Golf Doesn’t Need To Be Resuscitated

I watched last night’s HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, which had a segment titled “The Future of Golf.” (There was also an excellent segment about the disturbing slave labor practices of Qatar…definitely worth checking out.) As an avid golfer, I’d like to address the golf segment specifically, since the golf industry is struggling, and major changes are being considered.

Apparently, young people are not golfing anymore. I understand golf courses are closing frequently in America, as I’ve seen some of my favorite courses in Northwest Indiana closed over the last couple decades (especially Lake Hills in St. John, Indiana…I wish I had one more chance to play what was probably the most difficult yet most fantastic golf course I’ve ever played). It is definitely frustrating to see golf courses close, and I understand how difficult it is to maintain a course and still turn a profit.

However, I often wonder if it isn’t the fault of the golf industry, as many entrepreneurs took advantage of the false boom in real estate and suffered the same fate as the economy when the market crashed in 2007. Prior to this point, plenty of people were happy to exploit the heightened interest caused mostly by Tiger Woods. Greens fees went up, and more administrators were hired…heck, I noticed some colleges offering degrees in golf course management.

Financial opportunity looked promising, and many thought they could eat a big piece of the golf-boom pie. When it turned out to be more of a trend than a sustainable cash cow, a lot of that promise bit the dust. I wonder if the prediction that golf is dying is more of a reaction from those who put too much investment into golf futures and are attempting to salvage their losses by advocating radical changes to the game.

The biggest change to the game of golf that is being proposed involves creating a fifteen-inch hole. The idea is that it will make a game of golf go quicker, easier, and be more fun. It seems like a simple enough alteration, and even Jack Nicklaus stated that anything that will draw people to the game should be considered.

I don’t get it. This change will fundamentally change the entire concept of putting. You won’t need to worry about touch; all you’ll need to do is ram your putts as hard as you can at the hole, no matter the distance or grade. Hell, you don’t really have to worry about hitting the green much, as chipping will get a heck of a lot easier.

I also don’t see how it will make the game more fun. A fun day for me on the golf course involves when I make one difficult putt. It doesn’t matter if I three-putt the majority of my day; it is that one beautiful stroke that I retain in my memory when I finish a round of golf. I’m not sure there will be any memorable putting moments with a fifteen-inch cup.

I understand golf is frustrating. Believe me, I’ve had my share of frustrating days on a golf course, but I’ve also learned valuable lessons playing this game: lessons of humility, lessons of patience, lessons of self-affirmation, lessons of discipline, and lessons of camaraderie. Such an enormous change to the game of golf might fundamentally change every valued component of this game I love.

I’m not sure what has happened recently, but I notice a push to change almost every sport in America. Baseball has excruciating instant replay now. Football wants to change the extra point to make it more “exciting.” Now, golf wants to create a basketball-sized hole in the green.

I suppose I shouldn’t knock it until I try it, so I will reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to play a course with fifteen-inch holes…but I can promise you one thing: if the PGA implements fifteen-inch holes in professional play, then it will not be worth watching, as the integrity of the game will have been fundamentally altered where it is not competitive…and then golf will truly be dead.

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Scott C. Guffey
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