March 9, 2015

Interesting column in Thursday’s Washington Post about the golf industry and the headwinds confronting its ability to grow and thrive in the future. Coming off of a trip to Vegas where I played (or, rather, attempted to play is more like it) a Jack Nicklaus course, I had to laugh when I read this quote from the Golden Bear himself:

“I’d like to play a game that can take place in three hours,” Nicklaus told CNN in January. “I’d quite like to play a game that I can get some reasonable gratification out of very quickly — and something that is not going to cost me an arm and a leg.”

Really, Jack? You want to play eighteen holes in three hours on a course where you not only have forced carries on most of the holes you yourself designed, but greens protected with tight approaches and sand traps on most sides as if they were mini-fortresses? And forget about walking the course – most holes feature lengthy cart drives between them. Is that an environment conducive to a three-hour round? Is that a way to attract new golfers? Is that the way to grow the game? Hardly.

Now I’ll readily admit, it was stupid of me to try and play from tees that lengthened the course to 6,600 yards (I could have played from the 6,000 yard tees), but still, I resent being forced to fly the ball to every green if I haven’t placed it absolutely perfectly in a spot that would enable me to run it up if I so wish. (A number of holes we played at Primm Valley also come to mind: on more than a few holes the fairways actually slanted down into hazards and ponds without any kind of protective rough, meaning you could hit a ball to the middle of the fairway and still end up losing a ball. To me that’s just ridiculous.)

Of course, that’s not golf’s only problem. The game can be difficult to learn and it’s something you’ll never master, making it difficult for a culture steeped in immediate gratification to attract new devotees. And it’s a game you have to keep working at – I mean, I love just going out and hitting balls just for the sake of it, but I doubt most people feel the way I do. There’s also the emphasis on new and incredibly expensive equipment. And the cost of playing golf can be prohibitive: here in the Valley of the Sun eighteen holes during the high season can run you anywhere from $80 to $120 (Jack’s course cost $116 to play, BTW), and that’s for average courses, not your resorts or top-of-the line courses than can cost double that. And Jack’s dream of a three-hour round is a joke: anyone who has ever played Superstition Springs or Kokopelli (two decent courses near my house) know if you’re going out there on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday you’re looking at a round of five if not six hours.

I’m not sure what the answer is, and I don’t think too many in the industry know either. But I doubt much of what goes for American golf these days is what the Scots had in mind when they created the game. The best courses I have ever played and enjoyed allowed for multiple ways to get the job done – which is, to get that little round ball in that hole in as few shots as possible. The secret isn’t bigger cups, nor is it a dumbing down of the game. The secret is to design courses that are playable for a wide range of players, and for Jack Nicklaus – of all people – to bemoan golf’s decline when his courses are designed with only low handicappers in mind is a good example of what’s wrong with the sport today.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 02:59 | Comment (1)
1 Comment
  1. TGWS has a good point.

    I wonder how the new rules in MLB
    will hold up. They also are trying to cut
    the games time down by the new rules.

    I know Big Papi ain’t gonna like it.


    Comment by Ron "Cubby" Myerow — March 9, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

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