Seven Ways to Make Golf Better in 2014

by   (Contributing Writer)   |   January 3, 2014
Top Golf Houston

Once in a while, when I write about “growing the game,” someone responds: “Really, what difference does it make?” Or, as an editor said:

“Our job is to provide access so people who want to play can play. If they don’t, they won’t. So what.”

Which, I thought, is like BMW saying: “We have cars and stores and if you want one of our cars you’ll find one of our stores.”

Would that it were that simple.

I want golf to stay healthy — to grow, not shrink as it is now — for all of the benefits and investment that growth brings. Stronger courses. Better maintenance. Cooler, more helpful equipment. More golf to watch. And most of all, more friends to share the sport with.

Here’s seven ways our game could gain new life in 2014.

No. 1: More Top Golf

A Top Golf in Alexandria, Va.

Have you been to a Top Golf franchise? On the one hand, it’s a multi-level driving range, with automatized, point-scoring targets, providing great practice even for accomplished golfers. On the other hand, it’s a sports bar where golf broke out — classier than a bowling alley, with much better food — but all about socializing. Run by restaurateurs, Top Golf’s goals are access and attraction. It welcomes outings, leagues, corporate “meetings,” total beginners — you name it. When Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade, said that going forward lots of new golfers would come from “non-traditional” sources, Top Golf was what he had in mind. Right now Top Golf’s only in Arizona, Illinois, Virginia and Texas, with Georgia on the drawing board. We wish it would open three shops in every other state next year. It’s that good.

No. 2: More Ted Bishop

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The President of the PGA is an earnest, plain-speaking Midwesterner who brought light and, OK, a lot of heat, to the golf conversation this year. By arguing against the anchoring ban he stood up for his members — and their members — and promoted the golfer over “The Game.”  He made the case more strongly than ever that legislating the same rules for tour pros and trunk slammers is futile. To make sure the PGA continues to take similar independent stands — and to listen to its members — Bishop hired Pete Bevacqua as the association’s CEO, a great move. Bishop was not a breath of fresh air in 2013; he was a truckload of oxygen. And like any attentive salesman, he brought an appreciation for his customers’ time and experiences to his job. “The primary challenge in the game is the time it takes to play. We’re working to create golf experiences of 30 to 90 minutes,” he told GolfWRX. At his course in Indiana, inspired by Top Golf, Bishop installed commercial grade speakers and now plays music for the practicers (and gave out earplugs to those who don’t like it). He also switched his equipment contract from Titleist to TaylorMade and declared Mark King a kindred spirit. “Though we have respect for the rules we don’t necessarily think they are the foundation of the game,” he said. That was the sound of the golf industry catching its breath.

No. 3: More Stableford

OK, Stableford sounds like a stuffy old PG Wodehouse character, doesn’t it? “Percy Stableford twitched nervously over his last Spalding Dot…” So call it Points Golf. Or Positive Golf.  The point is you score points; you don’t document disasters. Bogey counts 1, par counts 2, birdie counts 3, eagle counts 4.  Forget the collapses. Made a 9 on the 10th? No matter. Just give yourself a zero. We are obsessed with score in this country and our handicap system encourages us to count every meaningless shot and to play every stupid stroke even as we compete in match play: “I’m out of the hole but I need to putt out for my handicap.” Ugh. A recipe for slow play, myopic scorekeeping and low-grade depression. Playing for points, as they do in Ireland and Europe, is more fun, faster, and, we’d argue, makes a bunch more sense to our kids who compete for points in every other sport they play. Under Points Golf, you still get help if you need it. If you average 25 points and play someone who averages par (36) you’d get help on the 11 hardest holes. Try it for a few rounds. It’s OK if you don’t know whether you shot 102 or 103.

No. 4: More Science Against Slow Play

The USGA’s Pace of Play Symposium this fall was a great thing, not because the findings presented were earth shattering, but because they precisely defined what exactly undermines healthy pace of play and what doesn’t. Example: A course’s first group of the day gets off-pace by less than a minute. By day’s end, the last group is an hour behind! That first group is critical! USGA Technical Director Matt Pringle and Jim Moore of the association’s Green Section were the stars of the show, demonstrating how intervention with key groups (Pringle) and analysis of a course’s “wear” patterns (Moore) can help you solve the game’s most destructive problem. The other day on Twitter I heard two players in Florida moaning about how they’d walked off a very good course after nine holes because they were on a 5:30 pace. That course will never see them again. It doesn’t have to be that way. If someone asks you to wear a monitor this season as part of one a data-gathering effort, please say yes. What Moore, Pringle and course owners such as Troon Golf with its “Time Par” are demonstrating is that slow play is soluble. We can do this.

No. 5: More Lizette Salas

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I hope you’ve read the Golf Digest series on Hispanics and Golf. And though Hispanics are very involved in our game—mostly taking care of our courses—they are not playing at the level we need them to if golf is to stay healthy. Suffice it to say that any U.S. company, industry or activity — or sport — that does not attract Latinos is doomed to struggle and probably fail. In just the next five years, Hispanic buying power, already $1.3 trillion, is expected to grow 48 percent—against a national average of about half that. One in four of our kids is Hispanic. And though Hispanics are very involved in our game, they are not playing at the level we need them to if golf is to stay healthy. Says Chiqui Cartagena, VP of corporate marketing for Univision: “Absolutely you can sell a sport! It’s very similar to selling a product. The key is to find the right cultural message.” Right now, that message is hit and miss. Though we’ve produced champions such as Chi Rodriguez, Nancy Lopez and younger tour players like the LPGA’s Lizette Salas, golf has not promoted itself to the Hispanic community as football or baseball have. It’s time it did.

