I’d like to respond to a recent Vindicator column by sportswriter Kevin Connelly on the decline of golf. His premise was that the sport can reverse this trend if it can “adapt.”
I don’t know Connelly, and I’m always glad to see others writing about the game and how it can improve. But, I’d like to expand on (and possibly disagree with) some of the topics he brought up.
The column was geared around one main point: how to grow the game in the future. He focused on reasons why people were leaving.
He suggested that the main reason is because the costs are prohibitive. I can agree with this — to a point.
I see two main cost drivers in the game: the equipment you need to play the game, and access to a course. I’ll address the access part next week as I lay out a three-point plan to grow the game. But the equipment hurdle can be addressed pretty easily.
Yes, brand-new golf equipment can be very expensive, as can brand-new equipment in many other sports. But the truth is (with apologies to my PGA and golf retailer friends) not everyone should be using brand-new equipment.
Connelly suggested technology is part of the answer. I agree — it’s called the Internet.
Please, always start with your local retail outlets and online club traders. But if you can’t find what you’re looking for locally, there’s this little site called eBay that will most definitely be able to offer you a very good set of last year’s technology at a fraction of the new clubs’ cost.
Yes, you’ll be missing out on this year’s “amazing new technological advancement.” But club manufacturers come out with new equipment at least once a year. Do you really think each new model is exponentially better than the last? I just don’t believe every golfer (especially beginners) need the newest equipment. Golf clubs depreciate faster than new cars — take advantage of that.
Another “negative” that Connelly mentioned (and in my opinion is a bigger hurdle than the expense) is the commodity we all want more of — time. One 18-hole round of golf these days can take 4-5 hours or longer. Add in travel time to and from the course, warm-up time on the range beforehand, and the obligatory beverage and bet calculations after the round. By the time it’s all said and done, you’re looking at at least half a day.
This may be a little outside the box, but I think one of the solutions could be in golf course layouts. I could probably write a whole column just on this idea alone but the gist of it is simple — instead of designing and building courses as two nine-hole sides, I think future courses should be built with three six-hole layouts.
Yes, this will create a few more options at the check-in counter, but I think people will catch on when they realize they can sneak out for a quick six-hole round that should only take 45-90 minutes.
Or for people with two-three hours, how about a 12-hole nassau? And for the traditionalists who like to play a full 18, the only difference would be ... well, nothing.
When looking at the “time” problem, there are only two solutions: play faster or play fewer holes. Playing faster is something we should all work on. But I think this three six-hole layout idea would offer a legitimate option to play fewer holes.
Let’s move onto the main issue at hand — how to grow the game moving forward.
Connelly suggested that technology was a mandatory part of the solution, that virtual golf and a new concept by a company called TopGolf (a point system where players accumulate points on a driving range by hitting micro-chipped golf balls into specific target areas) will play important roles in attracting new people to the game.
This is where I have to respectfully disagree. Call me a purist, but I don’t think the game needs to shift that dramatically to attract new players.
Jack Nicklaus knew he was good when he was able to break 80 as a kid. Do we really want our next Jack Nicklaus to say he or she knew they were good when they were able to chip 14 straight micro-chipped golf balls into the clown’s mouth on the TopGolf range?
Are simulators and the TopGolf concept cool ideas? Sure. But will they play a major role in growing the game? I doubt it.
Rather, I’ve jotted down a little three-point plan that I think may help grow the game, especially locally. I’ve run out of space so for the first time in three years, I’ll have to end a column with “to be continued.”
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance for The Karzmer Insurance Agency and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.