Is This Really The Way to ‘Save’ Golf?

Golf is frustrating. Probably the most frustrating sport to play. All you have to do is hit that tiny white ball a couple hundred yards into a tiny little hole. It’s a mental sport, sure to test your composure and perseverance. Have a bad day on the golf course and things can seem hopeless. Players will resort to anything to change their fortune on the course. They might try swinging with their eyes closed. Others will flip through Golf Digest pages, hoping to find a hidden swing thought that will save them strokes. And others, myself included, will come to believe that practicing isn’t helping, and that time away from the course is needed to improve.

Part of golf’s allure is its difficulty. It is a sport for an entire lifetime, in the sense that you can play it until you’re 80 or 90 years old. You may only shave off five strokes over the course of five or ten years, if you’re lucky. It is a sport of patience and calmness, two virtues lacking in younger people. It is also a sport that usually takes at least four hours to play at any given time. And if you’re playing with three friends, it can easily come closer to five hours.

So golf has a problem. Young people aren’t particularly enamored with an exceedingly difficult sport, with extensive and sometimes archaic rules, that takes up so much time. A sport for one’s lifetime? More like a sport that takes a lifetime to become good at. A sport of patience and calmness? Morel like a painfully slow waste of one’s time and resolve. These are some of the criticisms of golf by the younger generations. The sport seems too stuffy, elitist, and pretentious to the outsider. What’s fun about walking off the course demoralized after a bad round in which you hit half the balls you bought into the water or woods?

Golf is in trouble right now. The sport is dying, losing golfers and courses at an alarming rate. Between the recession and Tiger Woods’ fall from grace, both in 2008, golf has become less accessible and appealing in the past few years. Golf cannot rely on once-in-a-generation talents like Tiger Woods to carry its popularity. And it can’t be so damn expensive. That’s why there have been efforts and proposals to change the sport and increase its popularity. The one idea that has received most attention, maybe because of how bogus it looks, is enlarging the cups.

Is a 15-inch cup really the solution to golf's woes?

Is a 15-inch cup really the solution to golf’s woes?

A bigger cup would create lower scores and faster rounds. Golfers cannot entertain such an idea seriously. It compromises what makes the game so fun in the first place: its difficulty. It is a gimmicky way to draw people to golf. Does the sport permanently change, or is the bigger cup just a stepping stone for beginners? As a sort of training wheels for new golfers, the idea may have some merit. If it generates appeal and popularity in today’s youth, then it is probably worth it.

It’s almost impossible to come up with an equivalent in other sports. In basketball it might be lowering the hoop for beginners. It’s not fun that so few players can dunk after all! What better way to get a seven year old interested in basketball than create an environment, where he can dunk and imitate his favorite players when he plays? I know, it’s an absurd idea. It should sound like a horrible idea. The more likely comparison would be widening the basketball hoop or soccer goal, making it easier to score. Neither idea would ever happen. Those sports are immensely popular for people of all ages, and especially younger kids. Those sports don’t need gimmicks to survive. Unfortunately for golf, it is currently in a sink-or-swim stage. If the sport doesn’t do something drastic soon, it will be nearly extinct in twenty or thirty years.

As an avid golfer, I despise the idea on the basis that it is not the sport that I know and love. It is a gimmick. It’s a game where chipping in from the sand trap is routine, hole-in-ones are an almost weekly occurrence, and rounds in the sixties or seventies are not the mark of expertise, but of mere competency. If a bigger cup lets casual players enjoy golf more and grows the game though, isn’t that all that matters? All golfers will echo what former PGA Tour player Curtis Strange feels to a certain extent:

“I don’t want to rig the game and cheapen it. I don’t like any of that stuff. And it’s not going to happen either. It’s all talk.”

The last thing I want to imagine is casual golfers tweeting and instagramming pictures of hole-in-ones on their first ever round. Part of golf is the struggle–the one step forward, two steps back, three steps forward, one step back–that is unlike any other sport. But among golfers, there has to be a realization that the sport has issues right now. And the 15-inch cup may not be the solution, but at least there is a discussion about changing the game to grow the game.


