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Golf Course Architecture: Best tips for making the game more playable for female golfers

6 min read
May 23, 2024

Have you ever thought about the differences between male golfers and female or slow swing speed players in general? Golf course architect, Kari Haug certainly has, as she has spent the last 20 years working actively to make the sport more enjoyable for everyone. We asked her to share her best tips on how to enhance playability, especially for female golfers.

With Women's Golf Day coming up, we’re on our ongoing mission to make golf course managers out there aware of the importance and opportunities of creating fun and more accessible settings for female golfers around the world.  

Of course, golf is for everyone - men, women, young, seniors, and everyone in between. However, it's time to understand the dynamics and potential improvement opportunities to adjust and modify golf courses to better fit female golfers. We discussed this topic with a professional in the field to help us understand why these changes are necessary. 

Let us introduce you to Kari Haug, a golf course architect and licensed landscape architect in Minnesota. In the early 2000s, she studied both landscape and golf course architecture in Minnesota and Edinburgh, Scotland. Today, she is a member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, where she serves on the Council and is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chairperson.  

Kari’s vision goes beyond simply designing aesthetically pleasing courses; she wants to revolutionize golf course design to fit the hitting distances and shot trajectories of average female amateur players. She underlines the crucial role that course design plays in shaping player satisfaction, particularly for women, seniors, and juniors – or others who don’t hit the ball far as compared to average male players. These players are often referred to as slower swing speed players.

Feeling like the course was built for you is important. And for women, we don't get to experience that very often. That’s where I see a big potential.
Kari Haug, Golf Course Architect

Differential treatment leads to frustration 

From Kari’s point of view, traditional golf course layouts often fail to consider the diverse skill levels and physical characteristics of female players, and this oversight can lead to frustration and less engagement among women golfers, which, according to her, might hinder growth of the sport.

For me, playability is key. The course has to be playable for the person that is supposed to play it to make the entire experience enjoyable.
Kari Haug, Golf Course Architect

But here's her main message: if golf course managers start being more inclusive when they give design directives to contracted golf course architects, they've got a chance to not just bring in more female players, but also keep them coming back for more.

Kari is the owner and lead golf course architect at Kari Haug Planning & Design, Inc. Source: Kari Haug
In familiar settings, Kari thrives. Here she is inspecting the course at Timber Creek Golf Course in California. Source: Kari Haug
With over 20 years of experience, Kari specializes in advising on sustainable golf course design, water conservation, women's golf, and forward tee design. Source: Kari Haug


So, what's this inclusive design all about?  

Basically, it means creating courses that are more welcoming, playable, and accessible to a wider group of people with different abilities and preferences. For women, this might involve adding features such as forward tees, strategically placed yet manageable hazards, and a playable pathway the full length of the fairway from tee to green. 

By giving options that support slower swing speeds, and shorter driving and second shot distances, golf courses can ensure that women feel empowered and encouraged to play their best game.

There are differences between men and women in the physical body and we can't ignore that when we're designing. Being both differences in strength and in height for instance.
Kari Haug, Golf Course Architect

How to improve conditions for slow swing speed players 

First and foremost, Kari highlights length as a crucial factor when designing an appropriate golf course. According to her, both the length of individual holes and the overall course length are essential for an optimal experience for women.  

In other words, shorter distances can make a round of golf more manageable and accessible for female golfers. Another critical point is considering what the female golfer can see from the tee.

Women are not as tall as men. So, if I'm out on a site with an owner or superintendent and if it's a male, I often say; okay, just crouch down a little bit and then you can see what I see. And I always get the same reaction. They always say – ‘Oh, I get it.’
Kari Haug, Golf Course Architect

Next, Kari underlines the importance of varied tees. She advocates for fairness about this, meaning golf courses should not only provide women's tees but also ensure they are designed as equitably as the standard tees.  

This means that if the standard tees have irrigation and drainage, so should the women's tees. If the standard tees are elevated to offer a nice view of the course, the women's tees should be too. Women are generally a bit shorter than men, and this shouldn't be a disadvantage on the course because they might not be able to see bunkers or hazards.

I want to point out that the tees aren't necessarily a major renovation. You know, they are relatively inexpensive in the scheme of things, and I think that should be one of the first things that golf courses look at.
Kari Haug, Golf Course Architect

It's about a holistic experience 

In addition to the on-course improvements, clubs can also implement other initiatives to attract and retain female golfers. Not long ago, we shared 8 tips on how to attract more women to your golf club, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. 

For Kari, it's crucial to remember women in every aspect, including the club's facilities. This can involve ensuring the pro shop appeals to them, offering equipment that they find relevant, and not just last year's models tucked away in a corner.

Playable Pathways site visit working onsite
Kari and her Australian partner, Tim Lobb, visiting a snow-covered Finnish landscape. Source: Kari Haug
Kari has previously assisted a Players 1st partner club, Golf Pirkkala, in Finland. Source: Kari Haug
Kari Haug flying drone

Kari isn’t afraid to incorporate new technology into her work, and she greatly benefits from using drones to get an overview of the courses. Source: Kari Haug 


Also, the locker room facilities should match those of the men. In other words, it's important to consider gender differences when designing the golf club. This could also include having a restroom on the course, as not everyone can just head into the bushes to take care of things.  

Finally, she points out that beginners in the golf world shouldn't be expected to play a standard 18-hole course. There are many aspects to learn as a fresh golfer, including the game itself and maintaining a good pace of play so as not to affect other players on the course.

Kari sees potential for clubs to provide alternatives, especially for female beginners — perhaps in the form of courses with fewer holes, an approach that our findings on nearly 1.000 female golfers support. This way, new players can learn and enjoy the sport without the pressure from other players on a full 18-hole course.

How to promote enjoyment on the course for women
Figure 1: How to promote enjoyment on the course for women


Glorious days are on the horizon 

As Kari sees it, many women have yet to witness the full potential and enjoyment that golf offers. Once they have the chance to regularly experience a golf course that fits their game and are given equal opportunities, there are many fantastic experiences awaiting them.

The standard two shots to reach the green on a par 4 golf hole may seem foreign to many women because courses have typically been designed to be too long for the average woman golfer. And when the design of the course does not fit their game, they are forced to hit three shots into a par 4 for example. Attention to the capabilities of all players is key to designing the golf course of the future, and it will be an eye opener when courses fit the women’s game, and so much more enjoyable.
Kari Haug, Golf Course Architect

With these insights in mind, it will be exciting to follow the future design of golf courses, and one thing is for sure. At Players 1st, we're all about it, and we're keen to dive deeper into this topic in the future.


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