Golfers have many different reasons for what they consider a good golf experience. It is usually a personal preference but there are many factors that can make a golf experience better than others. All the reasons why you would play a golf course again or never return.
When it comes to an overall golf experience there are many factors I consider. Being in Orlando this week and playing 8 different golf courses at 7 different properties is a great time to discuss this topic. From the great experiences to the I will never return an overall golf experience goes beyond just the golf course. I consider a golf experience as one that starts from the moment you pull into the parking lot and it doesn't end until you are driving away.
These are the factors I take into account to determine how my experience at a golf course is.
Outside Services, Golf Shop, Starter, Beverage Cart, Grill, and any maintenance staff I may come across. The golf course conditions, design, and layout are all considered as well.
A great golf experience is when a property has a bag drop and the outside services staff greets you with a friendly welcome, will take your bag, and get it loaded onto a golf cart. They will also make sure you know where you are going for you to check-in for your tee time and may even ask what brings you to play that course for the day. When you enter the golf shop you should be made to feel welcomed. That feeling when the staff makes you feel like they are excited to see you. They will get you checked in, make sure you have golf balls tees, or need a souvenir. The next step is the starter, again welcoming you, getting you a scorecard, giving you a brief on the golf course, the cart rules, and a pin location if applicable. If there is a beverage cart for the day not only should they be friendly but you should see them at least twice per 9-holes. When you are done playing you should see the outside services staff one more time and they should offer to clean your clubs, get your bag back in your car, and make sure you do not leave any belongings on the cart.
Everything mentioned above will determine my experience more than the conditions of the golf course. If I feel very welcomed and every staff member is friendly I would rather go back to that golf course with just ok conditions than a perfect golf course where the staff is not so friendly. However, when it comes to really great golf experience the conditions of the course should be really good. Well-manicured fairways and tee boxes, with definition between the rough and fairway, and greens that roll smooth and true. The bunkers should be raked and have sufficient rakes placed with each bunker or on your golf cart.
When you take all of that into consideration with the cost of golf you can determine whether or not you had a good, bad, or just ok golf experience. Here are two examples of the best and worst I experienced all week.
Best - Orange County National - I arrived early and was greeted with a warm welcome by the outside services. They got my bag on a cart made sure I knew where to check in and refreshed my memory of where everything on the property was since it had been 13 years since I had been there. The golf shop staff made me feel welcomed and the golf courses were in immaculate condition. Add the price being reasonable for the conditions and overall experience I give this property an 8 out of 10. The only reason they do not get a 10/10 is they had one beverage cart running both golf courses and both courses were busy. The beverage cart attendant was very friendly we just only saw the cart twice during 36-holes of golf. The other reason is range balls were not included in the price of the round.
Worst - Reunion Resort Watson Course - This was also the most expensive round of the week. At $140 I was expecting so much better. To start the day upon arrival and dropping our bags off, the staff was friendly but the entrance itself is not welcoming. One it is a good walk from where you have to park. When you enter you walk into a dining room with a hostess stand and there was no one pointing us in the direction of the golf shop. The doors to the golf shop looked like an extra dining room. A buddy found the rate as a prepay online, however when we went to check in they also charge a $5 service fee for whatever reason. Oh, and they are no cash so you have to use a debit or credit card for everything. Even though the staff was friendly I did not feel welcomed at all. I got the feeling I was inconveniencing the staff. Next, I went to get a drink in the grill. I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes before anyone acknowledge me and even then it was just a hi. Not one person said they would be right with me or asked if I'd like anything. I just walked out and went to the driving range. At this point, I figured it can't get worse right? Wrong, the driving range was off of mats and they were the dirtiest mats I have ever seen. One golf shot and your clubs turned black with dirt. They also had wear marks that were like mini divots in the mat. Then to top it off once we get onto the golf course the greens were still healing from aerification. You could clearly see it had only been a few weeks and even though the greens rolled decently they were bumpy on some greens due to not being as recovered as the others. When done there were no signs where to return the carts and once we did find it not one staff member offered to clean clubs or grab our bag. They literally only said make sure you have everything watched us take our bags off the cart then took the cart. The golf course was in good condition from tee to green and the beverage cart was super friendly. I will not return to any reunion property, especially at the rates they ask. They get a 3 of 10 only because of the beverage cart staff and the fairways, tee boxes, and Tom Watson Design.
Here is a list of all the courses I played, a mix of pictures, my rating, and links for you to check the course out for yourself.
Stoneybrook East Golf Club - 6/10
Black Bear Golf Club - 7/10
Reunion Resort (Watson Course) - 3/10
Orange County National (Panther Lakes & Crooked Cat) - 8/10
Eagle Creek Golf Club - 7/10
LPGA International (Jones Course) - 5/10
Champion Gate Country Club - 7/10
I do know a good or bad experience for me one day may not be the same for someone else another day. However, the only thing that should make a golf experience bad should be the golf course conditions being bad.