No. 6: More 5-hole “Loops”

Streamsong, the hot new 36-hole Florida golf resort has a lot going for it. Three of the smartest designers in the game — Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw — to start. Two courses (both on Golf Digest’s list of Best New Courses) that have a natural feel and a linksy look are getting A-plus ratings. But Streamsong’s got something else going for it, something a number of smart golf operators around the country are offering: loops. Loops of 4, 5 and 7 holes that give you a chance to play when you don’t have much time, a chance to sample a course you’ll play the next day, or a chance to play “a few more” as the sun goes down. It’s part of a movement in the game to match golf experience with customers’ time. It’s fine to say, as Golf Digest did this year, you have time for nine! But sometimes you don’t. So places like Streamsong, Marine Park in New York or Island Hills Golf Club in Michigan are offering “loops” of even fewer holes. It’s still golf.

No. 7: More Caddies….and caddie scholarships

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I’m biased here, having attended the University of Michigan on an Evans Scholarship — which paid for the entire tuition and room bill, a fortune to parents faced with putting six kids through college — but caddying is a huge plus for our game. It speeds things up. It adds an element of luxury to any course and round, which is why great new venues such as Bandon Dunes offer them. It gives kids a door into learning the game, and a chance to earn a bunch of money. It gave birth to the best golf movie ever. And it provides golfers a way to give back by creating scholarships at the club, association and national level. Moving First Tee kids to caddy programs is one of the really smart things that took place in 2013. We need more of that. If you belong to a club, support your caddy program. If you play at a public course, try taking a caddy at least once this season. Maybe your own kid! Let’s keep the loopers coming.

Here’s wishing you, and all of golf, a lively, prosperous 2014.

About

Bob Carney is a Contributing Editor at Golf Digest, writing for the magazine, its web site and sister publication Golf World. He’s an avid golfer and a single-digit handicap who has earned awards for his coverage of the industry and recreational golf. He is co-author, with Davis Love Jr. and Bob Toski, of How to Feel a Real Golf Swing.

Prior to joining Golf Digest, Carney wrote for the Bergen (NJ) Record and contributed stories to People Magazine and Time, among others. He earned a B.A. From University of Michigan, attended Columbia University Journalism School, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, where he managed to get in one or two rounds of golf.


83 Comments

  1. GolferX

    March 22, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    I read a couple of the articles about Hispanics and Golf online. What was interesting were the comments especially after the articles dealing with golf courses and the undocumented workers on the maintenance crews. Every person, who commented about ‘illegals’ taking jobs, requested a cancellation of their subscriptions. No one said anything about boycotting the courses that hire ‘illegals’, only that they wanted their subscriptions cancelled. Its that kind of head in the sand attitude, that is destroying the game.

  2. Pingback: Seven Ways to Make Golf Better in 2014 (from GolfWRX) | The Dallas Golf Blog

  3. Kapil Gupta, MD

    February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I enjoyed your article, Bob. I’ve been agreement with your perspective for years. I’ve recently completed a discourse, titled, Golf: A Game Ruined By The Hand Of Man. You may enjoy it http://bit.ly/manruinedgolf

    Kapil Gupta, MD
    Siddha Performance
    http://www.siddhapermance.com

    • tp mitchell

      August 22, 2014 at 8:48 am

      As a golfer,greenkeeper,and as always promoter of the game in any way i can see it played,on the streets or on a simple or well developed course.I encourage all to take part in a game that taught me how to be a gentleman.How to show true respect to all around me be they higher class or lower.I feel it made me grow hugely.I just wish i could find ways that i could pass it on and keep its legacy alive.

  4. KCCO

    January 31, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    Just like any other sport/hobby, some have the bankroll to take it to another level. That goes for everything, and I believe everyone has the right to do what they want with their money.
    Bottom line as someone said before, just getting into golf and putting the time which in turn costs money to get to the point of actually enjoying the game is to expensive to attract people to the game. That’s why so many 30 something’s play softball. Sponsored, cheap, and a price tag that doesn’t push people away.
    I’m all for programs mentioned at elementary schools to promote growth in youths, but please don’t change this game. I think the best part is the loyalty to your own dedication to the challenges and integrity of this game. Maybe have small courses for those who want to rent clubs and play a few holes (par 3′s? Do they still exist?) but I still wanna play 18 and attain my personal goals in this game, and enjoy a round at a beautiful course soaking in the 3.5 hours I enjoy so much, with those that share the same interests in this game. (Yes I had to slip that in there, agree carts slow things down) but I truly don’t think speed is the major hurdle. It’s money, and the time in general that must be invested to actually get enjoyment from this game.

  5. kevin allo

    January 27, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    It all boils down to economics. Times are tough, so people are playing less, and course rates are going up to compensate. I caddie at a country club on the east end of Long Island, and since the recession, they have had to drop their bond, and offer other clubs incentives to entice people to join due to the dip in the membership caused by the economic times. Personally, since my life is not in the business side of golf, and I enjoy playing the emptier courses, I don’t want the game to grow because it just means slower rounds, and more corporations like American Golf taking over great courses and ruining them for a profit. Not trying to be a golf snob, but unless you enjoy 5 or 6 hour rounds, why would you want the game to grow. This whole argument will disappear when the middle class gets its spending power back since it traditionally is a game people pick up when they become a professional anyways.

    • tp mitchell

      August 22, 2014 at 9:01 am

      So lets forget classes for a moment.Golf is about takin time to smell the flowers as jack once put it.2minutes of hitting a ball in 3.5-4hr round of golf.I maintain a course where members find problems with pin placements,but do not notice flowers and birds singing the sounds of spring.Golf is about challenging oneself against the course and still enjoying the relaxation that a walk in the countryside brings.I never blame a course for my bad golf,i blame my lack of preparation,but i still notice amazing place around me.

