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Having The Balls To Succeed

‘Disruption’ was probably one of the most overused business terms and ideas last year. “How do we disrupt our product, industry, company, underwear etc?” I get it, change happens overnight and suddenly nothing is the same anymore. Adaptability is now a requirement, not a skill. But I’m still surprised by how many industries hold onto old practices or ideas even when the writing is on the wall.

Well, I do get some of it, they’re milking the existing system or status quo for as long as they can…and avoiding uncomfortable change. Ultimately that’s such a short-term way of thinking and while you’re pandering to the now, (soon to be past) someone else is working on tomorrow and they’ll be held up as ‘disruptors’ when all they really did was face the facts of change and start working according to a new reality.

Let’s use an industry or profession as an example, one neither you or I know a lot about. Golf course design. As a golfer, I’m no expert on the trends but I am ‘in’ the industry so I can observe certain shifts or lack thereof. I’m also aware of some of the larger global trends, and how they might affect golf course design. If you read even a little, I’m sure there’s an industry you’re not intimately familiar with but through analysis and deduction you can look at things and say ‘huh, why are they still doing that?’. Think fossil fuels for one, if you want to be terrified for your grandkids go read this New York Times piece.

That’s how I currently look at golf course design. I love the environment, cherish it, nature is my playground. Contrary to popular belief, golf courses might be found in the environment but they’re not necessarily good for it. Are they better than condos, definitely. But there are aspects that need to be addressed; pesticide use, foreign grasses, displacement of animals or the destruction of the natural food chain, and the big one, excessive use of water. Golf courses use a lot of water.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the world as a whole is running out of water, there are people who have suggested solutions to this problem but as of yet we’re doing what we as an ignorantly lazy human race do, we avoid thinking about the problem until it REALLY affects us. Smoking was fine until, holy shit, these things really kill a lot of people. Climate change? ‘I’m Donald Trump and I’m incredibly bigly intelligent – global warming is fake news – when have I ever lied?’. There’s plastic in the ocean and we’re killing destroying the food chain? ‘Meh, my sushi tastes fine’. But wait until the fish are all dead or people start dropping dead like flies due to high iron/carcinogen/plastic levels, suddenly everyone will be up in arms and scrambling to find solutions, when it’s too late.

But I digress, back to golf courses. I have a disdain for how golf has become an elitist sport in many countries. Cheap public courses with sparse maintenance have been replaced by glitzy private clubs and over-manicured grass playgrounds for the rich. You have to delve deep into the history and origins of golf to realise that it was quite an accessible sport, even in the USA in the 50s and 60s families could be found on public courses that weren’t over-manicured with 6-inch rough. Courses were built into the existing terrain. But without getting into the nuts and bolts of it, golf course designers and architects make more money if they need to move a lot of earth around, building hills, large greens, elaborate bunkers etc. and all this turned golf course ‘design’ into a bit of a joke on the person paying for the course. Big name players became multi-millionaires by attaching their name and design to a series of courses, each more elaborate, earth moving and water suckingly intensive that the next. We started ‘building’ golf courses instead of ‘designing’ courses into the existing terrain.

I’m going to state this again, I’m no golf course design expert and I’m not intimately familiar with the trends in their industry. But I’m not seeing many course architects designing and building courses to use LESS water. There are very few designers who focus solely on sustainable design. It’s a small link at the bottom of their website somewhere. Golf isn’t going away or dying, it might be declining but people will always play golf. But courses that hurt the environment more than they need to might find themselves in contravention of some national or state laws that are constructed based on our coming water shortages (again, I’m making wild predictions and could be very wrong on multiple fronts, but I’m also just making deductions from larger trends I’m seeing) or stricter environmental laws – which could lead to these courses just withering, dying and then closing down.

To see how resistant to change the golfing community and designers are you can look at Ben Crenshaw’s redesign of Pinehurst #2. An iconic course that has hosted numerous championships. Prior to the US Open being held there in 2014 Mr Crenshaw took on the project of taking Pinehurst ‘back to its roots’ by removing a lot of the overbred thick rough and creating ‘wasteland areas’ or sparser grass the further you ventured away from the centre of the fairway, which is where the remaining sprinklers were positioned.

They also pulled out hundreds of sprinkler heads that kept the excess grass alive and the course was reinhabited with natural weeds, grasses and sand. For the golf viewing public and players it was a bit of a shock, suddenly the unpredictability of lies in these waste areas became a factor. Rickie Fowler made some dramatic errors coming down the stretch from a few of the waste areas that ultimately made life for the winner Martin Kaymer a bit easier. Kaymer displayed amazing ball striking throughout the week, generally staying out of trouble while using his exceptional putting to neutralise any mistakes he made. Sorry, this isn’t a ‘golf’ post, let me get back on topic. While many people celebrated Crenshaw’s redesign of an old character…it seems that it didn’t usher in a new trend. Since Crenshaw’s redesign various courses have been built and redesigned, but very few if any, have applied some of the same practices he used to make courses less straining on one of our most prized resources.

Someone (hey it might even be me;) is going to launch a ‘100% Sustainable Golf Course Design’ business and in a few years or decades they’re going to be the industry leader. For one, I think there are a few smart people that pay the design bills who also care about the environment and the longevity of the course they’re building, and paying for. When that day comes everyone will call this design company a ‘disruptor’ or ‘innovator’ when all they did was have the balls to acknowledge the inevitable trends that are coming and will shape their industry, and design their business around it.

For every person buying a Tesla there’s an engineer designing a gas guzzler who says we’ll never stop using oil. Yes, I’m sure there were a tonne of people that rode their horse carts until they were banned from the road too.

What are the inevitable trends that will shape your industry or job? Why wait until someone else disrupts you – why not just have the balls (guts, for the ladies) to acknowledge what’s coming and start making changes and adaptations so that you can be ahead of the pack? It’s highly likely you’ll be uplifting an entire industry, product category and customer base.

Now let me get back to structuring my golf course design business. I think I’ll call Ben first.