Since our last newsletter, we have held three. In May, we discussed playing golf at the elite level. June was a case study on Österåker Golf Club in Stockholm, Sweden, and July focussed on golf for the disabled.
Playing at the elite level
‘Playing at the elite level’ was a discussion with Sir Nick Faldo and Fanny Sunesson who brought insight from being the most successful player/caddy partnership in golf history. Sir Nick and Fanny talked about their experiences – including a few amusing anecdotes – on topics from how changes in club and ball technology have changed the way a golf course is played, to Sir Nick’s Faldo Series which helps young players transition into full-time playing careers. Members found the pair’s insights into their methodologies of reading a golf course and its perceived strategy, particularly valuable.
Österåker Golf Club
To bring in a range of perspectives on the Österåker Golf Club in Stockholm, Sweden we had a panel of four speakers: Andreas Ljunggren (General Manager), Magnus Ljungman (Course Manager), Mark Ganning (EIGCA Bronze Partner, Hunter Industries), and Christian Lundin MEIGCA. Originally a 45-hole golf club, Henrik Stenson Golf Design has been hired to redesign the whole property which is being redeveloped into two 18-hole loops plus a par 3 nine-hole course, a short game areas and a practice range. The first phase is complete with 18-holes, named Öster by Stenson, and has received a World Golf Awards nomination for ‘Best new golf course’ after only opening in late 2019. The design is in partnership with EIGCA member, Christian Lundin.
Members on the call were taken through the stages of the project from hiring the architect through to the tender for construction and irrigation and finally the course being opened. Conversations covered golf in nordic climates and how to grow in a golf course in those conditions, how membership structures work in Scandinavia and how the project was accepted by the club membership. This was a valuable in-depth discussion with lots of interaction between members and the speakers.
Golf for the disabled
This is a broad subject so we brought in different viewpoints by welcoming representatives from the European Disabled Golf Association (Tony Bennett, EGDA President, and Head of Disability & Inclusion at the International Golf Federation), The R&A (Kevin Barker, Director of Golf Development), The Golf Trust (Cae Menai-Davis, Director), and Ben Stephens (Candidate for Membership, EIGCA).
The first question was about understanding the issues getting on the course for golfers with disabilities, and talk turned to perception. Not only must Clubs realise that not all golfers with disabilities are in wheelchairs, but prospective golfers need to have their perception that golf is elitest, expensive and inaccessible, changed.
Before a player even gets to the course, Clubhouses need to consider factors such as steps, width of doors, toilet facilities, height of tables, wide hallways to facilitate deaf players with space to sign, transparent doors, sensory clues under foot. On the course, design considerations include bunkers that are easy to enter and exit, all areas to be accessible by golf carts, undulating tees and fairways are difficult for players with balance issues, enough space at the tees so autistic players do not feel crowded. Cae Menai-Davis suggested architects live in the shoes of golfers with disabilities for a day: “Try and eat dinner with a blindfold, or open a bottle with one hand, to get an idea of some of the challenges faced by golfers with different disabilities.”
The second question posed to the panel was: “Would golfers with disabilities benefit if EIGCA worked with disabled golf organisations to produce design guidance for golf course architects and clubs?”
Kevin Barker said: “There’s no one solution for all, but we can all play our part and do our bit to make golf more welcoming and more diverse. I think some guidance for designers and clubs would be helpful, but it is not necessarily going to change the landscape overnight.” Tony Bennett gave a cautious agreement. “Yes, I think standards are important, but we need to be aware this does not become a tick box exercise.”
Ben Stephens pointed out some of the different challenges faced by people with different impairments / disabilities. As a player who is deaf, Ben said: “I cannot hear the club swing. I can feel the club and ball when I hit it. It’s like having ear plugs in. If a player is an amputee, it’s all about balance so they need level tees. How about players who are blind, or have short arms? We need to understand every element of golf for those with disabilities and try to adapt golf for everyone.”
The final question posed was: “If existing golf clubs/new course designs met the guidance recommendations and were recognised with a Disabled Golf Course ‘Mark’ – would more golfers with disabilities play the course?”
A ‘Mark’ to identify a course as disabled-friendly was not thought to be a positive advancement. Tony Bennett saw this potentially alienating players who are not disabled. Cae talked about the perception of courses with a ‘Mark’ being considered easy and monotonous with no rough, just fairways. Ben questioned whether a ‘Mark’ would be culturally unacceptable to some clubs, as labelling courses as disabled / female-friendly could make players feel the course is somehow inferior.
The overriding view of everyone on the panel was the need for all players to be treated equally. Tony said: “There is a growing understanding that people with a disability are just like you and I. They just have an impairment. There is increasing legislation for people with disabilities to be treated the same as everyone else.” He pointed out that accessibility considerations are not just for golfers with disabilities as, for example, ageing players who have knee, hip or shoulder restrictions, or those who are not long hitters, also need to be accommodated by design decisions.
Kevin Barker summed up perfectly when he said: “If golf wants to remain an important sport moving forward, it has got to welcome everyone. It is about making golf as diverse as possible, as accessible as possible, so we can future-proof it for future generations.” The final word from the panel went to Ben Stephens, who said: “We want all golfers to play together on courses, where all are treated equally.”
Tim Lobb, EIGCA’s Vice-President brought the session to a close by saying: “As an Institute, EIGCA is considering how we can provide more educational information for members on golfers with disabilities, which members Kari Haug and Ben Stephens are leading on.” Educating members on considerations to make golf courses more accessible is just the start. Clients also need to be educated that accessibility is an investment they need to make to create a future-proof venue for a wide range of segments of the population.
A full transcript of the Golf for the Disabled Clubhouse meeting is available in the members area of the website.