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Out of Bounds: Why Public Golf Has Lost Its Appeal

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Are you currently satisfied with the playing conditions found at your golf course?  Have you grown tired of trying to salvage par on surfaces that refuse to roll true? Maybe the course you call home has neglected the average golfer in favor of accommodating a professional tournament that never has and will never roll into town. Or maybe your course has become too expensive to continue playing on regular basis. These are just some of the reasons why golfers have been steadily abandoning the game over the last decade, raising serious questions about what the future holds for public access golf.

Granted there are certain courses that are virtually bulletproof to any mention of the word attrition. An iconic gem like a Torrey Pines, a Bethpage Black or a Brackenridge Park are never going to have trouble filling out their daily tee sheets. Courses like the Black, however, represent a fraction of the over 11,000 public facilities in the United States (21 percent of which are municipal) feeling the affects of the recession in one form or another.

According to the National Golf Foundation, nine out of every 10 golfers plays regularly at a public facility. Many of them have enjoyed the game at budget-friendly, no frills clubs. The local municipal or town course, the sort where golfers use the parking lot as a makeshift locker room, are a by-product of a 1960s golfing boom that coincided with the emergence of the middle class. These courses were the weekend battlegrounds for Arnie’s Army. They were the classrooms for fathers passing down lessons to their sons and daughters. They made a generation of kids late for dinner at a time when life moved a little slower. Now, these same courses are struggling to remain relevant within the fabric of American life.

The number of rounds logged at value courses (facilities with green and cart fees under $40 during peak season) has declined 26 percent since 1987, according to NGF. The same report predicts 5 to 10 percent of public courses will close shop within the next decade. At face value, it’s easy to categorize the trend as a market undergoing self-correction. Perhaps a number of courses deserve to be put out to pasture. But things are not that simple.

The industry as a whole is experiencing strain. A survey conducted in 2011 by Golf Course Industry (GCI) found that one-third of private facilities and more than 40 percent that are public lost money. Not surprisingly, facilities have slashed their operational budgets over the past several years with more than half of superintendents at both public and private courses indicating a reduction in labor.

budget-reduction

By streamlining their budgets, some golf clubs have avoided the red or even turned out a profit. Other clubs battening down the hatches haven’t fared as well. As bleak as the situation may seem, you might be surprised to learn that more than half of all superintendents polled by GCI believe they will be economically viable three years from now. The reason for their optimism? With all the courses expected to close this decade (somewhere between 500 and 1,000 according to NGF) they are anticipating a spike in demand. This is a simple case of addition by subtraction and shouldn’t be interpreted as a cause for celebration. It doesn’t address the fundamental problem that golfers are packing up their stand bags and heading home.

money-stats

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum.

Rather than use current economic conditions as a crutch and maintain a business-as-usual policy, course owners are going to have to take a hard look at their budget plans. They may have to consider refurbishing facilities that have seen better days. They may have no choice but to lower their green fees. And they will be expected to aggressively market to a new generation of Americans accustomed to finding and getting the most bang for their buck. Don’t expect a five or six hour march up and down less-than-pristine fairways and greens at a premium price to be part of any successful marketing plan aimed at generation Groupon.

“Golf is a repeat business,” said Bruce Glasco, senior vice president and managing director of Troon Golf EMA in a discussion panel coordinated by KPMG in 2010. “Forging those relationships is critical. Once you lose that trust, you lost a customer, and they don’t come back quickly. There are other options out there.”

Unfortunately, the term “other options” has over the past couple of decades meant making a tee time at either expensive daily fee courses, resort courses or private courses. Like their thrifty forebears of the 60s, these modern, upscale courses were equally driven by market forces, primarily those of real estate development in the 1990s. The NGF was particularly instrumental in spurring demand, publishing numerous reports including a “Strategic Plan for the Growth of the Game” that cited a need to build enough golf courses to meet the demands of baby boomers in their retirement years. The golf industry averaged 400 golf course openings per year throughout the decade, peaking in the year 2000. According to the NGF, more than 40 percent of these courses were tied to master planned communities and were leveraged to sell real estate at premium prices. They were also influential on public golf course construction.

“Ironically, this real estate development strategy also indirectly inspired many existing golf courses as well as many entrepreneurial developers of public golf courses that did not have a real estate tie-in, to build more costly, longer and more difficult golf courses, because they wanted to offer a ‘country club for a day’ golf experience,” wrote NGF President, David B. Hueber in August 2012. “These golf courses were too difficult for the average golfer; and, it took more time to play a round of golf. … It was a perfect storm of unintended consequences that created golf courses that did not meet the needs of its customers and that were not economically viable.”

The golf course industry of today is slowly coming around. This change in mindset is most clearly reflected by the way in which modern golf course design is beginning to assert itself, embracing a strategy that exercises restraint without sacrificing creativity.

On the north shore of Long Island, a links-inspired public course designed by famed architect Gil Hanse has thrived by delivering a picturesque, shot-making marvel at a budget-friendly price.

Located roughly 70 miles east of New York City, Tallgrass Golf Course is tucked inside a neighborhood the size of a shoebox that divides the suburban sprawl preceding it and miles of farmland to the east. Built in 2000, Hanse transformed a sod farm with just one foot of elevation change into rolling landscape of terraced fairways that play above and below each other. Although Tallgrass is situated on a 150-foot acre square-shaped parcel of land, the open nature of the layout ensures that a golfer never has the feeling of being boxed in. The course features false fronts on the greens, strategically placed pot bunkers and tall fescue grasses that should be avoided at all costs if you intend to keep your score low and your round moving.

tallgrass-image

At 6,500 yards from the tips, Tallgrass is a pleasure to walk and to play. The course itself is not especially penal but the wind makes up for that, testing golfers on their ability to keep it low and shape it both ways.

Phil Tita, general manager and head golf professional, has overseen Tallgrass for the past five years. It’s a course, he said, that fit a variety of playing styles and could be genuinely enjoyed by golfers of varying caliber.

“We want the course to play as firm and fast as we can,” Tita said. “We don’t have a lot of forced carries into greens. Better golfers can play a variety of shots including lobs into the greens. But if you don’t have that ability, you can still bounce the shot up on almost any hole.”

To keep the course playing firm and fast, Tita and his superintendent keep watering to a minimum. Approaches into greens were watered only twice in 2012. Crews will use a technique called syringing to apply a light mist of water to cool the putting surface when the heat index rises.

“It takes a higher degree of skill when drying out the place,” Tita said. “It would be much easier to dump a whole bunch of water and keep it lush.”