  6. Joe

    January 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I don’t know about other areas of the country, but where I live one of the biggest reasons for the drop in play is the cost to play. I hear as many people complain about that as I do about the pace of play and I never see anyone mention it when I read articles about growing the game. And by cost, I don’t just mean the green fees, although that is a big part of it. Courses that I used to pay $25-$30 a round now charge $45-$50. That really limits how many times a week\month people can play in these economic times. Equipment prices are high as well so getting into the game is costly which deters people from trying the game.

    As much as I agree with most everything said in this article and others like it, until cost is addressed in some way by course owners and club manufacturers, I think there will still be slow growth in the game going forward.

    • Shawn

      January 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      This has happened a lot where I am too. I live in an area with probably 15 courses within about an hours drive, and many of them have decided that they’re more upscale than they are. We have 2 truly “really nice” courses, and both are in the $60 range for 18. We also have 8-10 nice, but not special courses. A few of those have decided to try to move into the group with the 2 special courses, and have decided to jack up greens fees to make money, to then put that money into improvements. It’s tough to pay extra this year in the hopes that the course will be nicer next year.

      In related news, we added around 200 members for full or half memberships where we play, a course that has one decent and one really nice course, as people are seeing more value in spending $2k for the year and playing those 2 than trying to play at $40-60 a round at the other local courses.

  7. LiveWire

    January 12, 2014 at 1:04 am

    After reading all the comments on these great topics that Mr. Carney has brought to the table it seems that each in it’s own are worthy of a discussion alone. The one topic I don’t see is that all the attention of what’s wrong with golf was not brought on by the amateur’s and general public. The topic seemed to prosper right after the financial fall out, which in turn was followed by a very rainy year and a nationwide drought the next year. Since the profiting companies within this sport had to suffer a 6 year low period in revenue’s they decided that golfers were unhappy with the sport. That something is wrong on our level. This just isn’t true and never was. I never realized how bad it was till I ordered Golf Digest for my 2 son’s. It was cover to cover articles of whats wrong with the sport. Slow play… play nine…tee it forward…cost too much…youth are absent…not enough minority’s playing…blah blah blah…page after page. They are promoting negativity directly to us. I have played golf for nearly 35 years. There has always been slow play, the latest technology was a pinch out my budgets reach. Time has always been an issue. The game of golf doesn’t need it’s founders and governing bodies, manufacturer’s telling us that something is wrong with the game. Because there isn’t. It’s their bottom line that has a problem. I think the game is better than it has ever been. I’ve got better equipment, I hit better golf balls, I’ve got distance to the pin on my wrist all day long. I mean wow, this game is cool. I really like the Top Golf driving range.. neat. Our town doesn’t even have an independent driving range. And yes I like music when I play.

    • Bob Carney

      January 12, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Can’t argue that those of us already in the game are enjoying a kind of “golden age” of golf, in course design (Doak, Coore, Crenshaw, Hanse, etal) and in equipment. But I think Golf Digest’s point, and mine, is that we are not doing a good enough job bringing new people in. Some of the things we golfers have become inured to—5 and 6- hour rounds, for example–are turnoffs. I tried to keep this list positive. Hope you’ll take it in that light. Bob

      • LiveWire

        January 12, 2014 at 11:23 pm

        Bob,

        I think your article is very positive, and for that matter it seems WRX is purely positive, and it actually allows me to be a part and see a part of golf I would not be able to experience in rural America. What do you think can be done to help rural area’s like I am in. I can’t even find a junior program for my children without having to drive to a major city. The first tee is a nice program but only for the better than suburban area’s. And I’m not in the boondocks or anything just average size town USA.

  8. GiGi

    January 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    The biggest pace of play problem is people looking for balls deep in Neverland. Encourage the occasional golfers to play lost balls as if they were red staked. Maybe even figure out a way to allow rounds played that way to be used for handicaps.

    • Steve

      January 12, 2014 at 12:43 am

      Good rid of those god awful ball-fisher poles while you’re at it. I feel like exploding and hitting into every person I see using those. If their is nobody else on the course, do whatever the heck you want, but the last thing everyone wants to do is watch you fish for fricken golf balls. I’ll give you one if it means that much to you.

      • Steve

        January 12, 2014 at 12:44 am

        Get rid*

  9. HB

    January 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t think I have read anything that makes me worry as much about the future of golf as the section of this article on Bishop. The bit about “commercial grade speakers” and playing music on his practice range (with those objecting being provided ear plugs) pretty much epitomizes everything this guy has done and will do to his industry and the game. And, he heads the PGA (amazing).

    Also, on what basis does Bishop assume the mantle of the defender of the golfing public on the issue of anchored putting. He has an opinion — obviously. But, by casting his argument with golf governing bodies as one where he is looking out for the golfing public and those governing bodies are elitist and out of touch, he is engaging in a bit of demagoguery. No one knows where the public stands on this issue with any certainty (let alone Bishop’s own membership — he is a kook if he claims otherwise), and common sense (take a look around your course on any day) tells us anchored putters are a decided minority.

    The PGA has been in a daze since their effort to become merchandisers in the 80s and 90s clashed with the sudden change in golf retailing to big box. With teaching becoming a huge part of their public face, they seemed to be on the right track. However, a guy like Bishop doesn’t inspire confidence that, rather than just having to contend with the usual business challenges, the PGA won’t just go off the rails on their very own. That will be bad for golf (as the PGA has been a real guardian of the rules and integrity of the game in the past).

