ASGCA Past President Greg Martin (Martin Design) writes that in challenging times, it is good to remind ourselves of the value of golf; the game, the surroundings, and the authenticity.

Martin writes:

We lead busy lives. More information and more options provide more distractions and more dilemmas. Our identities are tied directly to where we live and work but we are connected digitally that boggle our imagination. It is that same digital connection that is tearing at the fabric of our shared humanity. Our identity is eroding because of this expanding digital world. Social media is making us less social. If we are truthful, our phones, computers, cars and television have become weaponized.

That is why golf matters.

Golf has the capacity to provide the outlet for millions. More importantly, golf provides direct and indirect benefit to lives beyond the boundaries of the golf course through storm-water management, water quality benefits, open space, native habitat in addition to the encounters from golfers of all kinds, abilities, sophistication and understanding. That beautiful park/open space down the street…’s a golf course.

The game of golf is refuge. It is respite. It is recovery. Yes, golf is a challenge, but it is also, as the saying goes “a chance for the game and the ‘out-of-doors’ to sweep away the cobwebs.”

Aldo Leopold documented a year living in the middle of Wisconsin during last mid-century. From A Sand County Almanac he wrote “Our grandfathers were less well-housed, well-fed, well-clothed than we are. The gadgets of industry bring us more comforts that nature can, but do they add to the glory of our existence as much as nature?”

More and more we seek legitimate, genuine experiences. While we strive for more and better things, we are confronted with the simple need for authentic places and spaces. They exist all around us, but less and less. These places fulfill us in ways that help us maintain our most basic human needs and instincts. Humans will persist without natural things and wilderness. But humanity will not.

There is a innate desire to seek authenticity.

Golf, even with all its maintained green can be such a place. These manufactured landscapes provide a small inoculant against modern comforts, digital distractions and dysfunction. This game pits us against the wind and the ground, against vegetation and gravity and our own mental and physical limitations.

How can such a contrived landscape offer such respite? Because these places are rooted in substance.

The best golf courses, and my best golf experiences, are those that were on golf courses that were true to the landscape, genuine to the character and reflected the site in ways that were honest and compelling. Golf is best when architecture reveals a site, rather than creates it. Golf course architecture is more fun, enjoyable, maintainable and sustainable if it remains true to the site. Authenticity is about connection and integrity. What is better than a golf course that is connected to a site.

This is quite different than the recent deliberations about sustainability. Sustainability is defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. Therefore, sustainability is an attempt is to ensure, at minimum, status quo. Is that what we want? Status Quo?

Of course not. We want more than just status quo. We want and seek authenticity.

We’ve been thinking about sustainability as something commercial. It is not. Sustainability is a by-product, an outcome of solid design, thoughtful engagement of resources and long-term benefit. Sustainability creates a better experience and it is experience that is genuine. Sustainability is not marketable. Authenticity is marketable. Sustainability is the result of authenticity.

Sustainability in and of itself does not produce golfers, members or rounds. Sustainability will not entice golfers to make the drive, spend the money and time with friends. Sustainability does not drive sales. Experience, engagement in a connected place, is the essence of the game and, authentic experiences produce enjoyment of the golf course and delight of the game. Thoughtful, integrated environmental benefit and solid sustainable practices can produce a better experiences and experience compels golfers to play.

We need to strive for less perfection, less replication and more authenticity. The best golf courses are those that are less about perfect and more about place, the atmosphere, the character and ambiance. You may not notice it, but you feel it. The personality of a golf course is clear and based upon this unique site-specific link. You can’t ignore it. It is genuine, it is connected, sustainable and it is authentic.