Not only would over-watering increase electric and fuel expenses, but it would also ruin the character of the course and make it play one-dimensionally — primarily through the air. As a good custodian, Tita has no such designs. He uses the conditioning of the course, the distinctive links-style layout and most importantly — the Gil Hanse brand — to attract new business while giving existing customers a reason to keep coming back.

During the past three years, Tallgrass has been recognized as one of the best courses in New York according to Golfweek. Not surprisingly, Bethpage Black has a strangle-hold over the coveted top spot. But the Black charges residents $75 on weekends, twice that amount for out-of-town players. By comparison, peak green fees at Tallgrass max out at $50, cart included.

Even with reduced green fees, Tallgrass remains profitable, but it’s no walk in the park. Tita and his staff are constantly scrutinizing their budget and rejecting any expenses that aren’t deemed essential to the presentation or operation of the course. Revenue was up 19 percent last year, but Tita admits the numbers could’ve been better if they raised their green fees or were less diligent about staggering tee times.

“We have 10 minute intervals between groups,” Tita said. “We try to get you in and out within four and half hours or less. We could do more intervals, but you’d have six-hour rounds.”

Sound familiar? It should be for anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of spending their Sunday morning languishing behind a foursome that’s behind another foursome. A typical municipal golf course sends out groups in six- to eight-minute intervals. Get more players on the course and bring in more revenue, or so the thought goes. But it comes at the expense of overcrowding and customer dissatisfaction. In this regard, Tita and his staff have sacrificed what they believe are short-term gains in favor of maintaining long-term engagements with their customer base.

Tallgrass may have a unique blend of factors contributing to its success, but it’s far from being a one-of-a-kind concept. Rustic Canyon, another Gil Hanse design opened in 2002 in Moorpark, Calif. — 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Like Tallgrass, Hanse used imagination and the natural lay of the land to build another affordable, retro-style golf course.

Rustic Canyon sits at the base of Happy Camp Canyon 800 feet above sea level and is framed by mountainous terrain. The golf course originally stretched to 6,906 yards (it’s since been expanded to 7,028 yards) but hardly any earth — just 17,000 cubic yards — was moved to sculpt the layout. By comparison, around five million cubic yards was shoveled for nearby Moorpark Country Club which was constructed in the same year. The front nine at Rustic Canyon features a relatively flat walk through an area defined by a dry wash. The rest of the course climbs into the base of the mountains and is a much tougher test.

rustic-canyon-image

By allowing the course to follow the shape of the land and take full advantage of the natural elevation changes, Hanse was able to keep construction costs down and design Rustic Canyon on a modest budget exceeding just over $3 million. The low overhead and the universally acclaimed design has allowed the course to keep green fees low and still bring in a return. The $66 weekend rate for Rustic Canyon is about half the fee charged by neighboring Moorpark Country Club.

Golf Digest Magazine named Rustic Canyon the “Best New Affordable Public Course” back when it opened. The course has also been recently recognized by Golf Digest as one of the most fun public courses in the United States. Unfortunately, only five other golf courses with rates under $60 made the cut.

If Tallgrass and Rustic Canyon can stay busy year-round and make a profit with other courses struggling to stay open, one would think that more courses would be modeled after these two. But it seems there’s a disconnect between simply acknowledging what is necessary for the future of the game and actually making it happen on a mass scale.

If golf’s major stakeholders want to turn around their slumping numbers, they had better reclaim the public’s interest in the game. You can’t continue billing golf as a game you can play for a lifetime when so many golfers are hanging up their spikes and putting their clubs into storage.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

69 Comments

69 Comments

  1. Evan

    Mar 25, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Good article. I worked under a Master PGA professional at a public facility for years who was talking about many of the things in this article, 8 years ago.

    1. Golf Courses and Golf Rounds have been in decline for the last decade. Settling of the market from the golf and Tiger booms.

    2. Many operators are still in the business who got into it for the money. These operators continue to make decisions based upon simple business models that reduce the effectiveness and experience of their facility and golf in there area. Ample time between starts, informative yet polite employees/ starters, rangers on the course, tee it forward initiatives. These are all things that are sometimes overlooked because pushing the up sell of novice-foursomes on carts with a six packs of beer is the ticket to making money (as some operators think).

    3. Operators and GMs need to look at what is best for the golf course now AND in the future. So often facilities make a decision based on short term goals and regional golf trends. Golf Carts are a good example of that. In my opinion, golf carts have become MUCH too big a part of the game. They are expensive to own (course or individual) and operate (gas, electric, maintenance) and are not necessary for 80-90% of golf rounds. If expendable/ entertainment money for the average American is at question then wouldn’t a golf course want the majority of the dollars the customer is going to spend to go to the courses primary product, THE GOLF. Golf carts bring in alot of revenue but are also a huge expense, building in carts into the fee just reduces the amount of that fee that should be going to the facility and maintenance and into the golf cart industry. Most of my golfing friends, 30-somes, almost always want to ride and will try to ride whenever possible. It does not speed up rounds and they quite often spend extra money on a cart to the detriment of their health and the course conditions.

  2. Josh

    Mar 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I think the biggest factor in decline of golfers is that golf is a difficult game. Most of the guys in my generation(I’m 29) would rather “play” golf on xbox or playstation, being instantly “good” than go spend 4 or 5 hours every saturday developing a skill.

  3. T

    Feb 21, 2013 at 2:50 am

    In addition:

    You cannot WALK Moorpark. You try walking that place in under 5 hours, even. It’s impossible. You wouldn’t want to carry or drag your bag in between some of those holes, let alone the stupid elevation changes.

  4. T

    Feb 21, 2013 at 2:47 am

    Sorry, but this report is worthless unless you break it down REGIONALLY.

    Some areas, for sure, have lost golf courses and players. But this report doesn’t really examine areas that have had an increase in the number of courses as well as players, such as the areas in the US where the weather is great, as in Southern California, Arizona and Florida. The number of courses that were built over the last 15 years or so in Southern California is immense.
    There has to be a consideration that those who wanted to play more golf moved to these areas from colder climes, too. So even though overall, it looks like golf is declining, but those numbers may be correct for certain colder areas but incorrect for better weather regions.

  5. Chris

    Feb 18, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Let me start out by saying that I am an apprentice assistant professional at a public facility in Kentucky. Needless to say this topic hits home for me and has been a big topic of discussion for the PGA at both a section and national level. There are a number of things that we can point fingers at as causes for slow play but at the end of the day a group of beginner golfers is going to play slower than a group of single digit handicappers, but yet it is the beginner golfers that courses are trying to attract in order to grow the game. Yes it is important to keep pace of play up but we must be careful not to treat beginner players in a manner that turns them off to the game completely because in the end that hurts all of us.

