A scene in ‘The Graduate’ movie sees Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) confronted by his irate, landlord, who roars: “You’re an agitator. I don’t want agitators in my house. You understand? You’re an agitator. Get out!”
But the world needs agitators. Sometimes, they help to make things better. Not so long ago, we were being told about new entrants taking up golf and high-end, course developments coming on stream by the dozen. The surge did not last. More courses are closing than opening in the game’s traditional strongholds these days. Why for because?
Primarily because a ‘gentle pastime’ was turned into an industry with an overriding drive to make money becoming more important than making the game more accessible, more affordable and more family friendly. Bluntly, the newcomers did not stay long because of excessive costs; the inordinate amount of time it takes to play 18-holes and frustrations from trying to master a game that the marketers told them would be EASY due to new technology being invented every five minutes. While, young bucks quickly learned how to launch 300-yards tee shots, it soon dawned on them that golf required thousands of hours of dedicated practice to play it well.
Modern living is a predicament. Married women in the workplace have redefined child-rearing responsibilities. New divisions of labour within the home and playing a game that requires half-a-day’s absence if you factor in travel, 18-holes, a little socializing and a meal – doesn’t work anymore. The time and energy needed by parents who, on a daily basis rush from one child’s activity to another strangles the possibility of regular golf participation.
Golf has to put serious thought into how to accommodate this emerging lifestyle. Within a generation (and, darn it, I won’t be around to say, I told you so!) the shortage of golfers will be catastrophic. Why? Not enough current, active players between the ages of 25 and 45 years old. Nor, can golf escape the hard times post-Coronavirus. To secure its long-term future, golf must return to being a more modest game.
Although, shorter courses are cheaper to build and maintain; the majority of new courses built in the past 30-years were too long and too difficult. If I were golf’s benign dictator, I would make changes that I’m sure would help. First, I’d make the object of the game ‘fun’ – not punishment – by eliminating rough (within reason). I’d reduce the amount of competitions and develop a ‘quick’ game like 20-20 Cricket. Peter McEvoy’s PowerPlay Golf would be ideal.
The pace of play today dictates fewer holes. So, I would encourage a 9 or 12-hole game. As this idea is probably a non-starter, I’ll settle for the status quo as long as 6300 yards is the limit by eliminating par 5s and replacing them with par 3s. On par 5s, I always feel as if I am wasting 2 strokes getting into position to begin playing a par 3. Searching for (lost) golf balls is time-consuming and irritating. Wider fairways do not necessarily mean easier golf – there is more room for the ball to run out of position.
I’m all for a bi-furcated game between pros and amateurs. I’d make the pros (only) play with a bigger, lighter, slower ball. It wouldn’t fly as far; be more difficult to control and fit into the hole. Everyone could then play on the same courses. I’d encourage more practice facilities and par-3 courses; more 3, 4 and 7-club competitions at Club level; not only would it be ‘fun’, but it would be quicker and improve skills.
One of the best ideas I have ever heard for expanding participation in golf and bringing it to more people is the irrepressible, Pat Ruddy’s notion that there should be what he termed a ‘golf pitch’ in every town and suburb where everybody can play for free! “Town Golf” would be a one club, one green game that could be played by young and old in a ‘clock golf’ fashion from different directions. Maintained by the city or county council and subsidized by the R&A and Golf Union funds, simplicity would be the modus operandi.
To sum up: I want to see a quicker, cheaper game that is more difficult for pros and easier for club golfers. Getting started in golf can be pretty daunting. The challenge of learning a complex etiquette and being ‘accepted,’ let alone developing a reliable technique, is extremely difficult for newcomers but will anybody do anything about it?