18 responses

  1. The problem is nobody can afford to play the game while unemployed or on a Burger King wage. Bring back the decent paying factory jobs that all went to China and people might have the money to play golf again.

  2. I played the game for probably 45 years.
    At one point in my late teens, early 20’s had my handicap down to 3 or 4
    Played most of my life between a 10 & 12.
    Six years ago I quit, walked off after 5 holes , and never returned.
    Reasons, costs too much, takes too long. My kid is totally not into the game was weighing on me. The a-holes you got stuck with if you did not have a game , no talent, no manners . Golf is a beautiful game if played with polite partners.
    But this I paid $150 and I’ll talk on my phone and kick it out of the rough bullshit made me not want to be there anymore.
    Yes your right the game could be doomed, between what I expressed and the current state of the golf industry. The future is not very bright.
    Perhaps Rory and the new guns may feed some life into the game and give it a boost..

    Good luck

    • Thanks for your anecdote. I agree: hopefully Rory and some of the other young guys can rejuvenate the sport. We’ll see.

    • Agree with you as we are in the same situation . I thought my daughter would fall in love with the game as we all did in the sixties, but that’s not the case. Nor my nephews. Kids today have many options ,many of them not sports related. For us, there was no money and walking 3 miles to the course , and playing until dark was no big deal. It taught us the competitive spirit, and helped form life-long friendships through the bond of this great game. Today, in my sixties, I still love the game and as others are saying here, am attracted to it because of its diffculty. The unmatched feeling of a well struck drive or iron, the joy of walking down a dew laden fairway in the early morning with nature all around us. But now that my father is gone and can’t experience the game that we shared for so many years anymore and its elan, I don’t feel so compelled to play anymore. There’s nothing like golf and I don’t think it’s in any real danger of losing its appeal.

  3. Surely golf as a spectator sport is very strong indeed and is undoubtedly played by more people in more countries across the world than ever before. For some reason, a large number of speculators in the 80’s and 90’s thought that they could make golf into a sport for the masses and built far too many courses. Golf is very difficult and exceedingly time consuming. Further course closures are necessary and then the player base will strengthen. Golf has never been a mainstream sport, yet paradoxically television has made it more popular than ever as a spectator sport. Many other sports such as cricket and snooker are similar.

  4. I’m sorry, but I think it matters not a jot what the top players do or who they are. The simply fact is that golf ( in the UK ) is expensive – joining and membership fees clearly maintain the ‘elitist’ standing of Golf.

    Matters are made worse by the nature of manufacturers – demanding very high prices for ANY piece of kit and then telling you, 3 months later, that you really need to buy the LATEST update to your kit.

    I used to play – started when I was forty. Enjoyed it – but I baulk at the rampant consumerism and, often, poor attitudes of club members. I haven’t played for 2-3 years and don’t see me doing so in the future.

  5. Best idea to make the hole bigger.Better yet…make the par 4’s no longer than 350 yards.

    This would speed up the game and make it more enjoyable for the senior golfers.

  6. At age 81 I have been a golfer for over 65 years. When younger I could hit my driver up to 230 yards. Now I am happy to hit it 180 yards. My enjoyment of the game has not diminished over the years. I have, however, adjusted the way I play the game to maximize my enjoyment. First, I try to play tees no longer than 5,000 yards. This allows me to get home on most par four holes even though I am sometimes hitting my 3-wood instead of a five or six iron as in the past. Secondly, I take “liberties” with a few rules, such as not playing out of divots or footprints in bunkers. I play out of bounds as lateral hazards and I play lost balls the same way. I realize that this is not “real USGA golf” but I have not, and never will, play in a USGA tournament. At my age, these “adjustments” have increased my enjoyment of the game as my physical skills wind down. I submit that one can enjoy the game much more with a few simple adjustments to the way you play the game. if it’s not fun, it’s not worth the time and effort. I propose that the game’s rules be “relaxed” for seniors so as to motivate more of us to keep playing “for the fun of it”.


