Monday, April 21, 2014

"Golf holes the size of pizzas. Soccer balls on the back nine. A mulligan on every hole."

Apparently, some people think these changes would be a good idea for golf.

Those people would be wrong.

Is this the future of golf? I certainly hope not.
“We’ve got to stop scaring people away from golf by telling them that there is only one way to play the game and it includes these specific guidelines,” said Ted Bishop, the president of the P.G.A. of America, who also owns a large Indiana golf complex. “We’ve got to offer more forms of golf for people to try. We have to do something to get them into the fold, and then maybe they’ll have this idea it’s supposed to be fun.”
As an initial matter, I'm not sure that the decrease of the number of people playing golf is a function of golf's decreased popularity. It may simply be a function of demographics.

Let's face it, golf isn't an easy sport to just pick up and play. It's kind of expensive compared to - say basketball. You can't play it anywhere, like with soccer. And the learning curve is very steep.

For instance, just about anyone can step onto a basketball court and start playing basketball with minimal effort. It won't be very high-level basketball, but you can play it fairly easily. With golf, it's quite the opposite. A first time golfer faces a high degree of failure in learning to play. It's very hard to play golf even moderately well compared to other sports. I'm defining "moderately well" as the ability to go casually play once a month and not be looking for your ball in the woods the whole time.

Golf demands work, patience, and discipline. A lot of it. Young people don't get exposed to golf very much, either. Especially when you compare it to soccer, baseball, basketball. Why?

In general, it's not an easy sport to just pick up. Typically, whom do you see out on a golf course? Older guys - I'd guess an average age of 35-40 or so. That's mostly because older guys have more time to devote to practice, more money to buy the equipment and pay to play, and more patience to go through the learning curve.

So, you've got all the older baby-boomer folks kind of dropping off the radar now, and the golf industry is worried that the twenty-something millennials aren't going to play golf. Well, no. Not right now. Give them a few years. After they go through the phase of seeking their dream job of being an artist in Guatemala or something, they'll settle down, have a family, and grow up. And some of them will start playing golf.

You don't need to change the game to make it more "attractive" to twenty year olds. Changing the hole size is utterly ridiculous. The hardest part of golf for a beginner isn't putting - it's hitting longer shots. I'm not sure who came up with the idea of making the hole larger, but they're a moron.

Also, changing the rules is a stupid idea. The rules of golf are not difficult. You hit the ball and count your strokes in a sequence of increasing, positive, integers. Record your score. That's basically it. Yes, there are more complicated rules for golf. But you learn those as you go. No one ever says "Yeah, I don't play golf because the rules are too complicated."

You want to get young people interested in golf? It's not that hard. Start kids early. Golf already does a good job of this with programs like programs like The First Tee. Could golf do better? Sure. But reaching out to younger folks doesn't have to entail radically changing the game. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.

If you can make golf a fun and positive experience for younger kids, they'll develop into young adults who love the game and play. You don't need to start introducing soccer balls on the back nine.

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