What’s To Become Of Golf

The New York Times recently published an article by Bill Pennington, In a Hole, Golf Considers Digging a Wider One, about members of the golf industry who are concerned by the number of people leaving the game. They are proposing golf be made easier with the goal of retaining those who are leaving and attracting more people to participate on a regular basis.

The National Golf Foundation (NGF), a trade organization dedicated to advocating for those who make their living in the golf industry, is concerned that more people are leaving the game for a variety reasons than are taking it up. They have proposed making the regulation 4–1/4 inch hole into a 15-inch canyon, among other modifications to the Rules of Golf, in the name of attracting more participants. Let’s look at some history for context.

In 1996 Tiger Woods burst into professional Tour golf. Tiger’s mercurial rise captured the imagination of millions who tuned in weekly to watch the PGA Tour on television. Many became enamored and took up the game.  Golf is enjoyable. Some of those newly attracted adherents decided that golf would be a great way to make their living, and so they did. With the rise in popularityTitleist golf ball golf communities, courses with McMansions and high-end condos surrounding newly built courses, became the real estate developer’s wet dream. The opportunity to build and sell high-end housing and country club memberships was more than many could resist.

Increased participation gave golf equipment manufacturers an expanding market for new technology they could deliver once or even twice a year, cashing in on the new normal. Manufacturers pumped out advertising featuring Tour players endorsing game improvement products that made 300-yard drives and ball-stopping spin a cinch, for Tour players.  They neglect to mention the disadvantages amateur hackers bring to the equation. The late 1990s and early 2000s were a boon to golf.

Then economic reality set in as the housing bubble burst. Even in the best of times golf is a drain on discretionary spending. With the economy in the tank the rising ranks of the un- or under-employed were no longer able to afford country club memberships or purchases of high-end equipment. The occasional round at the local daily fee municipal course became a luxury. About the time Tiger Woods became embroiled in scandal, many found they could no longer support their love of the game.

The bleeding of golfers has gone on for a few years which has caused NGF member organizations to worry. There are too many courses, equipment manufacturers can’t sell enough new product, and teaching professionals have dwindling incomes. The trade association solution is invent a new activity, call it golf, then expect new adherents to stream through the gates to participate in a bastardized version of a grand, noble and ancient game.

Are you fucking shitting me?