Leeds’ golfing gems are mined online

The team that produces golf's answer to tripadvisor, leadingcourses.com, including Evangelist Leonard van Nunen, third right, pictured at the Golf & Country Club Lauswolt in Beetsterzwaag.
The team that produces golf's answer to tripadvisor, leadingcourses.com, including Evangelist Leonard van Nunen, third right, pictured at the Golf & Country Club Lauswolt in Beetsterzwaag.
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LEEDS is an area renowned for a selection of high quality courses with arguably its most famous being Alwoodley and Moortown.

They were the first and second layouts respectively created by Dr Alister MacKenzie, the Normanton-born golf course architect who remains revered as a master of his craft.

Both are regularly used for regional qualifying for the Open championship and Moortown was the stage for the first Ryder Cup held in the UK, in 1929.

However, there are 30 courses affiliated to the Leeds & District Union and an indication of their high overall standard is reflected by more than half of them claiming a ‘recommended’ rating on the golfing website leadingcourses.com.

The strength of the site is the fact that reviews are written by club golfers with anyone able to offer their thoughts after playing a course by simply registering their name and email details.

Leonard van Nunen, a leadingcourses.com Evangelist, says the web aims to become golf’s answer to tripadvisor and with 350,000 users each month it appears on its way to achieving that goal.

A system of filtering means that someone considering a golfing trip can choose a region, green fee costs – and see course reviews banded according to the handicaps of the contributors.

The website was spawned 10 years ago after three of its creators played one of Ireland’s most famous and most expensive courses.

Van Nunen explained: “It was really difficult and windy and expensive, and they came off the course and a member asked, ‘Did you have fun?’ and one of the guys replied, ‘No, because I’m a handicap golfer, so I lost about 14 balls and I had to pay about €140 – so, no, not really’.

“The member said, ‘if you just drive 15 minutes down the road there’s a public course and it’s €40, it’s on the same coast, it’s the same scenery, the rough is a bit shorter, the fairways are a bit wider – have a look there’.

“So they went there and thought, ‘Why didn’t I know this?’ and it was because most people know the big courses, but most of the time they are too difficult and too expensive, especially the latter.

“Back then they were in the internet business, comparing the prices of household appliances, and they thought, ‘why don’t we compare golf courses?’”

Ninety per cent of first-time visitors go straight to their home club to check its rating and many are prompted to register and write a review – some because they think the rating is too low, but not all of them.

“Most of the time they disagree because, say, it’s an 8.2 and they think it’s a 9.5 – so they go and write a review and voice their opinion , which is great,” said van Nunen.

“You can write a review and your opinion counts.

“On a bigger scale, either in their region or in their country, they check which county is the best in England or which is the best course in their county.

“Also if they are planning a trip – should I go to Portugal, should I go to Spain? – and they look up courses they can even find hotel information or package travel by going to leadingcourses.”

Any club with a rating of around 7.5 or better is a ‘recommended’ club in leadingcourses’ reckoning and 16 of Leeds’ 30 clubs reach that mark and above.

A club is considered ‘outstanding’ with a mark above 8.5 and three fall into this category with Alwoodley – at 8.8 – sandwiched between third-placed Low Laithes (8.7) and the Leeds’ ‘leaders’ Waterton Park, on 8.9.

“What’s interesting about leadingcourses in respect to, say, Top 100 Golf Courses of the World or Golf Digest rankings is that it’s by golfers, so sometimes you get surprises,” continued van Nunen. “In Holland for a long time all the old, traditional clubs were at the top, but there were several new clubs developed in the last 10 years and they’ve made it into the top rankings.

“Because we’re on the internet it doesn’t take two years and 10 reporters to visit it for a club to get rated.”

The three Dutchmen behind leadingcourses launched it 10 years ago and a decade on, with a couple of investment rounds behind them, they are now the market leader on Continental Europe and are growing every day.

The site is in nine languages – English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish – which covers, says van Nunen, 95 per cent of all golfers in their mother tongue.

“We didn’t grow as fast as we wanted, but now we have 350,000 unique visitors per month, which is really a lot because they are all people who play at least five to 10 rounds a year and travel, so this is a super database,” said van Nunen.

“People are on the site for an average of 20 minutes, which is extremely long in this day and age. It’s accessible for everyone.

“All you provide is a profile name and an email address. We don’t accept anonymous previews.

“You can put in what your handicap is and what clubs you use, so people can filter and ask, say, ‘give me all the single-figure handicap golfer reviews of this course’.

“The more reviews you write, the more weight your review carries. It’s like an air mile system. If you write three or four reviews, you’re bronze; if you write 20 or more you’re silver; and if you write 30 or more you’re gold, and a gold reviewer’s vote is much stronger on a course so it weighs more in the actual rating of a course.

“What I do if I’m going to visit a new course is I check the rating, then I look at the outliers and say, ‘okay someone gives it a 6, someone gives it a 9, why?’ Most importantly I look at the gold members because they’ve reviewed at least 50 courses – and most of the time more.

“If you look at just the gold reviews you get a really balanced review.”

With regard to members reviewing their own club, he revealed: “If you’re a member you might rate it way too high, but we also see members who are critical of their club and have talked to the captain, maybe, about the greens not being up to par, and so on, and they actually give a lower rating, and then an average comes out.”

Leadingcourses welcomes new reviewers with van Nunen revealing: “Ninety per cent of people nowadays read online reviews to make their decision if they’re buying something like a car, a television, book a holiday, whatever, but only eight to 12 per cent of people write reviews because it’s much easier just to read reviews.”

Often after checking out the review of their own club a visitor’s next port of call is to one of the best-known courses when the rating may be lower than they expected it to be.

“If you are above 8.5 you are outstanding, and that’s only about 1.5 per cent of the clubs,” he said.

“If you’re a really high-end club with a big reputation the expectations go higher. It’s like going in a Michelin starred restaurant; if there’s a napkin on the floor you think, ‘oh, what’s this?’ but if you are going in your local pub and there’s a napkin on the floor you just think, ‘okay, it’s a pub’.

“It’s sometimes quite difficult for a really good club to get high scores because, also, if people pay a lot of money the anticipation and expectation is so high it’s quite easy for it to turn into a disappointment.

“It’s all about numbers. If you have over 20 or 30 reviews then probably the rating is right.

“If you write a review, the golf course itself is still the most important, but what we do see is that if a club has really good dining and they’re super friendly it obviously affects the experience.”

So what are you waiting for? Click here for leadingcourses.com check out your club’s rating, and then register and write your own reviews.