    I personally feel that one avenue for courses to explore is spacing out starting times more. Instead of this idea that we can get more people on the course and make more money by having 7 minutes between groups on the first tee it is easier to stay on time and keep pace starting off on the right foot by starting groups every 10 minutes. Ultimately as you can see from other comments on this page keeping groups spaced nicely and on time keeps people on the tee sheet more than cramming as many times in as possible.

    On a side note, I blame a lot of this on tv. There is no reason that people need to read putts from 3 or 4 angles, I regularly shoot par or better and I almost never read putts from anywhere except behind the ball. 9 times out of 10 your first instinct is right and going to different angles is only going to put doubt in your mind.

  6. chuck stone

    Feb 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    forgot to add to my earlier post,, went to the cleveland golf show,, lots of $400 drivers but never saw one being sold. just how mant folks who can afford the 400 buck drivers. same as course just keep raising the prices of clubs and wonder why rock bottom golf was selling clubs where the others were not

  7. chuck stone

    Feb 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    every year they keep raising the green fees, its no wonder that in the last 2 years we have had 3 course close up..its like the malls that keep losing stores instead of lowering rents when a store leaves they raise the rent on the others, when a course around here has a special with a lower than normal green fee day it is booked up all day. hard to figure hu

  8. Chris mayfa

    Feb 15, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Coming from overseas, it’s interesting to note the plight of public access courses in the US.

    The public access courses in Australia are full to the brim all weekend and then during the week they have great deals including carts and free drinks.

    I came to LA late last year and played a couple of public access courses owned by the councils, I think you call them parks and recreation or municipal or something like that.

    Every time I played I was very disappointed with the conditions of the courses, soft and bumpy greens, mud / dirt everywhere and 30-40 USD for green fees.

    Tis just doesn’t compare to Australia, I think we have one of the highest per capita in terms of golf courses and I think that benefits this, we also have very affordable golf club memberships, generally between 1500 and 2500 AUD

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 3:20 am

      I wish people would stop comparing Australia to the US. You just can’t make like-for-like comparison, when the population numbers don’t match up at all.
      Australia has 23 million.
      USA has 300 million.

      Capisce?

  9. ben

    Feb 12, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    having played both these courses numerous times (ive lived in both cities and am from nyc), theres a huge diff b/t TG and rustic canyon. rustic canyon is never a 4.5 hour round. its 5+ every time.

    also tallgrass would be wise to not make carts mandatory but perhaps jack up tee time prices by say $5. the course is super walkable yet cart is included in fees. that is a mistake.

  10. Bill

    Feb 10, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    In the 90’s, stories about the shortage of courses abounded. Courses were built at a furious pace with unfortunate marketing research. Difficult, expensive to maintain courses with huge opulent clubhouses were built more often than not. We all like nice courses but huge mistakes were made. Stories about all the business being transacted on courses drew both players and non players (often women taking up the game for the first time). Thing is, golf is hard and requires hard work to play well. It’s expensive. The courses were built to satisfy the better golfers. The result wasn’t surprising. When the economy dumped and Tiger mania ebbed, many put their clubs in the garage to gather dust. Many courses were far too challenging to newer players and many women enjoyed the social aspect of golf more than the challenge and were overwhelmed and discouraged. The joys of simple golf with burgers and brats and a beer afterward suffered. Drunken boorish behavior replaced self discipline (often celebrated as keeping up with the times by magazines). Seeing guys buy 12 packs on their way to the first tee was unheard of when I was starting the game. Now it’s as common as multiple wedges in the bag. The 19th hole has taken a hit because most are too blitzed by the time they finish.
    Other factors already named like kids sports becoming all encompassing have cut into golf time.
    The golf model needs to change. Semi private clubs that offer good golf and require a reasonable yearly fee (and then low green fees) to access the course would assure timely play and allow the courses to institute rules like fast play, appropriate dress and behavior (and assured income). More than one set of women’s tees to encourage more play by women where serious players and social or newer players are both served.
    Clubhouses that invite golfers and serve the membership without spending millions.
    Other non golf factors like increased work hours are valid also. 40-60 hour work weeks are far more common. The two things needed for golf (time and money) are not as prevalent these days. The rich have their private clubs, the muni’s have the occasional golfers covered but the avid golfer with families and limited time require expedient golf at a reasonable price. More than muni’s but far less than private clubs.

  11. Allen

    Feb 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    15 years ago in college I worked at private course and we had 2 marshalls out every weekend getting after groups that were slow. I marshalled some and I knew the people and to be honest only a few got rude. Fast forward to today, I do not live in that town anymore but my good friend does and he has been a member out there for a good while. Now he tells me that the marshalls are told not to make people play faster because they do not want to make the members mad and have the quit. This town has 150000 people and 6 good private courses withing 30 minutes of each other. Compitiion if fierce and good/average golfers suffer because of it.

  12. Kevin

    Feb 9, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Public courses around here are struggling because the main industry has lost half its labor force since 2008. Now the courses are in horrible shape and they are run by people who don’t know golf. They are starting groups on both tees and paying no attention to what’s happening on the course. They are city-owned and have lost millions of $$ over the last few years.

  13. blopar

    Feb 8, 2013 at 10:49 am

    SLOW PLAY IS THE WHOLE PROBLEM !!!!. everyone should pick up after two putts and move on. guess what guys–you are not tour pros, you don’t need to spend 7 minutes on every putt!!!! you are not playing this game for the record books or to put bread on the table. it is for fun and recreation. it isn’t fun for me to be waiting behind you!!!

  14. David

    Feb 8, 2013 at 12:05 am

    In Chicago, the main problem with the business of public golf is the fact that City, County, and State operated golf courses have hurt the Family Owned and Operated facilities. These “Government” owned facilities continue to lose hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year, yet they still remain open. Tough for Family Owned Facilities to compete!

    • george

      Feb 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

      just like long island ny same thing ,,,,,, golf is a great game but for whom ????

  15. mike

    Feb 7, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    I’ve played golf now for 50 years.Played scratch to a 12.
    Iam glad to be old its no longer fun anymore its just big
    business.You have professional golfers making hundreds
    of millions of dollars each year with the middle class supporting
    them. Its time too wake people money has ruined my golf
    just like it has all sports. 45 years ago my grandfather said
    golf would return to a rich mans sport an its well on its way!!!!!!!

    • JEFF

      Feb 8, 2013 at 12:28 am

      PERFECTLTY PUT!ITS LIKE A CRAPPY HOLLYWOOD REALITY SHOW!

  16. Louielouie

    Feb 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Golf needs to change it’s business model. The 9 holes for half price of 18 is a great step. I like the idea of allowing for a handicap for 9 holes also.