    • Tim

      January 10, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Playing music on the course is ridiculous. People that want to listen to music on the course have the option to use headphones. Another person and I were recently paired with a twosome that played the most offensive and vulgar music. I had two choices, put up with it and not enjoy the day or end my round and be disappointed that I was unable to play golf. Since the weather was good, I didn’t qualify for a rain check. No matter I’m never going there or any course that encourages open air music. Imagine sitting next to someone for 5 hours on a cross country flight while they blasted their choice of music. Not much difference. Who gets to decide what everyone wants to listen to?

      • Tom

        January 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm

        Amen. Can I get another amen?

    • Bob Carney

      January 12, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      HB, I think Bishop indeed is getting feedback from members who hear it from everyday golfers. Deane Beman told the USGA he wanted a pal, who could not even keep peas on a fork due to disease, to be able to use the long putter and keep playing. That’s the guy Bishop is speaking for. PGA members are also seeing young people turn away from the game. That’s a problem. But on the music thing, the last member-guest I played in included three or four teams playing music from their carts. If we’d objected, they would have turned it off. I survived.

  10. TxGolfJunkie

    January 9, 2014 at 10:49 am

    I worked with Jim Moore (mentioned in #4 of this article) at the Starburst Junior Golf Tournament. At the time of economic prosperity when he and Steve Smith were in charge, the tournament was one of the largest in the world. Jim brought a level of professionalism and integrity to the tournament that every participant enjoyed. Jim is top notch in his field.

    I wish more courses had push carts available for walkers, especially here in the flat lands of texas. I think push carts would speed up play. We all get the exercise that everyone needs without the back stress of carrying a bag. Carts are nice for hilly/stretched out courses, but they cause more delays than anything else.

    I absolutely love the 4, 5 and 7 hole loops. That would be perfect. I;d rather spend my time playing just 4 or 5 holes than an hour on the range and 30 minutes in the short game area.

    Someone in Houston, PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN!

  11. george

    January 6, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    get rid of walkers on public golf courses – mandatory golf carts . sick of 5-6 hr rounds

    • J C

      January 7, 2014 at 8:05 am

      I walk and unhindered play a round in 2 – 2.5 hours. The problem is 2 players per cart going back and forth or cart path only where you have to drive up and guess what club you need before you walk over to your ball on other side of fairway and hope you’ve got the right one in hand or walk back and get new club. when i must take a cart ill take my carry bag off it when ball is on other side so I’ve got everything i need with me and bring it back, takes just as long as anything else. I know not everyone can carry or pull cart their bag as quickly as others and carts are need for many to golf at all but need to have 1 person carts for fast play. Unfortunately golf is also a social game and a lot of people golf to see their friends or whatever and chit chat instead of golf and slows it all down. They are there more to keep in touch than to golf, and the 5 hour round doesn’t mean anything to them. golf isn’t just going out and golfing, it catching up with how someone’s week has been and how their kids are doing and what the doctor said about the mole on their back and who died recently, I golf as a single a lot in mid afternoon with lots of random people, mostly retired seniors. Many walk if they can many 2 man cart and a 5 hour round is standard either way. Public courses, about $20 a round, a cart cost $25 a round, more than the golf.

    • Al

      January 8, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      Who would be stupid enough to stick around if it was going to take 5 hrs. To play a round. We walk all our rounds and can play in under 4 hours. Usually 3.5 hrs. Riders are
      slower players in my view. Be ready to hit when it’s your turn, that’s all.

      • David Smith

        January 10, 2014 at 12:23 am

        Exactly! I was paired up last week with 2 guys who shot 120′s. They weren’t golfers and they knew that so they played ready golf, they ran up to their ball and hit while I was walking to my ball, they were on their way to their next shot while I was setting up for mine. Once I hit, they took a shot with theirs and would continue this. I out drove them and out played them in every way on the course but not once did I have to wait for them, they knew how to keep pace. They were more tired than I was but it was really good to see them keep the pace.

        I personally think a lot of issues are from people in carts. Think about it, you have 2 people per cart and obviously each has their own shot shape and own misses and 9 times out of 10 one will find the right side of the fairway and the other will find the left side. If they had been walking they would split up and go to their ball and BOTH be ready to hit but in a cart they have to take turns, which takes double the time!

        • Steve

          January 12, 2014 at 12:36 am

          I agree with your first half 100%. I really don’t care if you shoot a 80 or 100; as long as you are playing ready golf, the time difference won’t be that significant.

          And I think you are going to run into problems with or without carts. When I play with my dad we are able to play really quickly. We are usually in the same vicinity, but I generally put it out there like 20 yards past him. I’ll either walk to my ball while he’s getting ready to hit so I can look at my shot and get an idea of what I want to do when he drives over, or he’ll jump out and get the club he needs and have me take the cart to get my shot ready while he hits. Then he just walks over when he’s done, and my ball is generally taking off by the time he gets back to where I am. It’s really not that hard to play quickly whether you are walking or in a cart. Like JC said though, most people could care less.

    • Nevrup Nevrin

      January 16, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Rather than getting into a long rant about this ridiculous statement, I’ll just say this:

      Get out of your cart and walk the course.* You will find that the cart golfer, not the walker, takes more time to play a round.

      *Exceptions to those that cannot walk 18 holes but still want to play and support the came.

    • Ryan

      January 22, 2014 at 9:31 am

      This comment is absolutely ridiculous. I walk ~100 rounds a year (in Maine no less) and walkers are very infrequently the cause of any delays on the course. The beer drinking morons in carts are much more likely to be screwing around in their riding carts instead of hitting their shots.

      Most of us that walk do so because we love the exercise and the game, and we don’t need a cart to carry our 12-pack.

  12. Matt

    January 6, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    If I paid $40 a round instead of $80 per round, I would play twice as much.

    • Steve

      January 7, 2014 at 4:05 am

      I’d be willing to bet that you’d also have a LOT slower rounds if your course started charging $40 instead of $80.

    • Bill

      January 9, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      if rounds were 20 bucks would you play 4x as much?

      its not that simple, and just because you’d play doube, doesn’t mean every else would. even if tee times did double, does the course even have capability to double tee times, would this cause a backed up course, what about the additional wear and tear to the course.

      Fact is, golf isn’t ever going to be cheap. There are cheaper courses, but I think many believe courses are overpriced, but have never seen the courses P/E statement. its never as simple as just lowering the cost. might get more players, but that might also put the course out of business.

  13. Erik Johnson

    January 6, 2014 at 11:31 am

    TopGolf is awesome….No one has time for 18 holes anymore(this country is getting older and people are working longer hours) ….It is a perfect way for me and my family to spend an hour and half together

    • Bill

      January 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      wondering how realistic top golf is. I’ve never played, but seems aiming at targets that are multiple stories below you would be hard to judge distances.

      is this more of a game than a legitimate place to get actual practice. would i ever choose this place over a driving range if i wanted to hit balls for practice. not too often i need to hit a green 40ft below me.

      • Bob Carney

        January 12, 2014 at 4:24 pm

        Bill, the Top Golf franchises I’ve visited, in Chicago and Virginia, were a strange collection of some really good golfers practicing against one another, teenagers hitting their first shots ever, and business groups coming to have some fun after a meeting. Good food and drink. Most of all, it was a way into the sport for newcomers and a more interesting way to practice for some of us who’ve been at it for decades. Bob

  14. jkumpire

    January 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    I am sorry,except for the quickening of play I disagree with most of it. What you are wanting is not a change to golf, the article is really asking for a new kind of game called ‘golflight’, or ‘half-baked golf’.

    Golf takes time, practice, and a willingness to work hard. It takes work to walk a course, play your ball, follow the rules, and have a real handicap. To get a round at par, or even close to par is a real accomplishment. It takes dedication, real dedication to play the game. Ultimately, the casual players many of the offered solutions to the game may attract will be good for sponsors and advertisers of large TV golf tournaments, and major golf ruling bodies that money of big-money golf tournaments, but very, very few people will take up the game as a life-long recreational activity.

    Just like Classical music is not popular with the masses except for being soundtracks in movies or commercials, golf is never going to be English football or American football. It is, was, and will be a niche sport. Time to accept it for what it is and enjoy what we have.

    • Bob Carney

      January 12, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      When I talked to Ted Bishop, he used another analogy. He said you and I play a game of horse at the basket on our garage. Is that basketball? Or did we play basketball light because we didn’t play with 5 on a team on a regulation court? It’s basketball, of course. I love “old” golf and you’d be surprised at how much of a traditionalist I am when it comes to rules and on-course behavior. But, as you put it, I’m classical music. The sport can use some rock n roll, too.

      • Paul Monahan

        January 29, 2014 at 3:59 pm

        Relating to your “horse” game of basketball, is “t-ball” actually baseball? For millions of Youth in the US it sure is.

        I saw golf’s version – “g-ball” – at the PGA Show this week in Orlando. I learned that SNAG (Starting New At Golf) is already being taught by 8,000 PE instructors in Elementary schools. I cannot understand why its not more mainstream at Public and Private Clubs. Its a Family game that could be a 30 – 60 minute event.

        If we teach more people (with SNAG type programs) the skills and fundamentals of how to play the game we love, when they transition to traditional gear as Juniors and play real courses, they will be more confident, speed will improve and enjoyment will increase. Golf is a tough sport to master. That is why we love it.

  15. Steve

    January 5, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    It really amazes me when I read/hear stuff about people leaving the game and golf “shrinking” in the US. Even as early as like 2 years ago I could go to probably 80% of the courses in my area (A little West of Chicago) during a weekday and have time to drop a few balls and hit some practice shots for fun on every hole with no issues. It’s nearly impossible to do that now. I’ve tried every weekday at different times throughout the year and the courses are almost always packed. Weekend golf isn’t even an option unless I have 5+ hours to kill. It must just be my area, but it sucks.

    Back on subject… Pace of play is definitely the biggest issue I see. The biggest problem is that 99% of rangers don’t do ANYTHING about it.

    • nik d

      January 6, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      we call rangers “cart washers” where I live and play. you have to call the clubhouse to get a ranger to come out and speed up the group(S) ahead of you

      • LiveWire

        January 12, 2014 at 12:36 am

        we must live close by

  16. Evan

    January 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    When talking about “growing the game” it depends exactly what you’re talking about. Is it growing the game to where golf course operators and publicly traded golf companies want it to be? Enough is never enough when it comes to the business side of the game. I think the USGA and PGA should “try” to steer clear of the quick dollar and focus on the long term health and tradition of the game. Golf cannot be everything to everyone. There are MANY other games and forms of entertainment that are also seeking the same individuals.

    One primary problem in golf is all of the accessory dollars that are spent when talking about the game of golf. What is necessary to play golf? A golf course (even 9 would do) and a useable set of golf clubs and handful of balls. That is all that is necessary, along with the basic maintenance necessary to sustain the course. There are so many OTHER expenses that many golfers deem necessary that may not be. Power golf carts, latest and greatest equipment, golf gloves, golf clothing. These are all things that you do not NEED to play golf. Often times these days it seems like the golf course and the maintenance of the golf course (greens fees) which should be considered the primary cost to play, or not. If we had a budget for GOLFWRX members, how much do you think greens fees would amount to? If I had to guess it would hardly be 25%. Is the game too expensive or too time consuming or do we get so infatuated and obsessed with everything that goes along with golf that we make the game more intimidating than it needs to be? How much TV or movies does the average American watch everyday? I think there is time for 9 holes of golf a couple days a week!

