What Makes a Golf Course Fun?

Golfers Just Wanna Have Fun

This may not be true for all golfers, but for me fun is a top priority.  Work is work.  Golf is recreation, and it should be enjoyable.

On my recent trip to Florida, I played two of the most fun rounds I can remember.  What’s interesting is that they couldn’t have come on two more different courses – Winter Park Golf Course and Streamsong Black.  This led me to sit down and think about what it is that makes golf fun.

Below are the four things I need and four things I don’t.  Please feel free to submit your own lists in the comments section below.

What I Need

Variety

If I wanted to hit driver-7I all day, I would have gone to the range.  I want to hit every club in my bag, and I want to hit every shot that I’m capable of.  Give me uphill and downhill approaches and lies, blind shots and holes that are laid out in front of me.  Dogleg the fairways right and left.  Give me a 450 yard par 4, but throw in a driveable one, too.  Have some big greens and some small ones, some curvy ones and some flat ones.

For me, nothing is more critical to a fun course than variety.

Width & Strategy

If a course presents nothing but bowling alley fairways, there are no choices to be made.  Without choices, there’s no strategy.  Without strategy, the mental component which makes golf so great is vastly diminished.

Give me the widest fairways, but make it important to be on the correct side.  Test my mental skills as much as you’re testing my physical ones.

Challenge

If every hole was cut at the bottom of a bowl, you’d make a lot of putts, but would you have any fun?  Some challenge is necessarily for there to be a feeling of accomplishment and exhilaration.  Having things handed to you isn’t fun in my book.  I would prefer to shoot a good score, but I want to know that I earned it.

Playable Conditions

I do not need Augusta-perfect fairways to have fun.  I don’t need greens that are particularly fast.  All I’m looking to avoid are the things that ruin fun: greens full of pitch marks, fairways full of divots, rough that’s waist high.  I want to be able to find my ball, play it without impediment, and get a fair result.

What I Don’t Need

Defense of Par

Par is stupid and arbitrary.  The idea that a “good” course defends par is asinine.

If you design holes that allow for different options and welcome players of different abilities, you can declare that every hole is a par 1 for all I care.

A Big Name

Have I had a great time playing bucket list courses?  Absolutely.  But I’ve had equally good times on courses that no one has heard of.

Scenery

Ocean views are wonderful, and you can’t deny that they add something to a round of golf, but they don’t make it more fun.  The hole above wouldn’t be as photogenic if that cliff was a thicket of trees, but as long as you can bounce a shot off the right slope onto the green, it’s a fun hole.

Amenities

Words that have probably never been said, “The selection of beers at the turn house really made today’s round great.”

I’m not pooh-poohing great amenities – I like them as much as anyone – but my fun isn’t adversely affected by their absence.

What do you think?

What do you need (or not need) to have fun?

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

13 Comments

  1. FUN:
    1> Staff. A course’s staff can make a round fun or dreadful. There is a course in the Niagara PENINSULA, in impeccable condition, variety of holes, 3 sets 9’s, but doesn’t have any LAKES, and their staff is so stuck up, I never feel comfortable golfing there. They make me feel that since I didn’t arrive in a BMW or Benz, that I don’t deserve their attention.
    2> A Course Layout that “Offers” me a chance to post a good score. No need for 11 on the stimp meter, nor 6″ tall rough. Sure, if I stray from the fairway, punish me with a bogie, not a lost ball that I know is within 3′ of my feet…somewhere
    3> Basic Quality. Bunkers with sand, not mud or rocks. Fairways properly maintained that don’t look like a cow pasture. Greens that aren’t covered in ball marks. Take pride in your property and business.
    4> Clientele. I have had a FUN round ruined by others on the golf course. Loud playing music from a BlueTooth speaker. Riding carts within or on greens. Not raking bunkers. Basic golf etiquette at a total loss.

    Not FUN…
    1> Reputation. Just because you have a reputation as a nice course, doesn’t mean it’s going to be fun. Sadly there are far too many fake online reviews nowadays.
    2> Location. Yes, you have majestic views, but that’s not enough.
    3> Playing Partners. I love playing golf with my Dad, and when I do, I do so in order to create memories of him when he is no longer with us. But just because you’re golfing with your best-bud(s), doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a good time. Especially if one of them is having the worst round of their life, or you’re paired up with a hacker/stranger :|
    4> Course Conditions. See above. This is not the US Open. Cut the rough, repair ball marks and water the greens. I don’t find it fun losing balls plugged in the fairway, nor ones that roll 6″ off them (FW) into the rough.

  2. I agree with much of what’s been said, so I will try not to repeat.
    1. Pace of play; few things in life are worse than a 5 1/2 hour round of golf or a 3 hour 9 holes; courses that do not allow for proper spacing or players who dawdle on the course ruin my experience and I remember it when considering a return visit
    2. I prefer to walk, but if taking a cart – please don’t greet me with the dreaded “cart path only” rule; Walking back and forth from a cart 90 degrees to my ball is not fun
    3. A decent practice facility for pre or post round work; No, I don’t need a diamond shaped stack of Pro V 1’s on the practice tee. Just some decent balls and targets to get loosened up – or figure out what the heck went wrong; thanks.
    4. Course rangers who are polite – while ensuring a proper pace of play — see item 1

    • well written. I agree and feel ashamed to have forgotten how nice it is when a course has a legitimate practice facility.

      and – obviously – PACE OF PLAY. It looks like I need a “mulligan” on my 4 points.

