The future for golf courses

Nine-hole layouts, bigger cups and eco-friendly bunkers will become common… along with greens that aren’t made of grass.

Leading UK course designer Jonathan Gaunt, who has created 30 plus courses worldwide since 1987, expects major changes in the industry. Driven by the need to bring newcomers into golf, speed up the game to make it more appealing and increasing environmental issues, Gaunt told us: “Today, the golf club must provide not only golf but a whole host of healthy related activities – and a well-designed centre must cater for all social levels, ages and genders. I fully expect the following to happen…”  

More shorter courses

What the industry needs is a revolution. This could be the start – build more nine-hole courses with state-of-the-art practice facilities and full-length driving ranges. We’ve got a massive opportunity to create some really good quality nine-holers utilising a small piece of land and causing golfers to hit every club in the bag. As part of its winning Ryder
Cup bid, France will develop 100 shorter urban courses to increase participation. 

Golfers will argue that a nine-holer is not a full golf course. But if well designed with imaginative features and hazards, with two distinct tee-boxes per hole, there is the possibility of creating an 18-hole course within a nine-holer. It may be possible to create two greens per hole, or, at least, much larger greens with many more pin positions. 

Some golfers criticise nine-hole courses and regard them as a limited challenge. However, for the golfer there are advantages to outweigh the disadvantages. It takes less time to play (speeding up play is a big issue), it’s less tiring for children and older people and less expensive for a green fee. 

For the environment, less land is required, therefore less intensively maintained grass, less fertiliser, less water for irrigation – in terms of sustainability, it makes good economic and environmental sense to develop nine-hole layouts.

Reducing the courses to nine holes would reduce maintenance costs immediately and the land area saved by reducing the courses from 18 holes would release space for other related, profit-generating facilities, such as five-a-side football pitches. 

The future of golf

Bigger holes for more fun

Putting is the most time-consuming part of the game. So, what would make the powers in charge of the game consider changing the size of the golf hole (for amateur golf only) from the normal 4.25in to, say, at least 6… and on short or academy courses, maybe the hole size could be even larger – eight inches. The results would be… 

  • Fewer putts, so quicker rounds. 

  • Lower scores; what difference does it make if golfers regularly go round in 70 or less?

  • More exciting and enjoyable rounds.

  • Quicker rounds, which are more fun to play.

  • More holes-in-one… the ultimate thrill! 

The potential result is that golfers with handicaps of, say, 24 plus (and higher) will begin to improve their skills and abilities more quickly and start to enjoy the game more. They, in turn may encourage just one friend or member of their family to take up golf. This will attract new golfers to the game and increase participation in golf and breed a new interest in the sport. Woburn is hosting an event with bigger holes in September. 

The use of artificial grass will grow

Nicklaus Design has already announced it is joining forces with Southwest Greens to build a six-hole course in Hong Kong made from synthetic turf. The use of artificial grass is growing and its quality is improving every year, so I can foresee a fully synthetic layout opening soon, most likely in an arid or desert location (just look at the water issues in California). Getting the spec and design correct will be key, so it is good to see that Nicklaus is leading the charge. There is big potential to create some really interesting designs without having to install an irrigation system and while I’m not trying to do greenkeepers out of a job, there will be a lot less maintenance.


These are rivetted bunkers made from artificial turf and they look fantastic – absolutely amazing – and again Jack Nicklaus is endorsing them. And at the base of the EcoBunkers you’ll find a new liner known as ‘The Blinder’ – a brilliant rubbery material which provides a surface which is permeable and drains well. Again, these will save on maintenance costs. 

The future of golf


Clever use of limited water

This will be the other big thing as eventually
I can see the environment agencies starting to put a restriction on water usage on golf courses. I foresee every course in the country having to become self-sufficient within the next decade by having its own reservoir and supply of water. Architects will be labelled eco-friendly by producing sustainable courses which collect drainage water in their own lake/reservoir before it is then re-cycled.

More adventure golf for the kids

Adventure golf seems to me to be the missing link between the non-golfer and the golfer. It’s not ‘real’ golf, but involves hitting a golf ball with a putter and it is played within a carefully designed mini-golf environment. It’s open to anyone to play and it attracts families to the game. They then move on to the driving range and then the nine-hole course. The future of golf lies in attracting the family unit and providing smaller, customer-focused facilities for all that take less time to play. 


What WILL happen… according to a major report commissioned by HSBC

1 Golf clubs and golf courses will become more family friendly. There will be family rooms instead of bars, holes set up for younger players, and certified women-friendly facilities.

2 Six and nine-hole formats, and other short-forms, will complement the 18-hole tradition. A pay-TV sports channel will accelerate this trend by promoting a pro short-form competition. 

Golf will benefit from its association with younger fitter players – driving more fashion and more word on the street.

4 The ‘next’ Tiger Woods – the hot sponsorship and TV property of 2020 –  will be a young Asian player (like world No.15 Hideki Matsuyama). 

Asian brands will make major inroads into the golf equipment and clothing market. 

6 As more women come into the game, golf will become the way for men and women to share leisure time – as cycling has done in richer markets.

7 Golf simulation games, using motion sensors and gestural interfaces, will become mainstream.

8 Social gaming environments and family-oriented golf video games will encourage people to move into the sport, not out of it.

Smartphone and tablet software will help golfers make the right choices, while sensors in equipment and on courses – the smart coach – will help players learn from their mistakes.

10 Golf will become a centre of expertise in water management, conservation and biodiversity. 

11 The first carbon positive courses will be opened. 

12 The authorities will change the rules about equipment to reduce the distances achieved by professionals and bring course lengths back under control. 


The future of golf