  17. W Mass

    January 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Dr Frank Barney Gorton Stableford developed the stableford scoring system and was first used at Wallasey G.C near Liverpool ,England .A question I would like to put forward is about your thoughts on the Pro golf game .does anyone think the pro game prices people out of the game e.g the price of equipment due to sponsorship deals for players.The price of playing top quality courses because they have been used for tournaments.Personally I think more people would/could play the game if it was less expensive.I am in my 40′s but at the club I play there is a big difference in ages that play there I am one of the youngest ,most other members are in their 60′s upward.It seems that the younger people are finding it hard to fund the game due to expense when the older people stop playing I can see our fees doubling to pay for the shortfall or ultimately the club closing as there is a lack of young players.It seems to me the Pros are milking the game and the manufacturers,i dont expect many people to agree but these are my thoughts and thoughts of people I play with.

  18. DB

    January 5, 2014 at 11:06 am

    This is by far the best article I’ve read on GolfWRX. Kudo’s to you Bob. As a golf pro and more importantly an absolute golf nut, I cannot agree more with the writer on these topics. Starting with no. 3 and no. 7. I can’t tell ya how many players finish the round and have 16 or 17 good holes but all they think about is the 9+ they made on a hole or 2. Caddies are great for the game. I wish more people would walk with a caddie the great misconception is that walking slows play down. Being that I work at a walking only facility with caddies I can attest this is the farthest from the truth. Keep up the great work Bob! I know there will be lots of support!

  19. Lazza

    January 5, 2014 at 1:14 am

    At my home club we predominantly play individual Stableford, with two rounds of medal and match play in between in a given month. Depending on the group (three ball or four ball) you play and starting at 12h45 – 13h00 you seldom are back in the club house later than 17h00 – sometimes even by 16h00!

  20. MJ

    January 4, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Great article! I particularly agree with the caddie program. I caddied from when I was 15-25, through high school and college. I received a caddie scholarship for 3 years of college. It was a great help and a nice bonus for working hard. I made a fantastic living for those 9-10 years working as a caddie. It never occurred to me to get another job and I met a lot of contacts along the way. There is no other job at that age that I could have made near that amount of money or learned the life lessons that I have learned.

  21. Sean

    January 4, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks for your replies. If you can keep your HI intact, I’m all for SF. :-)

  22. ian

    January 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with #1. I visited the Top Golf in Allen, TX this past summer and have to say it was the best time I have had in a long time. I do golf around 3-4 times a month in the summer. I would love to see these pop up in my area (Minneapolis) but it would have to be a domed location. Seeing as our high tomorrow should be a balmy -18 degrees. I just thought it was an excellent way to get the game to the masses. Price wise it was comparable to bowling and clubs could be rented reasonably. The full service bars on every level was a huge plus. I would invest in this company if it ever made the move north.

    • Op

      January 5, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Exactly…… as great as the idea of Top Golf sounds, golf is always going to be a game dependent on the weather………

      and the other part of Top Golf that may not be so appealing is the kind of nasty behavior it may foster of drunken, belligerent turkeys who won’t learn the etiquette of the game and think that they can behave like idiots playing real golf on the course outside, they will not have learned to care for the course or the rules of the game.

      I vote no for Top Golf.

      • Paul Monahan

        January 29, 2014 at 4:08 pm

        I raised my kids playing golf in So California. It was a lot of time to get them to the point of being able to enjoy a round. But it was quality time with my Boys that I treasure today.

        Golf is a Social and Family sport but I would not want drunken or rowdy behavior around children.

        I ran into SNAG Golf at the PGA Show this week. They have been around for a while, but just not gaining Global attention.

        Adding a SNAG G-ball area at practice and family facilities would be a fun way to parents to play with their kids in 60 minutes. The SNAG program is being used by 8,000 elementary schools in the US alone.

  23. A. Flores

    January 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Great article. In particular, #5 was poignant for me. When I started playing ten years ago, I didn’t see too many Hispanic golfers on the courses. Now I see more. My daughter is a month old and she will play the sport I love. And the fact that a player with a Spanish last name like Salas is out there playing with Inbee and Paula will further encourage my daughter to play. Lizette is a great role model. She is very active in the San Gabriel Valley promoting the sport to all kids regardless of background. I look forward to cheering her on with my daughter in a few years.

  24. George

    January 4, 2014 at 11:18 am

    How about starters limiting play on the back tees (blue or black on most courses) to a maximum handicap as they do in Europe. You get all the time who think they are better players than they actually are that hit drives into the rough, then spend more time playing the hole because they have to hit long irons into the green (and missing more often than not). One minute off pace for the first group? More like 2 to 3 minutes extra per hole for higher handicaps playing back tees.

  25. Dwaine Ingarfield

    January 4, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I think the 4, 5, 6 hole loop ideas are excellent.
    Dwaine Ingarfield

  26. mark

    January 4, 2014 at 9:04 am

    $400 drivers $300 putter $1000 4hr golf clinic with Butch Harmon or$20 soccer ball which sport is gonna grow faster oh wait it already has _ priceless

    • larrybud

      January 4, 2014 at 10:57 am

      One doesn’t need to buy $400 drivers to play the game. I got my girlfriend a $100 *SET* with BAG which are perfectly fine clubs.

