Highlands & Islands

Golf should not be a thing of torture, says Castle Stuart designer

Mark Parsinen at Castle Stuart Image copyright Ewen Weatherspoon
Image caption Mark Parsinen at Castle Stuart where the Scottish Open will be held next month

Golf courses need to be more enjoyable to stem a decline in uptake of the sport, the co-designer of this year's Scottish Open venue has said.

Mark Parsinen, who helped to lay out Castle Stuart Golf Links, near Inverness, said for 40 years the demand has been for harder courses.

But with falling club memberships, he said the sport must try to balance the needs of professionals and amateurs.

Mr Parsinen said golf should not be "a thing of torture".

The co-architect of Kingsbarns in Fife and a developer of courses in the US said statistics showed golf club membership in Scotland had fallen by 17% since 2004 and a growing number of courses were closing, with high costs and length of playing time among the reasons cited.

He said similar problems were affecting the game in America.

Image caption Mr Parsinen co-designed the links course at Castle Stuart

Mr Parsinen said: "Every 48 hours a golf course closes in the US. People don't want to spend their spare time looking for balls and being humiliated.

"Golf courses have evolved to have faster greens, narrower fairways, much longer rough and more penalty-laden 'hard edges'.

"Golfers have been facing increasingly difficult courses and challenges that are all too often humiliating and costly, both in time and the cost of lost balls."

He said the 1974 US Open at Winged Foot marked a "sea change" in golf course design.

Golf's governing body in the United States, the USGA, argued at the time that tougher courses helped to "identify" the best golfers.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Mr Parsinen said golf should not be a "thing of torture"

But Mr Parsinen said: "The logic that difficulty in golf is the way to identify the best players isn't entirely true, although it has held sway ever since Winged Foot - to the dismay of the average golfer after a protracted and almost unnoticeable trend towards difficulty becoming the 'be all and end all' of golf design.

"Over more than 40 years, our perception of what golf is all about has changed. How has golf turned into this torture thing?"

He added: "If people think golf is all about a difficult test and proving your mettle, then in that crucible they will suffer pain because they think it may be inevitable.

"But you can change the paradigm of golf and say 'I don't need to be playing the most difficult courses in the world. I need to find some engaging pleasure'."

The Scottish Open will be held at Castle Stuart from 7-10 July.

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