    I think one thing that would benefit golf would be to connect itself to a fintess club. The average joe could go with his family to the fitness club under a single family membership much like a private club except there is no manadtory restaurant fee. The wife and kids could go play in the gym or pool if they aren’t interested in golf, while the husband goes to play 5-9holes. Look at Lifetime fitness. My wife and I pay 100 a month and it has everything there. Of course there are extra fees for rock climbing, child care, and tennis lessons, but the fees are small and a la cart. Why couldn’t golf be an addon? unlimited play for an extra 100-200 a month. That way guys can get their practice in anyday of the week and not feel guilty about paying for 18 even though they only played 11 holes.

    The only other option is night golf. Light up the course at night. Average people have average day time jobs. You want to make more money, find a way to get people on the course at night. They already make balls that glow in the dark so maybe just light up the fairways and greens. Look what glow-bowl or rock and bowl did for bowling? Even if you just light up the course on the weekends, how much more revenue would you earn?

    Just a few ideas to put out there.

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 3:17 am

      You can only do night golf at courses that are not built alongside housing estates, obviously

  17. J

    Feb 7, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Private courses in my area are 50,000 plus… There are only 3. There are a good 2 dozen golf courses within an hour of home… I can play a round on a Sunday with cart for less than 50 bucks at about a dozen of these courses..a couple of them less than 30… The cheap courses are swamped with wife beater wearing drunkards… The pricier options are the final group at the masters slow… In my area price is not a problem… A-holes who think they can take as long as they want and people who have no business being in public. Think price and pretentiousness are both problems.

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  19. Pat McQuade

    Feb 6, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I don’t know where you go the input on price for TallGrass on Long Island. Right now the green fees are $50 but that is winter rates – starting in April weekend fees are $95 on weekend before 1 PM and $50 to walk after 3.

    Price is a factor on that course.

    • Rusty Cage

      Feb 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      Pat,

      As far as winter rates at Tallgrass, they are $40 with cart on weekends in the winter. You can look it up here:
      http://www.tallgrassgc.com/golf/proto/golfattallgrass/rates/rates.htm

      Last summer I played at Tallgrass on the weekend for $50 with cart in the afternoon. There was a time when the course first opened where rates were $100 and were lowered according to supply / demand. As you know, rates at courses tend to fluctuate. If Tallgrass raises their rates in 2013 to higher than $50 during the height of the season than so be it. They have the discretion to do so. Bottom line is, Tallgrass is an excellent value when compared to other public courses in Suffolk County such as Long Island National.

      Lastly, I never described Tallgrass as a course that will undercut the cheapest of the munis. For people who want to play golf for about the price of a night out at the movies, there are options out there. But there aren’t many that will offer the course conditioning and playing value of a Tallgrass.

      Thanks again for reading and for the feedback.

  20. Edgewood Jones

    Feb 6, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    I am the president of an NCGA Associate Club. Over the past several years, the number of participants in my club tournaments dropped. The main reason? Golf conflicts with youth sports.

    Many of my club members are involved in coaching youth sports or have children that are active in sports. There are games every weekend, plus there are a growing number of traveling teams that play weekend tournaments that eat up Sundays as well.

    However, it looks like we are going through a resurgence this year with almost double the membership from 2012.

  21. Socorr4

    Feb 6, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Something that’s not mentioned would be making offering a 9 hole outting for half the price of 18. It requires less time of participants and expenditure by participants. Courses could work on tee times (I like 10 minute intervals) and where to start each group. The USGA should make changes to allow computation of handicaps based on 9 holes so competition among players in a group or groups could continue.

    I think lots of people who’ve left the game for lack of time would consider coming back, and kids might get interested knowing they’re booking an outting for slightly over two hours instead of up to five.

    • Goggles McGregor

      Feb 10, 2013 at 9:39 am

      You can play 9 for a reduced rate at most courses. As well, the USGA does count 9 hole scores toward your handicap…if you post them.

  22. Frank Dolan

    Feb 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Mr. Cage, great article and very informative

    I started my love affair with golf about 35 years ago. At that time I was fortunate to live on Long Island New York between three county courses in Nassau County and five courses at Bethpage State Park home of the People’s US open.

    When I started playing Bethpage, I would arrive at the complex about 5 o’clock in the morning during the week, to get online for a teatime behind 80 to
    100 other golfers – there were no reserve tee times in the 80s. On weekends, we would arrive at midnight and sleep in our cars until the tee time coordinator came to our cars and gave us a bakery ticket. Then, when the office opened a Chinese fire drill would’ve erupt, as numbers were call to get your tee time. All five courses were in disrepair and New York State did not use the green fees, which were $11 at the time, to maintain the courses but rather put them in the state coffers. Most tee boxes were void of grass and you would have to hammer your tee into the concrete like dirt. I am now retired and a snowbird living between two county courses in Suffolk County during the summer and the golfing paradise of the villages Florida during the winter.

    I’ve spent my golfing life on public courses and I’ve learned to deal with the problems. I also worked at some of the courses I have played on and realized why there are problems at the public courses – few fixable walks on the greens, few replace divots in the Fairways, few rake bunkers and few I’ll observe the 90° will with their golf carts and drive where they do not belong. In a nutshell, too much abuse and not enough respect for the public courses. In closing, those playing the public courses would find it much easier to play on the manicured semi private and private courses Where they do not have to overcome the public course inefficiencies.

  23. Keith

    Feb 6, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I enjoyed your article and the comments from your readers.

    I have been in the golf business for 25+ years and have been an operator (pro/gm) for the past 15 years. I have been at municipal, private, resort and semi-private clubs. I have seen the golf boom and the golf swoon. I have worked at clubs that have gone through foreclosure and have run clubs that were on the brink of foreclosure. Couple points so you can see the other side.

    1) Golfers are not schooled in etiquette as a lot of us once were by our fathers, grandfathers or pro’s that taught us through our youths. As a golf operator we try through signage, clinics and instruction both lessons or through our staff’s instruction throughout our facility. Now be honest how many times has the starter given instruction and you and your group pay him no attention?

    I myself am guilty when I visit other facilities and have try to pay more attention to see what other clubs are talking about and to also show more class and respect to someone who is trying their best to improve your experience. This must spread throughout the golfing public to help educate your fellow playing partners and improve everyone’s experience.

    2) Golfers need to respect staff members when they are enforcing pace of play policies. People have become so classless when it comes to respecting course marshalls and their request to pick up the pace. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to drive out and remove people from my property due to vulgar language toward my staff or other players.

