By Robert Bicknell
A lot of club owners ask me what they can do to improve their golf courses and, depending on how old they are, one of my suggestions is to give the old girl a face lift. In other words, renovate the golf course somewhat. It doesn’t always have to be a complete rebuild.
In the old days, before golf course maintenance became more of a science, the golf course superintendents were basically limited to watering the grass, cutting it and spreading fertilizer. Occasionally, some would attempt weed control using some vile chemical concoction, but for the most part maintenance was quite rudimentary.
And due to that, golf courses needed to be renovated almost every 10 years as the grass became “tired” and the soil was heavily compacted. As you might expect, playing conditions were marginal at best, except at very private (read: wealthy) clubs.
Back then, green speeds of seven were considered fast. Players gave their 10-foot putt a solid rap to get it there. If you don’t believe me, go look at some old golf tournament videos on YouTube, I’ll wait. Superintendents were terrified of cutting any lower because greens often burned up or simply died from shock.
Nowadays, most “qualified” superintendents are university graduates with degrees in Golf Course Agronomy and have certificates in almost everything in their shop. As such, frequent 10-year renovations became unnecessary as modern superintendents verticut and core the greens and fairways a few times per year, or employ any one of the many new toys in their arsenal.
However, one problem remains and that is player boredom.
For example, having worked at VGCC for four years and having played golf almost every day, it’s at the point where I can play the two courses in my sleep and actually predict which clubs I will use on each hole even before I leave my house.
I get bored easily, but put me on a brand new course which I’ve never played before and I will be a different person. The Bluffs in Ho Tram brings out the best in me because of the wind, which forces me to concentrate on every shot. The course changes not only from day to day, but from shot to shot. That’s exciting and keeps me focused.
Personally speaking, I would love to see the owners of VGCC do some renovation of both courses, including rebuilding some East Course greens. No, this is not cheap, but it does extend the life of the club and keep things fresh.
There are many courses in Viet Nam which would benefit from a face lift besides VGCC. Kings Island’s Lakeside course is a prime candidate as it’s over 25 years old, but the biggest problem is losing rounds during the renovation. Lakeside still does more rounds than either of the two other courses (Mountainview and Kings).
There have been some changes to the Lakeside Course over the years, some good, some not so good, but it could still use some upgrading, most likely irrigation (which is the first part of the course infrastructure to go bad, especially sprinkler heads. As KI was my first club in Viet Nam, the Lakeside Course has very special memories for me, so big changes would break my heart.
One problem with changing things in a renovation is that some players enjoy the familiarity of the old courses, so making major changes can be very risky. You never know how the members will react so it’s better just to improve the playing conditions and making small changes.
It’s always best to get feedback from the players before making changes. Let them have a say in it.
BoChang Dong Nai also has a great site and, honestly, if I ever hit the US Lottery, I’d consider buying it and hiring Greg Norman touch it up a bit. It’s a unique course.
If the older clubs want to stay competitive against the newest offerings, they are going to have to consider upgrading their courses. It’s a difficult position to be in as the club loses money during downtime, but it’s better to lose a little now than lose a lot later.
One thing which makes me nuts is owners adding unnecessary landscaping instead of making meaningful changes.
Also, Clubhouse improvements are nice, but nobody goes to a course to sit in the clubhouse.