FRED WOLFERMAN: What's Really Wrong With the Golf World
Kudos to Jim Dodson for his perceptive essay last Sunday on the disconnect between professional golfers and the rest of us.
He rightly attributes a decline in interest in the game to the dominance of corporate sponsorship and the arrival of the professional player-automaton. But I think there is more to it than that. There are other factors at work, and they are all related.
First, consider the USGA. I know, keeper of the game, defender of amateurism, blah, blah, blah. Malarkey.
The USGA has allowed the rules of the game to come to resemble the tax code in their complexity, and it changes them about as often. One club length or two? One stroke or stroke and distance? Drop or place? Red or yellow line -- options?
Maybe Trevino was a bit simplistic when he said you should only touch your ball twice -- once when you tee it up, and once when you take it out of the hole -- but he was closer to the heart of the game than are hundreds of pages of rules and decisions.
Then there's equipment. I can't think of any other game involving a ball where the ball is not standardized. The technology of balls and clubs has added unbelievable distance to the professional game, and even a bit for those of us with much slower swing speeds. It has also added a lot of expense. Equipment costs a lot because manufacturers spend a bundle on research and marketing. We spend a lot because we are suckers for the latest toys.
All this, of course, has affected the development of golf courses. They must be longer, tougher. They must attempt to look like Augusta National in April. They require more land, more maintenance. Naturally, it costs more to play there.
Developers have, for 50 years, built golf courses primarily for the purpose of selling real estate. They want a "championship" course with a "signature" hole, whatever those are, lined with expensive homesites, as visions of a tour event dance in their heads.
Is it any wonder that the game is pricing itself out of existence?
The emphasis on glitz and length, as epitomized by the PGA tour, has changed the mechanics of the game for the rest of us. First, it has added 500 yards or more to the length of new or remodeled courses versus older ones. Development practices have lengthened the walk, or more frequently, ride, from a green to the next tee to, in some instances, hundreds of yards. All this can easily add a mile to the distance traveled during a round. Not only is this more strenuous (not an altogether bad thing), but it also increases the time necessary to play a round.
Add to this the agonizingly slow play demonstrated on television, and you have the perfect formula for a long, aggravating day crawling around the golf course.
And you and I, dear player, are not blame free. How many times have you seen 20-handicappers step up to the tips and flail away for hours? How many times have you been behind these guys? How many times have you been one of them?
Golf is supposed to be fun, not an ego test. If you can't hit it 280 yards, move up where you belong.
On the great courses of Scotland, there is one set of tees for each gender in play each day. It will be 6,300-6,400 yards or so for the men. That is where you play. You may gaze longingly back at the championship tees if you wish, but those are for exactly that -- championships, not for a bunch of tourists from Dubuque or New York.
Is there any way to fix all this? It may be under way. Jim pointed out in his essay that golf courses are closing at the rate of one a day. The biggest reason for this can only be money -- the cost of playing the game. Remaining courses will reduce fees at the expense of maintenance. Manufacturers will slow their model cycles and lower prices.
The USGA could help a lot by simplifying the rules and reducing -- yes, reducing -- attainable length. Players would then happily move to shorter tees, and golf courses could actually be shortened.
The state of golf is of more importance here than most places. Those with influence, like Jim Dodson, and those who know someone of influence, should be lobbying hard to move golf back toward its roots, when a round could be played in three hours and was something more than a driving contest.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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