    3) Police yourselves!!! You and your playing partners need to be aware of your position on the course. If you haven’t seen the group ahead of you for a few holes then obviously you are falling behind. As grown men or women we should be more aware that you may be the cause of slow play. Follow this simple rule KEEP UP WITH THE GROUP AHEAD OF YOU NOT BEHIND YOU!!!!!!!

    Sorry I have rambled on to long but operators must do a better job but golfers need to do their part as well!! If that happens we can keep our cost down some and also keep our prices down as well.

    • Marty

      Feb 6, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      Gimme a break. You’ll keep your prices as high as possible without causing a revolt. It’s called capitalism for a reason.

      • ABgolfer2

        Feb 6, 2013 at 5:17 pm

        Yeah, but if we play faster he can keep the rates the same by cramming more groups into the same daylight hours. Same awful experience in less time. Woot!! Just kidding. Sort of.

      • Keith

        Feb 6, 2013 at 7:42 pm

        Marty & ABgolfer,

        Exactly the point I was trying to make. You try and help the problem and you get two classless responses. You are two examples of why golf is where it is. You have all your wise ass comments but you can’t present any suggestions or ideas that would help in this forum.

        You obviously play somewhere where they don’t care about your input or your experience. My facility is rated in the top 15 in the state and our biggest goal everyday is customer satisfaction. We offer great rates for the value our customer is getting and are very firm with pace of play and will have slow groups skip a hole to get back into position. And yes you are correct, I will get my full rate in my prime tee times and will try to fill my course everyday. I will also run some fantastic specials for times that are not utilized that will give my guest an opportunity to enjoy the game for lees than it would cost to take a family of four to mcdonalds.

        I’m sorry you guys are so bitter toward the people that run your courses and maybe you should try another facility that would appreciate your suggestions. Try a different approach rather than being loud or obnoxious pull the person aside or ask to sit down and talk rather then just complaining in front of your buddies or other guest and just trying to show the person up.

        Change your stripes and help solve the problem or remain classless and enjoy your bad experience and 6 hour rounds!!!

        • ABgolfer2

          Feb 6, 2013 at 10:14 pm

          I read you first comment again. It seems even more condescending than it did the first time. You have no idea whether or not I’m an active member at my club who’s opinion is respected. You have no idea how many people I’ve introduced to the game over the years or how many new players I’ve been a role model for in the interest of etiquette and especially pace of play. Peer pressure does work. Talking down to people does not.

  24. JEFF

    Feb 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    We played Tustin Ranch on a weekday for 98.00. I play lots of courses in the Inland Empire that average only 35.00, are in much better condition and don’t take 5 1/2 hours. When you go putting this many people on a course and have a marshal that does nothing , how can people possibly want to come back and play….. and calling it play is really not correct, more like a long day of wandering around a busy park!For some reason in this new politically correct land of ours you cant offend someone by asking them to please hurry up I guess. I see why people would give up on this game and the course management is 100% to blame!

  25. Steve Rice

    Feb 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    The rules of golf themselves are partly to blame.

    If you complain about pace of play, I would ask if you really follow the rules? Here’s a scenario:

    After a blind tee shot, you go the the fairway where you expect your ball to be and fail to find it. When you hit it you had no expectation that it would be lost, so you didn’t play a provisional. Per the rules of golf, you should take a stroke and distance penalty: go back to the tee and play your third shot. Do you do that on a crowded course (i.e. one with 7.5 minute tee times and players waiting behind you)? If so, are you “part of the problem” or are you just someone who believes in playing by the rules? If you play by the rules, you *will* slow everyone down.

    In a casual game, my buddies and I usually drop a ball on the fairway in this situation, count 2 stroke penalty and play from there. We also give each other short putts and are casual about our drops (don’t exactly measure club lengths, etc). As a result, our foursome can play in well under 4 hours if no one gets in our way, but in so doing we are taking many liberties with the rules. I guess that makes us good golf ‘citizens’ – we play fast and respect those around us, but to do so we must violate the rules. If we were all scratch golfers playing on our home course, maybe we wouldn’t have to do that, but that’s the way it is.

    In tournament play, where everyone must strictly follow the rules, 5+ hour rounds are routine for foursomes (based on my experiences on the Am Tour).

    My point is not to criticize anyone here. My point is simply that the rules of the game, coupled with short tee time spreads we see at public courses in my area, make slow rounds almost a certainty. I hate 6 hour rounds as much as the next guy, but it’s a shame that we have to ignore the rules of the game to avoid them.

    • justinp766

      Feb 8, 2013 at 1:59 am

      Rules are not to blame for 6 hour rounds.

      Lets face it….Foursomes just simply take too damn long to play a round of Golf.

      Especially at public courses.

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 3:12 am

      Places like the Am Tour should be smart about it and set up the course and make players with handicaps above 10 play from the white tees, and the good players under 10 hcp play from the blues but not the black. And let the good players go first to set the pace and to keep those better players happy by finishing the course first before it gets backed up.
      Also by allowing for a slight change in the local rules for its own tournament rules, you can set the course up easier.
      But – in our modern game, if any course is playing more than 6600 yards, 5 hours should be the norm in a tournament, if the above set up is not followed.

  26. Ben Alberstadt

    Feb 6, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Thought-provoking piece, Mr. Cage and good comments by all.

    • Rusty Cage

      Feb 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks for the nice remark, Ben. Appreciated.

  27. mike

    Feb 6, 2013 at 11:51 am

    One thing everyone in the industry is overlooking is the “purist” mentality…The PGA and courses have spent the last decades catering to the purist and that has created massive competition between courses. The expansion of the golf industry has focused on nothing other than trying to make people better golfers with technology and pumping up professional lessons which might be great for the few that want to get better but does nothing for the average Joe that is being alienated.

    The last decade has brought millions of golfers into the game but the disconnect between the PGA mentality of making people better golfers and the reality of most new golfers just wanting to have fun is a huge gap.

    Most golfers ( not us purists on here) dont have the time and money to spend on improving their game by taking lessons and getting rounds under their belt…they want to just go out and have a good time with their buddies or families.

    Facilities are failing to give people a positive entertainment experience. Look at Top Golf and its success…its based off of the “entertainment value” of the golfing experience…the competition between players…the drinking…the food…the laughs…and a 2 hour experience that most can afford on limited budgets. It also has done wonders of allowing people who feel intimidated to walk on a course. because they dont feel comfortable being around snobbish purists that ride their butts on every shot or look down on the new golfers who struggle every shot.

    The new golfers of today dont care about the Etiquette of the game…dont care about the history of the game…dont care about playability. Just take a look at how spectators at events act. People just want to have a good time and until facilities figure this out they will continue to fail.

    • Screamin'

      Feb 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Your last statement has touched on a big issue for me – the lack of new players knowing or caring about the etiquette of the game. Or knowing and caring about it’s history. I am not a golf snob, play a public course once a week in 3 1/2 hrs., and golf to me is all about the history and the etiquette. I put up with rude people on the roads and in the city every day, the least I could expect is a little civility while lining up a putt. When you drive up in your cart screaming and throwing beer cans I can see you are having fun, me, not so much.

      • mike

        Feb 6, 2013 at 4:15 pm

        Just to let you know I am like you in regards to the history and etiquette of the game…I honestly think etiquette is the most important part of the game that has never been taught by the PGA. I learned it from my father and grandfather and have passed that along to my son and daughter…I am a traditional purist of the game but I am also a marketing executive. I play at my club and a few public courses and have seen the shift take place with golfers at both places…

        My comment was strictly from a golf marketing point of view and are spot on about why courses are losing customers…

      • T

        Feb 21, 2013 at 3:07 am

        The other part of golf “history” is that those of us who appreciate it, know its history and glamourous and nostalgic memories of the past, looking at a time like the 50s and 60s forget that back then, they didn’t have electric golf carts everywhere.

  28. John P

    Feb 6, 2013 at 3:02 am

    I think many of the above comments are valid not only in the Us but we Australians have the same issues. Take private courses first.
    I know one exclusive, championship course in Aus which cost 5 figures to join and no refund if you leave. Annual memberships are a healthy 5 figures. Pace of play became such an issue that the players were given a card that the starter punched into a time clock when you started and finished. 4 hours 20 mins. if you were slower than that and the group in front was clear, First time a warning, Second time 3 months suspension, third 6 months, fourth a year. This club has a waiting list to join of about 4 years.
    It was not long before pace improved dramatically.
    in my home club during weekend Stableford or Par competitions if you fell more than a hole behind the marshal would tell the group to walk to the next hole and you all “wiped” that hole. As you can imagine that changed some attitudes to golfers pace of play. As someone said earlier there are those who think they are playing in the “Masters” and could not care less about those behind.
    The other those courses that are badly managed, seem to believe that simply increasing green fees will solve their problems and cannot understand when attendance drops, when the course has not improved, nor has the time for a round.
    Public courses; Many are jammed with players on weekends and no control, some of the more enlightened clubs have given retirees free mid week golf if they act as marshals on weekends, one on each 9 holes which certainly helps, how often have we seen a group 300 yards behind still waiting, and none of the group could drive 250 on a good day wind assisted.

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 3:03 am

      You only have a population of 23 million, in Australia. NOT a good example to compare to the US where the population is 300 million with similar kind of land mass.

  29. justin

    Feb 6, 2013 at 1:09 am

    I payed 1000$ for Unlimited greens fee’s to great public courses in Boston and I played 150+ rounds this year. I stayed away from the course on the weekends because of …you guessed it….5-6 hour rounds.

    Cost is certainly not the issue if your smart about it.

    The only thing keeping better players away from public courses is …extremely slow play with no rangers keeping pace of place.

    The only thing keeping new players away from the course is also extremely slow play. New players do not know how to police themselves in regards to pace of play.

    I honestly think foursomes should be eliminated from rounds of golf all together. Its always a foursome…that holds everyone up.

    Sometimes threesomes….but I can tolerate that because most of the time they let you play through if your 2 or less, with foursomes it takes an act of congress and an army to play through the biggest tough guys on the course.

    Cost could be lower…but I think if people looked in public golf memberships they would be surprised if they “did the math” and realized that a membership is worth it even if you play once a week over the course of 6-8 months.

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 3:02 am

      Are you retired or just well off? You must be wealthy. 150 rounds?! Incredible. Way beyond the average, I believe.

    • Harold Humphrey

      Mar 3, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Don’t you get tired of playing the same course?

  30. Greg

    Feb 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    I recently decided to spend the extra money and join a private club. For me it was a no brainier. I can now play almost any time of the week in under 3 1/2 hours as opposed to the 5+ it was taking on the public courses freeing up lots of time playing 2-3 times a week. Plus the conditioning of the course and the practice facilities is far superior to any public course around. In order for me to go back to public courses I would need to see them bring up the conditioning of the courses and get serious about managing the pace of play to where it isn’t almost a full day commitment to play a round.

  31. Sean

    Feb 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    As the middle class struggles so will all of its attributes. Golf is just one of them. I love golf and could play it everyday if I could afford it. I play every weekend with the same foresome most of the time. We are unhappy with most of the municipal corses. Memberships are too expensive and to get your money I would only be able to play one course. I am 47, and I come from a generation that expects change, service, quality and value. I believe that some of the failing courses were from delayed decisions from our previos peers that never put back into there corses allways thinking the good times would always keep rolling.

  32. Michael

    Feb 5, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    I think something that is being heavily overlooked are the regional variations. For example where I live in Tennessee, I could get a membership to play golf without additional greens or cart fees at a nice public (not muni) course for $1,200 a year. That’s not $10,000! The big issue is time. To really be good you need to play a couple of rounds each week, and at 4 hours per round, that doesn’t’ work for me because I’m a husband and father to 3 children under 6.

    I do think overcrowding hurts the game. When you have rounds lasting 5-6 hours, that’s no fun for anyone. I think courses should encourage 9-hole play. It’s a little less expensive, and can be done reasonably in about 2 hours. I also think golf carts should be re-evaluated. When it’s wet and cart path only, carts really slow things down more then speed them up. Why not do single-person carts, like segways, that would be lighter and wouldn’t’ tie 2 people together whose balls are in different locations?

  33. Matt M

    Feb 5, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Well written article, I do believe two thing that has slowed the growth of golf that isn’t ever discussed is the effect of stagnet wages in this country and increase in the work week. The middle class in the past 25-30 yrs has lost economical power. The first thing that a family has to cut is hobbies. The other thing hindering the growth of this great game is hours available. With work weeks increasing from an average of 40 hrs to 50+ once again a family still has sports with kids to work in. These two factors have stopped the growth of the game. It’s not just a middle class issue it’s and issue with all classes because we are all working more.

  34. J

    Feb 5, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    For the serious golfer this game can easily be a 10,000 a year hobby. Equipment costs…greens fees..practice.. All of that makes this sport a tough sell to anyone without disposable income. It’s just a fact.

  35. Andrew Stolze

    Feb 5, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    I think everyone has a valid point. In the northeast, as Mick stated, property taxes have killed courses. In CT alone we have seen at least 4 country clubs go public because of money issues in the last 3 years alone.

    But that isn’t the only reasons, pace of play and the “Weekend Nassau” have also killed it as well. I know we don’t play certain courses because the pace of play stinks, 6 hours rounds, and some of the people that play it think they are playing the Masters every Saturday.

    Lastly its poor course management whether its bad conditions, lack of rangers or rangers who are afraid to move guys along because they play with the guy and then their are the jokers who think they have the game to play from the tips because thats the way golf was intended.

    • 3Puttnomore

      Feb 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      You’re SO right about players teeing off beyond their capabilities. But it’s an ego thing… If they weren’t called ‘ladies’ tees, there’d be no problem… (course management again!)… How about a single set of tees?
      The boomers can show off, with their drivers and wedges, while the rest of us are on the fairway with our hybrids!…lol

  36. mick2

    Feb 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    in Ct., and in the northeast, property taxes are shutting down many courses. the owners have to raise the green fees so high to pay taxes, that many players have either cut back or have quit the game.

  37. brian

    Feb 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    “By comparison, peak green fees at Tallgrass max out at $50, cart included”….Really??? Maybe in February but in season its about $75-$80 last time I played Tallgrass. It is my favorite course out here but I do play it less because its a $100 plus day.

  38. Nick

    Feb 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    The cost is what’s driving people away. I am a young lawyer and I gladly poor thousands into the industry each year. Like most on WRX its my passion. But I have buddies who are good sticks who don’t play because its just too expensive to keep your game at a respectable level with the cost of lessons/range balls/rounds where I live (South Florida).

    • tony in vantucky

      Feb 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Your comment isn’t too far off either, I’d have to triple what I spend in play time now to be confident at any local public tournament. So maybe there are a few major items that combine into one. I don’t see any reduction in players on any course in my area, but take that with a grain of salt because I am 99% weekend warrior.

      Might enflame some purists here but given all this information out there would “dumming” down the game make sense? ie the thrown around make the cup bigger idea?

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 2:58 am

      I’d hate to be the one to say it –

      but it is all due to the Tiger Effect.

      High prices all came from the industry exploding once Tiger came in. He brought in the moneys to the prizes, the prices went up, everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon, it happened at the same time as the DOT-COM craze and crash, but it never backed down, then the gas prices went up, everything got expensive, but even as gas prices went down, nobody wanted to put the prices back down!

      Greed.

  39. Rusty Cage

    Feb 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I think Tony’s remark about civility and the quality of the players is a good one.

    However, I do think that golf courses are at least partially responsible for the manner in which in golfers behave on the course and how they treat their facility. If the owners of the course have no rangers, no policies on acceptable behavior and noticeably treat their facility with disdain, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone if golfers exhibit boorish behavior.

    • 3Puttnomore

      Feb 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      You’re right about waning civility at some courses. As you noted, labour is the first casualty of economics at a course, so the rangers are usually the first to go, unless they’re volunteers… more’s the pity.
      It’s up to the golfers… Avoid slow play… consider those behind you… leave the course the way you’d like to find it.

    • T

      Feb 21, 2013 at 2:56 am

      @ Rusty:

      “golf courses are at least partially responsible for the manner in which in golfers behave on the course and how they treat their facility. ”

      Nuh uh! This is how it is from both sides of the argument:
      Player: “I paid X High $ Amount to play here, why you hassling me? Let me enjoy my round!”
      Course: “We can’t piss the players too much, we wouldn’t want to lose their $.”

      Ah golf.

  40. tony in vantucky

    Feb 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I don’t think the quality of course is the main contributor. I think it’s the quality of those on the course. From down right rude to rediculous. Another 10 or 20 spot to golf alongside, in front of or behind civil human beings is well worth it.
    Last time I golfed at my local fav a golfer serouisly showed up with his jogging pants and shoes and was jogging from hole to hole encroaching on players, and playing thru without notice. Jogging? Really? He should have been asked to continue his cardio elsewhere.

    • george

      Feb 8, 2013 at 12:27 am

      indeed i think ive seen that guy playing speed golf at eisenhower once – total nozzle

    • J Baker

      Feb 10, 2013 at 9:46 am

      I agree that as a whole, our society has gotten less well behaved. If we were cognizant of others, our behaviour on the course would be far better. Example…those who take forever to analyze every shot when they are not on pace to break 80. 80 is the number. If you are not going to break 80, speed up your process. Be ready to hit even if you are not away. If you can’t do this, pick up so others in your group are not having to rush for your selfish desire to “count every shot”. It really isn’t an unreasonable request to just be ready to hit.

      • Goggles

        Feb 10, 2013 at 9:57 am

        As well, courses should take note and adopt the following local rules I am proposing…

        1. DO AWAY WITH OB! Paint all your white stakes red and make your ob areas a lateral hazard. However, to keep idiots from hitting from the yards of residents, you must also take away the option of “playing from within the hazard”.
        2. No more stroke and distance for lost balls hit from the tee. Have a drop zone (yes, in/near the fairway), like on par 3’s with water.
        3. 3 putt max rule. After 2 putts, the player MUST pick it up.

        • J Baker

          Feb 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

          I want to say this to all the slow poke golfers out there…

          1. Be ready to hit.
          2. Be still when the other players in your group are hitting. They are probably rushing to hit so that your group doesn’t get behind for your slow butt.
          3. If you ain’t on pace for a round in the low 70’s or better, read your putts from behind the ball only.
          4. Be ready to hit.
          5. Get a rangefinder if you don’t have one. And when you do get one, you better not walk off yardage.
          6. Be ready to hit.
          7. Stop looking for your lost tee balls. You get to look for about 1 per round. If you whack another tee ball deep into the bush after that, you get about 30 seconds to scan the woodline. If you don’t see it, drop one.
          8. Be ready to hit.

        • T

          Feb 21, 2013 at 2:54 am

          @ Goggles:

          1. That wouldn’t work. No why? The idiots will try to go find that ball 50 yards into the red, BECAUSE it is red, thinking, if he finds it, he can play it from in the hazard! Another way to waste more time. If the dude is a bad golfer and he hits 10 balls into the red as such, and uses 5 minutes EACH time he looks for that ball – how much delay is that?
          2. Why play golf?
          3. Why play golf?

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Opinion & Analysis

Don’t Leave Your Common Sense in Escrow Outside the Golf Course Parking Lot

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Disclaimer: Much of what follows is going to come off as elitist, harsh and downright mean spirited — a pro looking down from his ivory tower at all the worthless hacks and judging them. It is the opposite. The intent is to show how foolish WE golfers are, chasing around a white ball with a crooked stick and suspending all of the common sense we use in our every day lives.