  3. chris saternus

    Let us not forget that golf is a social activity. Whether it is being with good conversationalists with whom you are paired or family or friends or business associates. A course should provide for good natured needling and maybe some business for the cart girl.

  4. Fun: Playing golf with my granddaughter. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a fancy course or the front yard; it’s always fun.
    Not fun: Playing with a group in front of you slowing you down and a group behind pushing you.

  5. Marty Boxer

    Pace of play. Waiting on every shot is definitely not fun!

  6. Good article! I will add pace of play as a huge factor on fun. Golf courses could have all of the ingredients you mentioned but if it’s takes more then say 5 hours to play a round odds are I am not coming back.

  7. Eugene Marchetti

    I agree with all of the above especially pace of play and staff. I do disagree that views don’t add to the golf experience. I love to stand on a tee, look out at an outstanding scene, and think how lucky I am to be playing golf.
    What I dislike are courses that are tricked up to be unfair. Fairways that have so much slope that cause your ball to roll into hazard even after you hit your drive smack in the middle. Greens that are so fast that if you just blow on your ball it rolls off the green. And completely impossible pin placements. I want to be challenged. Punish me when I hit a bad shot but please reward me when I hit a good one.

  8. Jonathan Compton

    Playing best ball … everyone wins! Only one practice swing per shot=3.5 hr round. No advice to me unless asked for and you’re a teaching pro. No muddy fairways—drain ‘em :)

    • Bobby McGee

      I wholeheartedly agree with your point on advice. I know I’m not the best player, I have a high handicap. But let me work on my game. It’s especially annoying when it’s someone you don’t know (and got paired with if you don’t have a foursome) starts to chime in.

  9. Great comments so far on this thread. My humble input:
    Fun: 1.) Great design! I typically can only play the 9-hole courses that are available here in N. Idaho and western Montana as the 18-hole courses are usually packed on weekends and end up being 5½-6 hr. rounds. So it’s a pleasure to see how simple design features – a tree here, a bunker there, some overhanging branches, a subtle opening created in a tree line to introduce a cross-wind – can make a relatively inexpensively created course into something more challenging and enjoyable. A course that requires strategy and game-management definitely increases the “fun factor.”
    2.) A course where the players practice good course etiquette and take care of the course – they fix their ball marks and those left by others, they pick up trash left by others, they rake the bunkers, and they pick up their divots and those left by others. Fast play is the rule rather than the exception. Sounds pretty simple, but play on a course where these things don’t happen, and the round can turn into drudgery. A lot of the courses in this area get played by tourists, who often times seem to leave their etiquette at home.
    3.) Courses that are consistent. If the greens are cut to be 10 on the stimpmeter on one hole, all the greens on the course should be cut to the same length. Same with the rough as far as length goes.
    4.) For those of us who don’t always play the same set of tees on a particular course due to our playing partners’ abilities, a variety in the tees can make things more fun. I know this isn’t always possible due to space considerations, but it’s nice to have tees that not only offer a difference in length between the various tees, but also offer a different angle of attack down the fairway or bring into play certain hazards.

    Not fun: 1.) Tricked up courses. This is especially frustrating on courses that one is playing for the first time (obviously without any course knowledge) or may only play a limited number of times. I have found that some of the Robert Trent Jones courses that I have played seem tricked up because of all the hidden hazards, blind shots, or greens that look like football fields in size. He definitely designs his courses to deceive one’s visual perceptions.
    2.) Rude players. Fortunately, one doesn’t run into these boorish folks too often, but when one does, they can quickly ruin a round.

  10. I agree with the comments that have been posted. I do like a well maintained course, not Augusta maintained but, in decent shape. Variety of the holes. Value is the last thing. I live within an hour or closer to 7 of the RTJ Trail courses in Alabama. If you buy the Trail card you have paid for it after one round of golf on one of the courses. Great idea. When I lived in Maryland there was the Tee Time Book which gave discounts at really nice golf courses. I would love to have the money to pay $400+ to play Pebble Beach but, not in my lifetime.

  11. 1. Value- I’m happy to pay $125 at a public facility if the course conditions warrant it. I don’t want to spend that kind of money and feel ripped off by poor course conditions. Conversely, I’ve paid $30 at a course and would have been all too happy even if the price has been double or triple that. Give me grass and sand and a hole to putt the ball into and I can be happy.

    2, 3 &4- Cold water in a cooler every couple of holes. I hydrate on a steady flow of coffee and water and on course I’m much happier with a full bottle of water than beers and sports drinks. Unless it’s a scramble, then we’re getting drunk and hitting it sideways

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