THE relationship between the grounds upon which golf is played and the broader popularity of the game, both as a recreational pursuit and as a form of entertainment, is an endlessly fascinating one.
Interesting courses make the game much more engaging to play and, in most instances, far more entertaining to watch.
Which is why the recent announcement that the prestigious Walker Cup, amateur golf’s version of the Ryder Cup, is to be taken to two of America’s greatest courses in the next decade is such a positive one.
Florida’s Seminole Golf Club, a highly regarded Donald Ross design, and California’s Cypress Point, some of the finest work of Dr Alister MacKenzie, will host the event in 2021 and 2025 respectively.
The announcement is a breath of fresh air for those with an interest in golf course architecture but is also a positive for the game as a whole.
The advent of pay TV has seen a steady diet of professional golf on our TV screens, most of which is played on courses that could hardly be described as inspirational.
A few exceptions aside, the major tours in both America and Europe could easily be mistaken for teeing up on the same course over and over.
THREE KEY HOLES AT KINGSTON HEATH:
At the professional level, the commercial imperative overrides all else and tournament venues are chosen not for the quality of the host site but for the size of the cheque which can be presented at the end of the week.
Thus, a constant stream of 72-hole strokeplay events on mostly one-dimensional golf courses has done little to promote the game as a compelling way to spend a few hours.
But high level matchplay on a couple of the world’s truly great venues? Even a non-golfer will be able to tell the difference.
Noteable exceptions in the world of professional golf include the annual Masters Tournament at Augusta National and The Open Championship being played at the Old Course at St Andrews every five years.
It is no surprise that the former is one of the world’s most-watched sporting events while the latter is always the most popular venue on the Open rota.
The recent World Cup of Golf in Melbourne was an excellent example of the role a course can play in making a tournament more interesting to both play and watch.
One after another, players streamed through the media room singing the praises of the Kingston Heath layout, most openly lamenting the fact that playing a tournament at a genuinely good course is such a rare treat.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry was asked about the correlation between course quality and growing the game and had some interesting thoughts.
“A lot of golf courses we play on the PGA Tour and Europe are very similar,” he said.
“They're nothing to what's out there (Kingston Heath) and it gets a bit the same.
“It's nice to come and play a golf course like this where it's not just driver on every hole and wide fairways and big greens and it's a putting competition. It's where to position the ball off the tee, making golf interesting.
“I can only imagine how good it is to grow up playing on a golf course like this. And you definitely produce more of a golfer fan on a course like this than you would on your straightforward parkland course, I fully believe that in this wind.
"And I think that's why we're lucky where we grew up and we played on a lot of different golf courses like links courses in different conditions and we learned how to play golf.
“We didn't learn how to swing the club, we learned how to play golf. I think that's what golf's all about, it's playing the game and not swinging the club.”
Lowry’s words touched a nerve on social media with golfers of all levels, and from all corners of the world, jumping in to agree with his sentiments.
Arguments about the technical aspects of swinging the club aside, his point about playing a golf course that engages the mind as well as the body is well made.
The USGA and R&A come in for their fair share of criticism about various aspects of the governance of the game. But let's give credit where credit is due.
In taking such an important event to Seminole and Cypress Point the USGA has made the competition about more than just the trophy.
They’ve created an opportunity for golf to be showcased in a way that’s all too rare most weeks and, for that, they are to be applauded.
SHANE LOWRY TOUCHES A NERVE WITH HIS COMMENTS ON THE GAME: