The article discusses how the golf industry is thinking about combating the game’s declining participation, causes of which include 5-6 hour rounds, expensive green fees, increasingly difficult courses and little overall accessibility. Industry leaders face difficult decisions because many of the popular solutions to these problems require a fundamental shift in the traditions, values and “soul” of the game.
Some of the more radical ideas include: two sets of rules – one for professionals and one for amateurs, golf balls that fly farther or shorter to accommodate courses of different lengths, doubling the size of the hole, building courses with less holes and so forth.
I understand why these ideas exist but I don’t support them because they disrupt a fundamental aspect of the game that I believe should be forever sacred – “the number.” Every round of golf produces a score. Golfers can compare it to previous performances. It’ll make them feel good about themselves, or strive to be better, or both. They can compare it to others. It can be discussed at ease with both golfers and non-golfers alike. They can even compare it to professionals. Thanks to one set of rules, 18 holes, normal-sized golf courses, standardized equipment and a 3” hole, every score produces a number that means something. In many ways it means everything. And it should never be taken away.
There are traditional solutions as well – moving the tees forward, eliminating carts on courses where they have to stay on the path, increasing marketing efforts, etc. – but these all feel to me like using a band aid where stitches are needed.
There is one solution, however, that was discussed in the Comments section of the article that I think is game-changing because it would solve these problems in a significant and meaningful way while also preserving the traditions of the game.
The concept is to create a system where people need to be able to achieve a certain handicap on a short course and pass a rules/etiquette assessment before receiving a card that would allow them to play on an 18 hole regulation facility. This policy would apply to juniors, men, women, everyone. It makes a lot of sense and would do several things:
1. Create inherent demand for building short courses and a sustainable business model to support them.
2. Provide a nurturing, non-intimidating environment for beginners to try the game and develop some skills before going to longer, harder, more expensive and time-consuming courses.
3. Offer all golfers more opportunities to enjoy the game in a relaxed setting for two hours or less.
4. Speed up play at 18 hole facilities.
Failing golf courses could convert into a short course as opposed to closing, thus saving jobs and making the transition to this model smooth for everyone. In the interim of building the short course, or in areas where it would be impossible to sustain one, regulation facilities could utilize the family tees or create a modified routing format (such as Tierra Rejada's innovative "Players Course") on certain days/times for beginners. USGA members with a handicap below a certain number would be grandfathered in while all others would need to pass through the program.I’m sure there are many more considerations as I dive deeper into the concept, including potential legal and political complications, but this to me makes a lot of sense on many levels… much more so than some of the alternatives. It maintains the integrity of “the number,” preserves the game’s traditions, makes it more accessible to beginners, presents more opportunities for seasoned players to enjoy it and has a sustainable business model to support it.
And, this model would present ample opportunity for entrepreneurs to capitalize on the shifting landscape.
What do you think?