Let’s not beat around the bush – there are inherent problems with golf that are rarely discussed. Now I’m not going to try and solve any of this stuff in one post, but I do intend to address them in hopes of beginning a conversation around what (if anything) can be done to change this game for the better. People in the industry are always talking about needing to grow the game. Perhaps we should start by considering the five 800-pound gorillas below.
1. The Cost
It shouldn’t be any surprise to see “cost” on this list. There is perhaps no greater turn-off to people than how much money it takes to play this game. The top brands push the most expensive equipment and apparel on us – from advertising to in-store displays. Where is the section of $25 Nike golf shirts? Or the $100 Taylor Made drivers? (Not even last year’s model will be that cheap). Why do we have to spend half a grand just to have an “average” set of new irons? Retailers and brands say they are helping us to become better golfers, but all they are doing is helping us hand over our hard-earned cash with minimal results in return. We all know the formula to playing better golf: Talent and practice – preferably lots of both. Money isn’t part of that formula and it’s time the industry stops pretending that it is.
2. The PGA Tour
I am not denying the tour is an integral part of golf. Without it, the game would surely suffer both economically and in popularity. But it is sorely in need of a makeover – preferably with its schedule. First, the season is far too long with barely an “off-season” for fans to recoup mentally. It makes sense from both a business perspective (TV ratings and tournament sponsorships) and the fans’ perspective (being mentally engaged) that the season be condensed to 6 months or less. Second, the lack of a proper end to the season. The FedEx Cup is an attempt to provide that grand finale we all want, but it’s not working. Perhaps a shortened season will help, but the end to the tour’s year needs to be defined much better than it currently is.
3. The Rulebook
This is tricky because I don’t want to change the fundamental way we play golf. But there are things in the rulebook that are hindering the expansion of the game. There are too many nuances to consider; too many cans and cant’s; too many caveats that require too much referencing back and forth before a complete understanding of the rule can be fully grasped (especially for new players). What we need is a simplified rulebook for casual play. We average golfers do this already (who really walks all the way back to the tee to re-hit after losing a drive)? Let organized tournaments continue to use the present book. But for the recreational golfer…please, give us some relief.
4. The Courses
Specifically, there are too many of them. What the hell is this country doing with 17,000 golf courses? The answer: Wasting space. The reality is we built too many courses over the past few decades and the result is too much supply and not enough demand. The herd could use some thinning and the good news is this thinning has already begun…compliments of the recession. While some watch with a wary eye over the fact that more courses are closing than opening in the U.S., economists know this is ultimately a good sign. Thinning the herd will result in higher quality courses, far better equipped to meet the needs of the individual golfer. And that will bode well for both new and current players alike.
5. The Focus
If there’s one thing we stand for here at GolfStinks, it’s that this game is meant to be fun. But in every corner of the golf industry, the main focus is on making people better players, rather than helping them enjoy themselves. Now I understand that some people can’t enjoy themselves unless they are better than everyone else, but those folks are in the minority. The vast majority intend to have fun when golfing – typically through camaraderie or enjoying the outdoors, with the final score being secondary. Yet the gravitational pull from the industry to consistently focus on becoming a better golfer is hard to ignore. Until there is a shift in focus from “playing well” while on the course to “feeling well” while on the course, golfers will continue to struggle with that love/hate relationship they have with this game.