We have all, at one time or another, asked our friends to recommend a golf course. When they reply that this or that course is a “real gem”, we are not certain exactly what they mean. Their evaluation, after all, is fairly subjective. What in their opinion are the qualities that make it “a gem”? Is it the course condition, the “playability” of the course, the service of the staff, the quality of the cheeseburger and the temperature of the beer, or even something as simple, yet important as, the availability and cleanliness of the restrooms?
We all have criteria that we use to judge a golf course and hopefully that judgment is not influenced by how well you played and the score you shot. It is not the golf courses fault that you had a bad round after all.
Unfortunately, up until now, there has been no real, unbiased system in place to judge a golf course in the state of Arizona, let alone So AZ. While the advice of friends can be valid, it may not always encompass the things that are important to you. Thankfully, the Arizona Women’s Golf Association (AWGA) has created the GEM program to evaluate golf courses and the total golf experience that can be found at the wonderful facilities that we are blessed with, both here in So Az as well as the rest of the state. GEM stands for “Golf Endorsed by Members”, and while the list is an objective list of courses in Arizona that are recommended by women for women to play, the qualities that make a good golf facility are appreciated by all players. No matter what your gender, I believe that we all appreciate the critical eye and observant ability of women. Guys….you know you agree with this. The ladies know what is best and they are usually, if not always, right!
The AWGA wanted to develop a system of evaluation to give a public voice to the women who they felt are the keys to successfully developing the women’s golf market, something key to growing the game…an initiative important to anybody who is involved in golf, from players to course operators alike. The term “women friendly” was inadequate. A name was needed that would signify the strength that a recommendation made by the body of women golfers in Arizona would have. It had to be completely objective in how the opinions were gathered. It had to be done in such a way that would objectively compare one course to the other in terms of how women, and subsequently all golfers, felt about their experience playing there. Most importantly, no golf course would be able to earn a recommendation except by providing a great experience, primarily to women golfers.
For a golf course to be included in the evaluation it has to be an active member of the AWGA, which means it must have at least one tee with a current USGA Course Rating for play by women issued by the AWGA. After that, it is up to the course management to provide the elements deemed to be important to women players in particular, most of which are certainly important to every player as well. The evaluation survey can only be taken through the AWGA website, and only by members of the association. The AWGA provides information and a handicapping system for their members, complete with posting access through the association website. Whenever a member posts her score for handicap purposes, she is asked to complete the survey. If the score is posted at the golf course she is conveniently reminded to do so via an email sent to her home computer. The survey is a very thorough evaluation with questions designed to target the following areas:
Customer service; outside player assistance, golf shop, food and beverage.
Golf shop merchandise available for women; availability of various sizes and styles.
Club House facilities
Menu selection in food and beverage outlets
Availability and accessibility of restrooms, on and off the course
Beauty of design and landscaping
The golf course itself, course conditions included
Playability, challenge and enjoyment of the golf course
Overall value of the experience
A mathematical formula has been devised to apply points gathered from surveys taken. Trust me, this is been analyzed and tested in many ways. Each member can only submit an evaluation of a particular course once every six months, no ballot box stuffing here. There is a minimum number of surveys required to generate a score. The formula is designed so that the golf course’s management can readily affect the results by addressing issues that generate a less than stellar result on the surveys. The GEM is an annual designation, which should give all courses plenty of time to make some changes. That also provides for seasonal variations in conditions.
What this means to the golf course and the golf professionals that operate them is an opportunity to attract the ever growing market of women golfers….and the spouses, friends and children who may accompany them. It is a service provided by their existing female customer base to receive valuable feedback about what they like and what they think can be done to enhance their playing experience at the golf course. Feedback that can consequently improve their product for all players…and who doesn’t want to play the best.
As you look at the list, we hope this provides a guide to golf courses that should be on your must play list. It is interesting to note that of the 22 courses that received the GEM designation, 7 are in the Southern Arizona area and 6 more are spread out over Northern Arizona. Not to take away from the great courses and clubs in the Valley of the Sun, but we should be very proud of this fact. There are well over 200 golf courses in metropolitan Phoenix/Scottsdale and less than 50 in Tucson and parts south, you do the math. As a percentage of facilities that are favored by the members of the AWGA, the courses in our neighborhood are way ahead. To me it says the ladies of Southern Arizona really care about their club or the courses they frequent…and they really, really love their golf!