Early December 2022 and the future is here. Granted, there have been numerous movies about AI, but it is here and ready to rumble. Naturally, I used this insane technological enhancement to tell me about the future of golf course architecture.
I used ChatGPT, a product of OpenAI and the buzz of the tech world, which can write code, provide answers akin to Google, and write articles (not this one, though it was consulted). For good reason, ChatGPT is being called “the Google killer.”
After asking AI what the future of golf course architecture is, here is what it told me:
Let’s dive into what all this means, and whether there is any validity to this.
Increased use of technology
ChatGPT says that “golf courses of the future may incorporate more advanced technologies, such as sensors and GPS systems, to improve the player experience and provide additional date and insights.” I think this is an easy one to agree with. After all, Trackman Range is very present and growing in Canada (active at Point Grey in Vancouver, St. Charles in Winnipeg, and Royal Ottawa in Quebec). What is to say that Trackman 1-18 is not a future reality? Secondly, according to Golfpass, night golf is on the rise, and a great tool for those warm-weather areas to be able to avoid the dreaded heat and get people out when it is cooler. To some extent, this is the future now, and there is certainly a reality I believe Trackman golf course (or something similar) and night golf + sensors of some sort exist to further create experiences in golf.
More sustainable design
As ChatGPT puts it, “As awareness of environmental issues grows, golf courses may be designed with more sustainable practices in mind, such as using drought-resistant grasses and incorporating natural habitats for wildlife.” In some respect, incorporating natural habitats for wildlife is already a reality of sorts with Audubon International. Audubon certified golf courses are recognized for their commitment to environmental quality by meeting required standards for protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and providing wildlife habitats.
Secondly, a world where there is more sustainability in golf courses is a must going forward. Specifically, water usage going forward is going to be a key part of being able to keep our golf courses a part of cities and ecosystems.
More diverse and accessible design
“Golf courses of the future may be designed to be more accessible and welcoming to players of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. This could include the inclusion of shorter, par-3 courses and other features that make the game more accessible to beginners and casual players.” I am not sure I could have put it any better, and certainly not better than Christine Fraser, an architect who has been notable for vouching for these improvements. For the first time since 2000, there was a net gain of par 3 courses—a step in the right direction.
A massive hurdle golf has faced, and likely will face regardless of efforts at the grassroots level, is the expensive nature of the game, even if you can find used clubs at a garage sale for cheap and play at a municipal golf course. Even so, that will still set you back more than golf’s recreation competitors. Places like Winter Park have done a good job at trying to make it affordable and accessible, but in Canada especially, we can be better.
More challenging and strategic design
An increase in strategic design seems to be the least likely of the bunch. Golf architecture theory is something explored throughout history, and generally speaking, a majority of avenues have been explored. Even if there is something new and exciting out there—which I think is a possibility—it will take a lot of effort and time to roll it out to the masses. Nevertheless, seeing golf architecture evolve by “[being] designed to be more challenging and strategic, with a greater emphasis on shot-making and course management. This could include the use of more varied terrain, bunkers, and other obstacles that test players’ skills and strategy” is an exciting prospect for a fan of challenging, yet strategic golf courses. I do like the point about other obstacles… is there a future in this? Perhaps a Renaissance in Victorian Era features? Will there be man-made features like stone walls and other related hazards in the future of golf course architecture? To me, this is the least-likely of the four, although the most creative and the one that intrigues me the most. Also, this is the least important so-called “improvement” of the four advances the AI spit out.
Now, the AI is not perfect… yet, and there are some things it needs to improve on. For example, its writing style is unedited here. Completely lifted from the program, all my pre-check writing tools indicate an increased use of passive voice and some grammatical errors here and there. Also, there are some factually wrong tidbits it could spit out, such as Stanley Thompson worked for both Tom Bendelow and A.W. Tillinghast until 1923, and Rod Whitman has designed and renovated more than 100 golf courses worldwide, which is not quite true. However, it is interesting to see which way the program sees golf architecture going, and I imagine it will be worth paying attention to see if it comes true. Either way, ChatGPT is worth checking out.