to outsiders has not changed.

Changing the perception of the game to outsiders, though, will require golf insiders to change their perceptions as well and if golfer’s perceptions can move toward the experience of an enjoyable day with reasonable challenges, maybe perceived value can alter the cost associated with the game also.
Overcoming Resistance to Elements of Affordability

How do we combat the resistance to all the ideas that can make golf more affordable and enjoyable? First of all, the economy has forced the issue for many.  Barney Adams put it best when he said, “If you only have five bucks in your pocket but it costs ten, too bad.  You’re not getting it.”  Nonetheless, golf can now be a better game and a better experience than it was before the economy faltered.

Many ideas brought up at both Symposiums still come down to the golfer accepting lesser conditions. Until the golfer and the industry see that perfect conditions are not what the game of golf is about, there will continue to be resistance to affordability within some elements of the business. 

For the longest time, the golfer’s demands for perfection were driving the bus and keeping sustainability subdued.  Now, the superintendent can play a key role in ratcheting back expectations from the golfers by using cost as a motivator when the golfer would not listen to science or agronomics previously. 

When high-profile clubs such as Pasatiempo display a penchant for sustainable practices by cutting back on maintained turf areas or replacing fuel-dependent vehicles and machines with goats, for example, hopefully other clubs will follow suit, whether they are above or below Pasatiempo on the food chain or, more importantly, whether they need to cut costs or not.


How Cost and Time are Related

Eliminating excess and speeding up play will make the game more affordable to play and more affordable to operate. So we must all think of affordability as how to improve the business to increase participation in the game and not just saving a buck. The fun factor will increase with good design and as a result, golfers may find some more time to dedicate to the game.  At the very least, when design focuses on strategy and enjoyment over aesthetics and penalty, the need for excessive hazards and heavy rough is reduced, thereby speeding up a round of golf.

Returning the Game to its Origins

A return to the origins and spirit of the game is a solution for many concerns within the golf business. The game of golf was originally a commoner’s game played on the ground that nature provided.  Man’s hand wasn’t in it but once it showed up, the game changed forever. Good design should trump the extraneous elements of “the golf experience” and if we look at those elements that came from links golf we can affect change, reduce cost and time, and increase fun.

The game starts with design and the simpler that design is, usually the more effective, fun, and inexpensive.  Both our case studies are textbook examples of the above. Huntercombe Golf Club and Pasatiempo Golf Club were built by Willie Park, Jr. and Alister MacKenzie respectively, who discovered the game in a links environment and made links golf a cornerstone of their design philosophies.

What Can Golfers Do Without?

Throughout the Symposium, various considerations were brought out that golfers could do without:

  • Ran Morrissett repeatedly made the point that a wonderful example of fun and challenge found at Huntercombe comes with a minimum of sand bunkers. Many bunkers can be removed elsewhere to cut down on expense yet increase enjoyment and speed up play.
  • "What I found was at Cross Creek, I tried to stripe my fairways for two years when gas was still low priced.  After the prices went up so high, we changed our patterns and the members didn’t notice.  We now mow from the tee to green [direction]. It’s not perfect," said Terry Laurent.  “Just by changing patterns, you can save money, especially with today’s gas prices" he said.
  • Lower mowing heights create cost challenges.  The simple rule of thumb is: Higher cut equals lower budget.  A related rule of thumb takes it a step further: Higher cut: easier for the golfer. Many operators don't realize that the speed of the playing surfaces directly relates to the speed of play, whether on the greens or in the fairways. 
  • Barney Adams' Tour Neighborhood concept has a target length for the majority of male golfers that is 6,200 yards long although most male golfers insist on more length. 

You Can Learn From the Most Unlikeliest of Sources

In these times, so many golf courses have had to face the same budget cuts across the board.  So when a club like Pasatiempo Golf Club makes significant changes it should be an eye-opener to the many clubs that need change for survival.  Even the higher end facilities can contribute to the educational process.  It certainly makes sense when you peel back the image and realize that at the end of the day it is all sand, grass, and labor. In 2008, the board finance committee and general manager challenged Superintendent Paul Chojnacky to cut his operating budget by $300,000 and he did it in a variety of reductions.  

Huntercombe Golf Club shows the world that great architecture should be the focus of the business of golf.  Huntercombe is the ideal case study for the Symposium on Affordable Golf because of its simplicity of design.  That simplicity is based on the concept of 'less is more', one of my favorite challenges to the expert who raves about the next great golf course with over one-hundred bunkers, deep rough, and more than 7,300 yards of "muscle". 


"When the spirit of the game, the financial aspects of the golf business and the environmental aspects of the business are all compatible, the game will thrive." - Tom Mead

Tom Mead's quote sums up not just this past year's Symposium but also why we started the Symposium on Affordable Golf. As long as we don't compromise the spirit of the game first and don’t put financial aspects ahead of everything else (spirit of the game, environmental aspects, playability, fun) then the business of golf can be one with the game of golf.

The 2012 Symposium on Affordable Golf will be expanded to one and one - half days on Monday October 29 and Tuesday morning, October 30th.  Please visit www.symposiumonaffordablegolf.com to review the White Paper in its entirety.  When you visit the website, please take the time to participate in our Golf - Your Way survey.  The link is above our mission statement and we will discuss the results at the next Symposium. More than four-hundred and forty have participated.  Our goal is to be in the thousands by October 29th.

Thank you,

Richard Mandell (4-30-12)



White Paper

Click here to read and or download the White Paper .pdf file.