Last Thanksgiving, before the lavish spread was out on the table, I played Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links – aptly dubbed “the poor man’s Pebble” – with my father-in-law and nephew. It was some of the most fun I had on a course all year. Daily greens fee: $51. Juniors: $20. The layout: world class. The club, owned by the city, considers itself a community service rather than revenue generator.
Grassroots golf is the best kind of golf.
The foundation of my career is public golfc from Myrtle Beach to Miami Beach – and to this day, I am very comfortable working with and playing public courses. I can sum up the ethos of public golf with one example. At Raven Nest Golf Club in Huntsville, Texas, there’s a sign posted on the wall of the golf shop that offers just one simple rule: “Be Nice or Leave.” That perfectly conveys the attitude I’ve come to expect of the public golf experience.
So, what is it I love about public golf and why is it good for golfers, especially right now?
First, the people who work at public golf courses are always happy to see me – or at least they give the impression that my business is appreciated. They make a sincere effort to make me feel welcome, to truly enjoy the course and enjoy the day.
Second, I like the informality, that the only rules I have to follow are the most basic Rules of Golf. The experience is what I make it, not dependent on too many flower beds, too many hands touching my golf bag and too many forced smiles.
Third, public courses understand that when I’m showing up it means I have a little time to spare and they’re not going to waste it with frills and unnecessary niceties.
Fourth, flexibility. I can walk in and play 9 or 18 holes, walk or ride, join up with another golfer or play solo. And if the course isn’t too crowded, I can play a second ball and practice on the course without worrying about someone yelling at me.
I can change my shoes in the parking lot and not worry about getting a letter from the board. I can keep my hat on in the snack bar (although I prefer not to just because I was brought up that way), and there’s no silly dress code and notes on the locker room bulletin board about collars or sneakers. Less stress is a good thing.
Again, I’m not for throwing etiquette out the window; one of golf’s charms is its unwritten rules of decorum. But, c’mon. We’d all benefit from a softer set of requirements for a game that is played outdoors. And that’s exactly what you find at most public courses.
Use your cell phone without the threat of expulsion. Just don’t disturb other players.
Same with music. If I want to, I can listen – on the range or in the cart – to The Doors or sing my way down the fairway. Never know, you might even meet another fan.
And one more thing. While there are conditioning expectations, particularly at some of the upper-tier public courses, you’re never going to find the over-the-top, overly manicured playing features so often demanded by members of private clubs.
Golfers know what to expect at public golf courses. While they may ooh and aah when they see Augusta on TV, they’re savvy enough to know that their local muni has neither the staff nor the budget to get near that.
I also love how my fellow superintendents – especially those of you lucky enough to work at a high-level private course – understand the plight of our public-course brethren, many of whom are achieving unbelievable results with a crew of summer high-schoolers and less money than most top-100 courses spend in a month.
There’s amazingly little look-down-our-noses in this business, as I found when I was working at a ritzy private course a few months ago and asked the talented superintendent what he thought of the public course across the street. “Isn’t it amazing what Charlie is doing with what he’s got?” he asked me. “We’re pretty friendly and I talk to him all the time.”
Talk about the real heroes in our business. We should be giving out awards for those guys who do the most with the least. That’s accomplishing something.
The public-course spirit: Be nice or leave. How about if we bring that feeling to the rest of our lives, too.