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Is 2020 golf’s big chance?

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At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.

Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.

It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).

If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.

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Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.

People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.

The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry

  • Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
  • As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.

When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.

Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.

As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. A. Commoner

    May 24, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    I’m sure the writer is a fine fellow. How does a person talk to a golf course and the golf course provide a vocal response?

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Ball flight and spin rate, Part 2

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This past week, I was out at our club doing some research on launch angles and spin rates. My “Iron Byron” was our first assistant golf professional Joe Mitchell, who is one of the most consistent ball strikers I’ve seen. Joe has a reputation for being laser straight with every club, from driver to wedges, and is one of the best putters I’ve watched. The only “flaw” in Joe’s game, which he admits, is that he is not nearly as long as the young guns.

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His spin number dropped from 35-3900 to 26-2800 rpms, launch angles did not change, ball speed off the clubhead did not change more than one mph or so, but distance improved by almost ten yards! So, the mere act of backing off a bit from “full power” actually improved his driving distance, and there’s no question that even Joe is going to hit the driver straighter if he’d not trying to “max out” on every swing.

We duplicated the test a number of times, Joe hitting drives at full power then backing off a bit. And the results were the same every time–the “controlled” swing produced about 1,000 RPMs less spin and greater distance than did the full out swings.

So, while you may not have a GC2 launch monitor available, you can do your own version of this test. Take a dozen or so balls that you play, mark half of them, and go out on the course when it’s not busy. Hit six drives with your “full power” swing, and then six more with a swing that feels like 85-90 percent of that. Then walk or drive down and see what the two patterns look like.

And then chime back in here with your results. Let’s see if we can’t build a body of real golfer test material right here, OK?

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