In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.
The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.
Barriers to the game
What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.
There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:
- Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
- Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
- Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.
Those who leave the game
Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.
Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.
Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time. In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?
The concept of par
Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there is a more compelling reason. I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.
You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.
In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?
Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.
What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?
Old man par
The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.
The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.
What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.
This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.
As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.
The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.
There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.
A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”
I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.
And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.
And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”
Don’t be THAT guy at your corporate outing
Today is the day. Your out-of-office email is up, and you’re fully prepared for an afternoon at the course. As a driving range pro, you think this day will be a gentle breeze. However, you are not prepared. You may not even realize it, but you are about to be that guy.
That guy… who is that guy? Well, I’m glad you asked.
He’s that guy at the range hours early instead of socializing at the breakfast. He’s that guy arranging the scramble lineup when he finally makes it to that breakfast. He’s the guy who finds himself reading a golf blog about a corporate scramble.
Now, let’s start this early in the morning. You’re in your closet carefully crafting your outfit for the day. Wait, wait, wait… let’s not start there. Therein lies the problem, guy. You aren’t composing an outfit, not today! An outfit is for Day 2 of your member-guest. An outfit is for that golf trip with your buddies. An outfit is for Bill Murray at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am (who, with those bell bottoms, is becoming dangerously close to that guy).
A corporate outing is for the muted colors sitting in the back of your closet. There’s no need to get flashy with your attire on this day. If your game is as good as your rangefinder magnet says you are, your game will be enough of the conversation; there’s no need to make your belt buckle one of them. White shorts are fine, but please, don’t be the guy wrapped in pants in 80-degree heat. I get it, you’re “more comfortable in pants” and “this new fabric is actually cooler than shorts.” Come on now, let’s save the pants for guys who aren’t playing for pro shop credit.
Obviously club-tossing, swear-wording and teammate-bashing are huge no-nos, but you already know that. Be encouraging on the course and give your teammates credit when they hit one down the middle, even if you drive it past them. It was still their shot that freed you up.
Most importantly, gauge the competitiveness of the team. Some people are there to win; some people are there for gin. If it’s clear that your team isn’t firing 14-under, kick back, relax and help your teammates improve. You’ll have your own chance. You can still get excited for the long drive, guy.
Speaking of the long drive, why is the prize for winning said competition so often a new driver? “You proved today how well you smash that driver, so here is a new one!” Sir, he likes his just fine. I think it’s safe to venture he’d rather stop the three-putt pars. Which also goes for the longest-putt prize. A brand new Odyssey White Hot! Just stop it. Pro shop credit… problem solved.
Speaking of problems, there’s a good chance someone in your group will have a massive one with their swing. As a guy, you’ll probably want to tell them they are “casting” and to try this “towel-under-the-arm drill.” Yes, it is completely fine to provide a tip, but only when warranted (or preferably, called upon). You can go from “guy who helped my short game” to “guy who destroyed my swing” with just a few too many hints.
One more thing. Don’t let any guy pull this move.
Let me paint a story. Your team approaches the green, you have two decent looks at birdie. Good for you! However, your team can’t decide. One is 15-feet straight up the hill. The other is an eight-foot slider. The team agrees the shorter putt is still the play.
“I’ll smack this 15-footer, just for fun,” your cheating teammate says. Followed shortly by, “unless it goes in, ha.”
Other than actually cheating, this is the most common and lame shenanigan I’ve seen in a corporate scramble. I’ve never forgotten the people that did it with me, and they won’t forget you.
Man, that got dark in a hurry.
Back to the fun stuff. You’ve mastered the clothing and seamlessly blended casual and competitive like Tom Brady in Uggs. All that is left now is to select your winning item in the pro shop. And this is where I leave my final tip. Go with something practical: gloves, golf balls. The last thing your wardrobe needs is another lime green shirt that you’ll want to wear in next month’s scramble.
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