Here’s How You Actually Address Golf’s Problems

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent efforts to save golf. It has a growth problem right now, and it is a sport for the old and/or those who can afford it. The proposal gaining the most traction is a 15-inch cup, nearly quadrupling the current 4.25 inch cup. Widening the cup would certainly speed the game up and make it easier. And two of the biggest gripes of beginner and/or casual golfers is that the game is too hard and too slow. The bigger hole is a bit gimmicky, but there’s something to be said for instituting different forms of golf. PGA of America President Ted Bishop makes a good point:

“Call it whatever you want, but we’ve got to get past this notion that unless you’re playing nine or 18 holes, with 4¼-inch holes, it’s not golf. This is a form of the sport, just like playing H-O-R-S-E on the backyard hoop is a form of basketball.”

Golf purists, myself one of them, fret over the 15-inch cup as the future of golf. But it makes sense if you think about it as an easier, more fun alternative for those who don’t play frequently. Playing on the bigger cups with some friends who have hardly ever played golf makes sense. Or if you simply don’t have time to slog through a four or five hour round. That way, there is a happy medium between tedious time spent on the driving range and spending a couple hours playing nine or eighteen holes. With the bigger cups as a possibility, you could get out on the course and practice swing thoughts, without the demoralizing ‘one step forward, three steps back’ feeling that often accompanies swing changes.

A look at the larger 15-inch cup, compared to the cup's current size.

A look at the larger 15-inch cup, compared to the cup’s current size.

But the bigger cup does not fix all that’s wrong with golf. And to be clear, I do not think there’s anything actually wrong or in need of fixing. There is a looming threat though as the game continues to lose players, and is losing a golf course every 48 hours. The real problem that needs to be addressed is not the difficulty of the game. Here’s the issue golf faces:

Golf is too expensive and time-consuming. 

The amount of time does not refer to how much practice is necessary to be achieve decent results–it is the amount of time necessary to complete a round of golf. It takes too much time to complete a round of golf. Many avid golfers, myself included, cherish those hours of solitude spent on the course, but for beginners, it is a huge drawback. The big cups do address the time spent on the course.

The other issue is more important and threatening. A set of golf clubs easily costs in the hundreds of dollars, and maybe even over $1000 depending on the quality of clubs you’re buying. It is a serious investment that is not worth it for many people. Unless you decide to play at least semi-frequently, why spend that kind of money? And if you decide to buy clubs, you are probably going to buy a golf glove, tees, divot-repair tools, and any other accessories that are basically essential. Not to mention obviously buying golf balls. That’s not even factoring in the cost of playing a course, or hitting balls on the driving range. No other sport has even near the price tag of golf. Sports like soccer and basketball only require a ball. A closer comparison like tennis, another country-club type sport lumped together with golf, isn’t as expensive as golf.

Even buying the cheapest clubs and balls you can find, it still unquestionably expensive. Buying clubs and playing decent courses should not break the bank. It is way too expensive of an investment, a hobby, to expect non-golfers to pursue. Who wants to drop a couple thousand dollars for something they might not be fully committed to? Golf has always been an elitist type of sport, and that is its problem. If the sport wants to grow at all, it needs to make the game more accessible to everyone. 

15-inch cups are nice, but $15 dollar rounds would be nicer.


4 responses

  1. Paint a fifteen inch circle around the cup. If the ball stops inside the circle the putt is good. one stroke. should the putt be holed, no stroke. This is for beginners. More serious players are unimpeded and average players are able to speed up their game. As for costs I agree!

    • That’s a reasonable option if people insist on the 15 inch cup or some variant.

      We played at a course that had both the regulation cup and 15-inch cup on the greens – I can’t say that our scores would have been any lower had we hit our approach shots toward the larger cup, although I’m sure we would have had less putts and lower scores overall had we been putting at the larger cup.

      Regardless though, I don’t see the bigger cup as a big improvement in pace of play or ease of play. When play bogs down it isn’t typically on the green, it’s off the tee or on the fairway. Realistically, *anyone* can putt, although it’s not necessarily easy to get the ball in the cup. Beginners and high handicappers have their biggest frustrations off the tee and in the fairway. What wastes time is the botched shot or shanked shot with the inevitable mulligan or re-load, or the lengthy search to avoid losing a(nother) ball and $3.

      Golf’s less-than-clear rules don’t help either when you are in a hazard and you’re trying to figure out what options are available to you and at what penalty. You want to speed up play? Make the rules simpler and penalties less onerous. Hit your tee shot into the bush? Go to “where the ball is”, drop another ball and count a penalty stroke – that itself will save time and remove the incentive to play a provisional and search all day for a ball.

      Aside from that, the reality is that golf is a difficult game. It takes practice. Unfortunately it is also expensive and it takes a lot of time to play.

  2. 15 inch hole? I doubt that’ll ever happen! but a lot can be done to attract the average Joe. Less bunkers, shorter fairways, flatter greens and you’re absolutely right regarding the price of equipment, I was in the golf shop just a couple of weeks ago and I spotted a Scotty Cameron putter with a price tag of £250! how on earth do they justify that price? I asked the sales man why that price? He came up with some tripe about it having a milled face, I used to be a miller… sorry I still don’t get the price? RIDICULOUS!

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