English golf writer Richard Pennell recently observed – “…I wonder if perhaps the scruffiness of the car parks at some clubs could give a contra-indication of the calibre of the golf course. The less a club spends on, or seems to care about, the car park (and, to some degree, other peripheral details like shower pressure or the food), the more central the golf course might be to the whole experience.”

He cites some examples of notable clubs in his local area with world-class golf courses but where the car parks are in his words, “truly, spectacularly awful”.

While not without exception, I’ve found Richard’s observation holds at many fine English and UK golf clubs. But then at the other extreme, the American culture of subjugation to all things automotive tends to dictate an unrelenting pursuit of carpark perfection regardless of the standard of the course.

Australia, like most things golf-related, sits somewhere on the spectrum between UK simplicity and American excess. We generally present formal asphalt car parks with helpful lines and arrows and signage. Often the product of a ‘carpark project’ undertaken by some past committee then left to slowly deteriorate with minimal maintenance until some future committee decides to fix it all up again.

Since reading Richard’s essay, I’ve begun to view ostentatious carparks with a leering wariness and a possible red flag.

Without a doubt, Australia’s biggest discrepancy between golf course and car park quality can be found at Frankston Golf Club in Victoria. This extremely private 9-hole gem offers one of the finest and most pure golf experiences in Australia, but the car park is a vaguely defined shifting pile of dust and gravel.

I find Frankston’s carpark a reassuring sign that they have their priorities in order. Despite being a very exclusive club (it’s nicknamed ‘The Millionaire’s Club’), it offers one of the cheapest memberships in the country – getting invited to join is the trick.

Frankston exploits its low subscription fees as a constraint that forces the club to put its money where it is needed most. The beautiful, small cottage that serves as a clubhouse has no permanent staff – members are issued a key and bring their own food and wine to picnic on the lawn or dine on the veranda. Most of the club’s limited funds are used in the maintenance of the course.

The course itself is preserved as much as possible to look and play as it did 100 years ago. Minimal irrigation and mostly indigenous vegetation ensure it’s one of the most sustainable courses in the country. There are no concrete paths or hedges or gardens. There’s just golf.

This formula of low fees, simple facilities and a great golf course makes for a wonderful golf experience, maybe the best two or three hours you can spend at any golf course in Australia.

If more clubs would follow the Frankston model… golf membership would be cheaper, and the golf may be better. Participation would increase and golf would be under less pressure to justify its environmental footprint.

Perhaps it’s not for everyone… perversely some clubs would see Frankston’s model as a risk – no multiple income streams, no diverse revenue-generating activities, a horrible first impression from the car park. It all leads to one terrifying thought – to rely on good golf to attract people to a golf course…

By Adrian Logue