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The Template for Growing Golf

An Unlikely Find

If you were to go looking for the future of golf, the courses that will jump start the growth of the game, you would probably start with public courses.  You would probably put a private country club, a 5-time major venue no less, near the bottom of your list.  You would be making a mistake.

Outside Chicago, at Medinah Country Club, Rees Jones has restored a Tom Bendelow design and created the template for growing golf.  Medinah’s Course Two needs to be the model for municipal golf, and these are the reasons why.


Playability is the crux of the matter.  I’m going to break this down into its components.

Forgiving Off the Tee

At Course Two, Rees Jones uses the trees to define the fairways, not to imprison wayward drives.  Accurate tee shots are rewarded with flat, perfect lies, but everyone has a chance to play to the green.

Mild Hazards

Water is pretty, but it’s an unforgiving hazard, so it needs to be used sparingly.  At Course Two, there are one to three shots over water, depending on your tees.

The rough is kept at a reasonable length.  You can find an off-target shot easily, and you won’t break your wrist getting the ball back into play.  However, the rough is thick enough to cost the better player control of the next shot.

Finally, the bunkers are shallow and built without lips.  Players and their golf balls can easily get into and out of them.  If you absolutely lack confidence in the sand, you could go so far as to putt out if you want.

Welcoming, Challenging Greens

Golfers can roll the ball onto every green at Course Two.  This allows players who don’t hit towering irons to have a chance at some birdie putts.  Those low shots have a better chance at staying on the green because each putting surface slopes from back to front.

Once you’re on the green, however, nothing comes easy.  There are plenty of mounds and undulations to challenge players of every level.  What’s more, these breaks force players to think strategically about the angle they’re playing from and where they don’t want to miss the green.

Tees for Everyone

Course Two uses the Longleaf Tee System and has tee boxes from 6,400 yards all the way to 3,000.  The design goes beyond just having more tees, and considers how players of each ability level will see the course from those distances.

The best example is hole 9, above.  The shortest tees for this hole are just short of the hazard.  This allows the beginner or weaker player the opportunity to hit the ball over water successfully by putting it on a tee and using whatever club they need.

As a bonus, I think these extra tees provide an opportunity for more play from good players, too.  As I played my round with Adam Fonseca, we both agreed that it would be great fun to play the course all the way forward with just a couple of short clubs.


Golf is meant to be enjoyed on foot.  Walking makes golf faster, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly.

Course Two is as compact as can be.  The walks from green to tee are gloriously short, sometimes only a few steps.

Pace of Play

Combine playability, walkability, and a set of tees that’s appropriate for each golfer and you have a course with a brisk pace of play.  Since time is everyone’s most precious resource and the biggest reason why we don’t play more golf, this alone is reason enough to consider this design a template.

The Next Step

What do we do now?  Go to your municipality (or whoever owns your favorite track) and talk to them about implementing these ideas.  Send them this article.  Bring them information about the Longleaf Tee System.  Talk to the superintendent about the bunkers and green surrounds.

I don’t expect that every course has the money or desire for a complete redesign, but every course can take small steps toward being more accessible and helping to grow golf.

Matt Saternus
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  1. David Balmer

    Great article Matt. I have long felt that the golf industry has been it’s own biggest enemy by making courses overly punitive. It’s great watching Brooks Koepka struggle, and overcome, Shinnecock. Most golfers would find it impossible from any set of tees. Speed of play is our worst problem. The approach at Medinah Two is just what the doctor ordered. The game itself is hard enough for beginners. Unless it is a championship layout, let the course be fair and playable for all levels.

  2. Matt, a great call, for me any course can be made a championship course or an easy to play course. Tees need to based on handicap, then placed correctly on the course, then course management to keep the course playable

  3. Another fine article. Such course does not offer much challenge and they spoil a golfer, but I see your point. I think that generous landing areas from the tee and especially short rough, where you can find your ball easily and hit it meaningfully forward are plenty enough help to play fast and enjoyable round for high handicappers. Yes, limit (long) forced carries over the water, and put on course as little O.B. as possible on top of it and you hear no complaints. I never heard complaints about normal bunkers (those from which you can see forward), or crowned green (unless it is turtleback), or longer courses. As long as you can easily find and hack your ball further, it is fun. Lost balls, two shot penalties, long searches, 3 hacks from rough, and more than 2 carries over large water make courses not fun for hackers (and I come from country full of hackers… :-) )

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