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.
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.