    • Jonny Bravo

      January 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

      The percentage of golfers who have thrown down cash for a $1,000 lesson combo with Butch is minuscule. My first putter cost around $35 and I am 25. You know what also goes along with playing soccer long term? League memberships, travel, hotel stay, tournament fees, $400 “boots.” Also, please try punctuation.

      • James Patron

        February 3, 2014 at 1:53 pm

        As a former 2X a week player your comments comparing golf expense vs. soccer is inane. I purchase a new ball each year for less than a dozen golf balls, buy a new pair of cleats for about equal to that of a pair of FootJoys and I pay $50 a year for an adult soccer league. Practice is free on every high school and public park soccer field in the county. On average $150-$200 a year max.
        Playing golf I would tear through that amount in 2 weeks (greens fees, balls, bag boy tip, range balls, etc.). With golf I am home in 5+ hours due to crowded courses and inconsiderate slow groups, in soccer I am home in 2 hours max.

  27. Square

    January 4, 2014 at 5:04 am

    The list could have easily been more than 7 reasons. I’ll throw 2 in the bucket and see if it marinates with the group.
    1) Golf has got to find a way to capture the youth’s interest. Golf Courses have got to figure out a way to allow the youth to play so in 5-10 years they’ll be back as new members. When I grew up playing in 1985, there was a city course where it cost me 50.00 a year to be a member which allowed me to pay 2.00 per nine holes and I walked. Of course I received the worst tee times (late in the afternoon) but I didn’t care. The head pro also took more interest in the youth than anyone else with free lessons and encouragement. Later on I worked at the course and when I was old enough, I was able to use a golf cart and log in more play time. The 3 years I was a member at that unkept, mismanaged, crowded goat ranch were some of the best years of my life.
    2) I think courses could do more to improve the pace of play and really enforce the issue. Courses should experiment with threesomes to see if the pace would improve and also have monitoring systems on the carts so they can advise the players when their pace has fallen behind. Most of the behaviors in life we want have to be incentivized by the authority figure. If I wanted to drive, my grades had to be good enough when I was a youth. So what are courses willing to do for a player or group who finishes in 4:30 versus the 5:30? If I ran our local course, I would offer a beer or food item after the round if they finished within 4:30. Folks would be in the dining room and likely spend more money than just the hot dog in front of them.

  28. naflack

    January 4, 2014 at 3:25 am

    1) when more “middle class” people have the discretionary income to play they will.

    2) see 1

  29. Jon

    January 4, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Great Topic Mr. Bob Carney. Growing the game requires knowing why people are leaving the game and why new golfers want to learn to play the game? Each area has different demographics (age, race, ethnicity, gender, beliefs, values and economic status). In my tiny experience in the industry, cost and time seem to be big obstacles. Time to play (#4) and time to gain the skills to be confident and comfortable navigating golf courses. Art and science (#4) of time, tee time management by golf courses, players assistants/marshals that help players navigate difficult areas of courses and promote pace of play, course setup, published pace of play guidelines by each course, appropriate tees chosen by golfers, more alternative scoring (match play, points/stableford)chosen by golfers, understanding/promotion of rules and etiquette of recreational (READY) golf. Cost: equipment, rounds, lessons, practice and time. #7 Caddie programs (Evans Scholarships, golf privileges and jobs), #5 less than 9 hole opportunities, free short game practice areas, and topic based (rules, etiquette, putting, scrambling and swing) group lessons for reasonable cost. The combination of cost and the tone of elitism/privilege are intimidating.

    • Bob Carney

      January 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Glad to hear you mention the intimidation, Jon. I’m not sure all of us within the game realize how intimidating it can be. These ideas are ways to make it less so, in one way or another. Bob

  30. tim

    January 4, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Everyone wants to get new golfers to start playing, then they will probably suck b/c they don’t know what they’re doing, then slow the course down, then experienced golfers are stuck playing behind Mr. and Mrs. Havercamp for a 5 1/2 hour round.

  31. Ross G

    January 4, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Absolutely YES to more top golf. While I still prefer the real thing, this is the best thing to come along for the new golfer since the metal wood. I have been trying to get my wife to golf ever since we got married, but to no avail. We went to top golf about a year ago and she loved it! Our first time she could barely make contact and rolled a bunch into the 30 yard target. The last time we went she was crushing driver to the 180 yard target. She actually played nine holes with me a few months ago!

  32. 4pillars

    January 3, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    “Playing for points, as they do in Ireland and Europe”

    Thanks for missing the UK out … we only invented it.

    • havers

      January 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

      The UK (and Ireland for that matter) are in Europe are they not?

      And it was the Scots who invented golf, there was no UK at that time.

      • Emil

        January 4, 2014 at 11:32 am

        Well, UK is in fact the whole iland (scotland,england and wales)

        • markb

          January 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm

          Actually, the United kingdom refers to Eng, Scot, Wales, the Channel Islands, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain refers to just Eng, Scot, & Wales.

  33. Mike D.

    January 3, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Great article Mr. Carney. I think you forgot to add “in the USA” behind every reference about the need to grow golf. I would be surprised to learn that Asia is looking at a contracting golfing population.

    • Bob Carney

      January 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Great point.

  34. Taylor

    January 3, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Pace of play can easily be sped up…but no golf course around me will do it. They need all the money they can get, so they aren’t going to make people skip holes (like they should) when pace falls behind. I literally had a ranger approach our group and tell us that we needed to speed up play when we were waiting 10 minutes every shot. Obviously rangers have no clue what they’re doing out there and they are most old guys that just want to get out of the house. The biggest waste of time is people putting. They see the pro’s on TV read putts from all angles and take forever. But pro’s can hit their lines with the correct speed and the amateurs could have read it perfectly and still completely miss it. This rant could go on for hours….

