This second post in a series of Best Websites follows the Sunday (4-22-2012) offering on Private Club websites. It examines the functionality and thoroughness of public-course websites in western New York, in an era when a good course website is simply the beginning of online presence (more on that later.) Applying the axioms postulated in the earlier piece, this post will assay the value of each area public-course internet site and loosely rank it in relation to its peers.Privately-owned, public access versus publicly-owned, public access. That’s how it all sets up and breaks down. Just as some of our area private courses are actively seeking members (while others are at quota and have established waiting lists), so do some public courses advertise for clients, while others (principally municipal ones) live off the fat of season passes and ID cards. The quality of the website, then, is proportional to the amount of business the course needs to acquire.

It’s propitious to separate the Olmsted city courses (Cazenovia, Delaware and South Parks), the Erie County couple (Elma Meadows and Grover Cleveland), the TNT Trio (Brighton and Sheridan Parks in T; Deerwood in NT), Audubon and Oakwood in Amherst; Hyde Park in Niagara Falls, Hamburg in Hamburd and Beaver Island (New York State Parks.) This bakers-dozen of courses is at the mercy of municipal organizations that, in a good light, could be described as having a minimalist approach when it comes to web design and information. In all cases, a thorough course tour, architectural history of the course, online reservation system and even a scorecard graphic of the layout are absent. We’d rank them all in the “we need a little something-something” category, with optimism decidedly in their corner.

Unlike their private counterparts, public-access courses depend on players willing to pay the fees demanded by each layout. It is imperative to have a rate structure on site and quite visible, especially if the course depends on seasonal and time-of-day fee changes. If spring, summer and fall rates, early-bird specials and twilight discounts are your thing, stay current!

Without delay, let’s move to my awards categories. When held against Oscars, Emmys and Tonys, the street-cred (or is it fairway-cred) value of these is scant, but it serves a purpose.

The Little Engine That Did sites: These golf courses are run by smaller organizations, even families, that understand the value of a deep web presence. One still lists the web 0.5 standard warning “This site was designed for 800×600 and is best viewed in Internet Explorer,” the closest thing the internet has to nostalgia. Courses that fit this category include Batavia Country Club, Buffalo Tournament Club, Chestnut Hill, Concord Crest, Elkdale, Hillview, Ironwood, Rolling Acres and Terry Hills.

The Little Engine That Could sites: These businesses are on the edge of something better. Some are immersed in the first iteration of their site and need an upgrade to the functionality of web 2.0. An example would be the course that offers a course layout/scorecard link, then pops open a PDF in a separate window~not necessary and certainly outdated (albeit serviceable.) Our membership here includes Peek’n Peak, South Shore and Willowbrook.

The Big Engine That Did sites: We expect much from a high-end course, as we’re paying the freight for a complete golf experience. We like to know about the course, from both visual and cerebral perspectives. Give us images and stats, scorecard and layout, and throw in a history of the course and its architect. Diamond Hawk, Glen Oak, Harvest Hill, Links at Ivy Ridge and Seneca Hickory Stick provide all the web-candy we need, prior to and apres round of golf.

The First Resort: Buffalo-Niagara has three resorts golfing resorts, two of which fit the bill for this award. Byrncliff and Holiday Valley list all the critical information required of a first-class informational site. One can learn of the course layout, amenities and food offerings in a click or two, then delve a bit deeper into lodging, events and other site/area particulars. Heck, since its a destination of sorts, we’ll list Chautauqua Golf Club in this category, too. Its site is a winner.

Most Improved Site awards: This pair could better be labeled “we didn’t have a site, now we do and it works.” Holland Hills and Dande Farms had nothing for the longest time. Both now have attractive sites that are close to excellent.

Site Aspects I Love category:

How to play ready golf @ Dande Farms~We all need to move faster, DF!
Prize Winners @ Batavia~Way to give back, BCC!
Google Aerial Photo @ Elkdale~Bird Cam, ECC!
Big & Simple @ Holland Hills~Easy to read, Easy to find, HH!
A Rainbow! @ Ironwood~What a great shot to see, IW!

Two aspects of web presence leave me scratching my head (a good thing) in wonderment: online reservations and social networks. In the golf destinations of Myrtle Beach, Orlando and Alabama, online reservation systems are standard fare; in Buffalo-Niagara, the jury is out and decidedly undecided. Players lock onto their course and, if a tee time doesn’t appear online or the functionality is not functional, call the course to see if one is available. Western New York is still a voice-to-voice area, a good thing. Online social presence extends from Facebook and Twitter to Groupon and other deal-of-the-day sites. Each chance I get, I follow area courses on Twitter and Like their Facebook pages. Not all courses have these and only they can determine the true value of the effort they dedicate to these endeavors. The social coupon tack is more quantifiable and each season sees more courses on board this ship.