Problems with the Theory of Golf’s “Demise”
Through the months, I’ve written a great deal on the supposed demise of golf, and have agonized over some oddball solutions to what some think is the problem of the game. Now, I see that many miscalculations have been made over passing this wonderful pastime to the next generation. In addition to that, a strategy of good old-fashioned greed has put the administrative and ownership end of the golf industry in a bind, in most cases, a real estate bind from which recovery is difficult.
Here’s the bad news in the west, although I view it as a symptom of these miscalculations, not a sudden and mysterious apathy for a game that has held our fascination for centuries. It is said that Canada has overbuilt in establishing 2,400 courses across its vast dimensions. That comes, they say, to 625 players per course. The number of rounds played per year has dropped (they also say) by 10% over the past five years. 400,000 players (yet again, they say) have left the game. Golf is 14.5 billion dollar industry in Canada. Look at the profile of United States golf, and the picture is similar, or even worse. Personally, I don’t think we left the game at all. We left the course. I’ve never seen a golfer play as little golf as I do, considering how much I love playing it. My affection for time on the course has never diminished one bit, and yet I play at no more than 10% the frequency than I did in earlier years. Nearly all those rounds of golf I would love to be playing have been shifted to the driving range. In my community, a large bucket of balls costs almost as much as a round of 18 once did. As that cost escalates, some of us will be driven off the property entirely – but we did not, and I repeat, did not lose interest in the game. There’s no demise there. Add to the expense the updated demands to play fast, and the back of my brain says, “They’re going to charge me this much to play a round of 18 so fast that I’m more anxious than I was at the start?” Do they think running up to the ball and wildly smashing at it without a practice swing or waggle is going to satisfy me? Are they going to stick me in a cart and refuse to let me walk because I can’t run a four-minute mile? Do I get a helmet, or do I have to rent one?
Somewhere along the way, building houses along the fairways of golf courses became the chic thing to do. The more prestigious the course, the better. Apparently not every home buyer thinks of it the same way. As a result, expensive houses built with the golf course in mind are sitting empty. Worse, the developers of these fairway treasures built the things, then left without procuring a source of water. Courses are being mothballed. Some are going au natural, reverting to natural conditions. That’s fine from an environmental standpoint, but the verdict is still out on how the golfers like it. For the time being, players are swearing up and down that the game is fine, and owners are swearing up and down that it is not.
Remember how the Big Three of the past generation got all kinds of kids to the golf course? Or, at least we think they did. Promoters thought the same thing would happen with Tiger, but they used the star to promote the professional game, not to sustain national interest. He was the best golfer one would ever want to have for such promotion, but not much of a personal hero. Player, Palmer, and Nicklaus captured our hearts on Augusta, not in the tabloids. The demise wasn’t in golf – it was in the breaking of “I want to grow up and be just like him” phenomenon to which virtually all children are subject if you do it right.
Then, there are the solutions. How to make it easier for juniors and seniors. And there’s the problem right there. Go ahead, make the cup 15″, the size of a large pizza for a ten-year-old beginner. But, if you consider seniors as hobbled, brainless, hapless victims, you haven’t played golf with anyone over 30 for a while. Give me a pizza-sized cup, and I’ll walk away from the game, giving you a black eye in the process if I can. One writer opined that we’ve watched the pros make 40 foot putts, and think we can do it, too. The fact is, we can. Even I make them once in a while. It’s a sense of dignity that may be facing its demise, thanks to a skewed view of seniors.
Make it affordable, make the tempo sensible, make it playable for young beginners, respect your elders (I can’t believe I’m finally old enough to say that, and actually said it) and get the housing market out of the game unless they’re willing to stay with you for the long haul. There are a lot of male and female heroes to watch if you’re a kid looking for heroes. Golf statistics are not dropping everywhere, it’s just where the peripheral vampires got ridiculous. In much of the world, the game is on the upswing. So, make it possible for me to get off the driving range and get back on the course.