  35. It needs to be affordable!

    January 3, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Still need to consider economics when talking about growing the game.

    Single clubs costing 500.00 is a detraction, not a way to attract.

    It needs to be more affordable for more people. Prices climbing without much growth in wages.

    It’s just a fact….. Jack!

    Great Article Author!

    • Markymark032884

      January 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      very nicely said.

    • naflack

      January 4, 2014 at 3:19 am

      +1

    • Jonny Bravo

      January 4, 2014 at 11:36 am

      I agree, affordable, but any sport has its premium tools for the game. There are always used pieces, stores like eBay, and brands that can even be purchased at WalMart in sets for reasonable prices. There are economic factors of the game, but cost of equipment is not one of the main issues. “prices climbing” for green fees costs to run a course play more of a part than equipment – that just gets you in the door.

    • RobN

      January 4, 2014 at 11:55 am

      That is very true to a point. Most people think they HAVE to pay $300 for a driver, or $1000 for a set of irons because it’s what the pros play, or the club hot-shot plays one, etc. The new players will do just as well with a full set from Walmart, or even having clubs built from designers like Maltby/Golfworks (a high quality driver assembled for under $150, iron set for ~$350, putter for under $100). But with the marketing efforts the likes of TMaG and others, they don’t know these other viable options exist.

      Don’t get me wrong, I fully agree with you. Most people either don’t know about these other options, or haven’t looked at Craigslist or eBay, or are like a lot of Americans and flat out won’t buy used, and/or insist on new and awesome and brand names etc.

  36. markb

    January 3, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Super article, but caddies are dead except as an occasional novelty exception. The reason being that the monies paid to caddies does not go into the pockets of the pros as the revenues from cart rentals do. Many courses in my state will not even allow them (except in tournaments) unless you pay for a walk-along spectator.

    • DB

      January 5, 2014 at 11:22 am

      There are ways to have caddie’s pay a established cost. I also feel that for an average golf course caddie fees are too high. Take for instance the course I work at where a caddie makes 80-100 a bag carrying two bags for one round(sometimes they will do carry 2 bags for 2 or 3 rounds in a day.) Granted this does not happen year round but there is a way to have an “association cost.” Just as golf pro’s do. There is a program that runs 95% of caddie programs in the nation called CSI(caddie services inc.) And the caddies pay an association fee to them. I would rather see the course that has the caddies collect a upfront minimal fee. But think about playing a good public golf course for say $60 with a cart if the group takes a four caddie at another 25-30 a guy would it not be worth it?

    • Bob Carney

      January 12, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Say it ain’t so! I think some clubs are trying to find ways to keep the pro reimbursed even when caddies are there. Fore-caddies with carts, for example. Bob

  37. Markymark032884

    January 3, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    6 and 7 are the only two that mean anything. I kinda like……… “Our job is to provide access so people who want to play can play. If they don’t, they won’t? So what.” that makes more sense.. I think gof is bigger “world wide” than it ever has been isn’t it? I’m not a big fan of changing the game of golf to get non golfers to want to play our game.

    • Markymark032884

      January 3, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      I don’t think that golf courses hurting for money and there being less golf jobs for pros and things of that nature have anything to do with people not being interested in playing golf. It has to do with the horrible economy. And that’s only part of the reason why Golf professionals are struggling, the other part is because all these big box stores got there hands involved way too much in the golf industry and they are making it impossible for golf pros to run professional pro shops because they cant compete with the prices these stores offer. This kills professionals business and forces most of them to work for these crappy big box stores for less money and provide less of a professional service. These are the things that are putting pressure on the game. The money that is going into golf right now is all going to these big corporations and not to our professionals and their courses. So if we really want to help better the conditions of courses and stimulate the game everyone has to stop throwing all their money at Dick’s sporting goods/Golf Galaxy and start supporting our pro’s and local courses. and I have never even been a golf professional I just see the way it works.

      • PuttQueen28

        January 4, 2014 at 6:32 pm

        Dick’s Sporting Goods also has kids that don’t know anything assisting new golfers that don’t know any better. That’s definitely not helping the sport.

  38. Sean

    January 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I’m not a fan of the music. If people want to listen to music they should be the ones to put on the head phones, I shouldn’t have to put in ear plugs.

    If you want to play tournaments you need a handicap. Do you discount those players who do need to play everything out?

    • Josh

      January 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Sean,

      even with a points system you can still have “handicaps”. instead of saying you play to a 9 and I play to 15 it would be more like you play to a 30 and I play to a 25 or whatever. different numbers but same concept and it would show true skill instead of the handicap system which shows what your potential is. PLus how can you argue against how much faster play would be? If you can’t at least score one point, then you just pick up and move on. Obviously depending on skill level you can move around the points a little (lower skilled players have double bogey as the cut off instead of bogey. It is a suggestion that will definitely speed up play (even with some peoples’ ridiculous pre-shot/putt routines.

      • ParHunter

        January 4, 2014 at 11:45 am

        With Stableford you still have a normal handicap. Let’s say you have a handicap of 15, then you get one stroke on the holes with stroke index 1 to 15. So on e.g. A par 4 with SI 11 you get 2 points for a 5 (nett par), 3 points for a 4, 4 points for a 3.

        On a par 4 with a SI if e.g. 16 you get 2 points for a 4.
        So the two points is always for a nett par.

        If you play of e.g. 22 you get 2 strokes on SI 1-4 and one stroke on the other holes.

  39. Willie

    January 3, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    This is hands down one of the best articles on growing the game that I have ever read. Great job Bob.

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