      • You don’t have to bet Ed. Play with others of the same thinking. Also lets face it Ed, when you started out playing ( I am assuming you started much younger) the quality of the clubs and balls were nowhere near today’s standard – I am hitting the ball further today than when I started 55 years ago; I am 72 and playing off a 9 handicap. Yes the par fours are longer but have to be when you have the young strong blokes hitting their drive up to 280 – 300 metres but isn’t that the challenge. Golf is a mental more than a physical challenge and is the reason that people of the age that do play, are able to play. Don’t see too many footballers playing at 80+ or maybe even being alive. As the (new) saying goes “play golf and stay on the right side of the grass”.

    • Sounds like you would make a good Politician William; taking a “few liberties.” I play regularly with an 86 yr old who plays off 18 and is determined to reduce his handicap without any ‘liberties’.

      I agree that on occasions we should play a round with larger holes just to revive the love for the game and then go back to the standard. Re the youngsters: they get all their kicks from a little glass screen and the ability to take ‘selfies’, what more could a kid want? Good for now but it will backfire on them in later life – health wise.

  7. It’s dying because new players are not welcomed. I find it hard as a previous member and now a social player to actually get a game at most of the courses around my area. I want to feel like a game and just turn up and play, or when my son gets a day off work head down for a hit, but there is always competition or social groups or sanded greens turning us away. Social players are treated like the scourge so how do you expect the game to grow when you turn away and make it hard for social players (future members) to get a game?

    • Its real bad manners to not have a single join your group if there is room. Though I remember as a junior in the sixties having trouble getting to play with the regular members (they were mostly in their 30s and 40s) as they had their little ‘cliques’. . And I could play some in those days.

  8. Golf and the equipment required to play it are overpriced. Today (2014) a Driver costs as much as an entire set of clubs when I last played in the 1990’s.

  9. I guess I’m lucky, I have a decent wage, and so does my wife.
    However, I do buy my clubs second hand, my Callaway driver, my Taylormade 5 wood (saves me carrying a 3 iron), my 2 Taylormade hybrids and my bag are all pre used, from 6 to sw (I daren’t tell you the make, or how old they are, but the antiques road show are following me around), only the putter is under 3 years old.
    I do get tempted now and then, but these fit me well, and are doing their job.
    I have a colleague at work who changes his equipment at least every year, and can never find comfort in them, I’ve told him even MacIlroy struggled with new clubs.
    The course costs aren’t that bad, i pay £6-7 for 9 holes on the council course, and at present my local private is charging £12 for 18 on a Monday, and i believe around £450 pa. for midweek members.
    My major problem is finding the time to get on, and finding the space on the course, I totally agree with the etiquette complaints though, you’d think raking a bunker, or replacing a divot was a shifts work to some.
    On an average 9 holes I can replace around a dozen + of someone else’s divots, abuse of public facilities does my head in, just because you’ve paid to get on, doesn’t give you the right to treat it like a tip.

  10. My Name is Nathan, golf is my passion. My entire life I have played golf, i am now 15 years old and play on a high school golf team. In my opinion, all of my friends say it takes to much time and to much money. I believe the money is a problem, golf is a very expensive sport, i know this for a fact! But, all of my friends refuse to walk when they play. They even say that they would rather stay home and play video games. This saddens me to see my generation to be so lazy! Golf is to hard they all a say! I wish there were alternatives other than making a 15 inch cup, but it looks like by the time i am 45 golf will be all but gone. That is what golf is about, grinding through the tough days on the course and putting in your time. Golf will die, i do not live to see that day.

    • You are so right Nathan that golf is a hard game and its refreshing to see that you have exactly the right attitude . Nothing that is worth while to have in life is easy to come by . And guess what? Everything you do or accomplish is hard before it becomes easy. Everything. As Gary Player once said when he was asked by a reporter how lucky seemed for him to be so good out of sand traps:
      , ” And the harder and more I practice, the luckier I get!’
      So forget what your friends are saying about the game , and ignore them wasting their time playing video games, etc. You can play this game all your life and it will give you back as much time and effort you give to it. And there is no satisfaction as sweet as the feeling you get when you hit a good shot or have a great game. Look at Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino. They both say they get more satisfaction and enjoyment from the game than anything else they can think of . And they are old guys in their seventies and eighties. The game will never die- because there is nothing quite like it in this world.

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