Much of what follows is not just the bane of average golfers, but also low handicappers, tour players and even a former long-drive champion during his quest for the PGA Tour… and now, the Champions Tour. In other words, if WE take ourselves a bit less seriously and use a bit more common sense, we are going to have more fun and actually hit better golf shots. We will shoot lower scores.

FYI: All of the examples of nutbaggery to come are things I have actually witnessed. They’re not exaggerated for the sake of laughs.

It’s winter time and most of you poor souls are not enjoying the 70-degree temperatures I am in Southern California right now (see, you all hate me already… and it’s going to get worse). That gives us all time to assess our approach to golf. I am not talking course management or better focus; I am talking how WE golfers approach our successes and failures, which for many is more important than the aforementioned issues or the quality of our technique.

Why is it that golf turns normal, intelligent, successful and SANE people into deviant, ignorant failures that exhibit all of the tell-tale signs of insanity? I also forgot profane, whiny, hostile, weak-minded, weak-willed and childish. Not to mention stupid. Why do we seem to leave our common sense and sanity in escrow in a cloud outside the golf course parking lot… only to have it magically return the moment our car leaves the property after imposing extreme mental anguish on ourselves that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (don’t feel bad if you have to google this) would find extreme?

Smarter people than I have written books on this, but I think they missed a key factor. Clubs, balls, shoes, bags, gloves, tees, the grasses, especially the sand in the bunkers, the Gatorade they sell at the snack bar, hats, visors, over-logoed clothing, golf carts, etc., are all made with human kryptonite. Not enough to kill us, but just enough to make us act like children who didn’t get the latest fad toy for Christmas and react by throwing a hissy fit.

Bob Rotella has said golf is not a game of perfect, and although religious texts say man was made in God’s image, thinking we are perfect is blasphemous. We all play golf like we think there is an equivalent of a bowling 300. We expect to hit every drive 300 yards (the bowling perfect) with a three-yard draw… in the middle of the face… in the dead center of the fairway. All iron shots must be worked from the middle of the green toward the pin and compressed properly with shaft lean, ball-first contact and the perfect dollar-bill sized divot (and not too deep). Shots within 100 yards from any lie should be hit within gimme range, and all putts inside 20 feet must be holed.

We get these ideas from watching the best players in the world late on Sunday, where all of the above seem commonplace. We pay no attention to the fact that we are significantly worse than the guys who shot 76-76 and missed the cut. We still hold ourselves to that ridiculous standard.

  • Group 1: “Monte, you’re exaggerating. No one has those expectations.”
  • Group 2: ”Monte, I’m a type-A personality. I’m very competitive and hard on myself.”

To the first group, the following examples say different. And to the second group, I am one of you. It’s OK for me to want to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line, but at 50 years old and 40 pounds over weight, what would you say to me if I said, “I’m type-A and competitive and I want to dunk like Lebron James!” Oh yeah, and I want to copy Michael Jordan’s dunking style, Steph Curry’s shooting stroke and Pistol Pete’s passing and dribbling style.” That seems ridiculous, but switch those names to all-time greats in golf and WE have all been guilty of those aspirations.

I don’t know how to answer 18-handicaps who ask me if they should switch to blades so they can work the ball better and in both directions. The blunt a-hole in me wants to tell them, “Dude, just learn to hit the ball on the face somewhere,” but that’s what they read in the golf magazines. You’re supposed to work the ball from the middle of the green toward the pin, like Nicklaus. Well, the ball doesn’t curve as much now as it did in Nicklaus’ prime and most tour players only work the ball one way unless the circumstances don’t allow it. “And you’re not Jack Nicklaus.” Some joke about Jesus and Moses playing golf has that punch line.

Wouldn’t it be easier to get as proficient as possible at one shot when you have limited practice time, versus being less than mediocre on several different shots? This also applies to hitting shots around the greens 27 different ways, but don’t get me started…just buy my short game video. Hyperbole and shameless plug aside, this is a huge mistake average golfers make. They never settle on one way of doing things.

The day the first white TaylorMade adjustable driver was released, I played 9 holes behind a very nice elderly couple. He went to Harvard and she went to Stanford. He gets on the first tee and hits a big push. He walks to the cart, grabs his wrench and closes the club face. She tops her tee shot, gets the wrench and adds some loft. Out of morbid curiosity, I stayed behind them the entire front 9 and watched them adjust their clubs for every mishit shot. It took over 3 hours for a two-some. These are extremely nice, smart and successful people and look what golf did to them. Anyone calling this a rules violation, have a cocktail; you’re talking yourself even more seriously than they were. Old married couple out fooling around, big deal if they broke a rule. No tournament, not playing for money, they’re having fun. They had gimmies, mulligans and winter rules. Good for them.

This is an extreme example of a huge mistake that nearly 100 percent of golfers make; they believe the need for an adjustment after every bad shot… or worse, after every non-perfect shot. How many of you have done this both on the range and on the course?

”(Expletive), pushed that one, need to close the face. (Expletive), hit that one thin, need to hit down more on this one. (Expletive), hooked that one, need to hold off the release.”

I’ll ask people why they do this and the answer is often, “I’m trying to build a repeatable swing.”

Nice. Building repeatable swing by making 40 different swings during a range session or round of golf. That is insane and stupid, but WE have all done it. The lesson learned here is to just try and do better on the next one. You don’t want to make adjustments until you have the same miss several times in a row. As a secondary issue, what are the odds that you do all of the following?

  1.  Diagnose the exact swing fault that caused the bad shot
  2.  Come up with the proper fix
  3.  Implement that fix correctly in the middle of a round of golf with OB, two lakes, eight bunkers and three elephants buried in the green staring you in the face.

Another factor in this same vein, and again, WE have all been guilty of this: “I just had my worst round in three weeks. What I was doing to shoot my career low three times in row isn’t working any more. Where is my Golf Digest? I need a new tip.”

Don’t lie… everyone reading this article has done that. EVERYONE! Improvement in golf is as far from linear as is mathematically possible. I have never heard a golfer chalk a high score up to a “bad day.” It’s always a technique problem, so there is a visceral need to try something different. “It’s not working anymore. I think I need to do the Dustin Johnson left wrist, the Sergio pull-down lag, the Justin Thomas downswing hip turn, the Brooks Koepka restricted-backswing hip turn and the Jordan Spieth and Jamie Sadllowski bent left elbow… with a little Tiger Woods 2000 left-knee snap when I need some extra power.” OK, maybe it’s a small bit of exaggeration that someone would try all of these, but I have heard multiple people regale of putting 2-3 of those moves in after a bad round that didn’t mesh with their downtrending index.

An 8-handicap comes to me for his first lesson. He had shot in the 70’s four of his last five rounds and shot a career best in the last of the five. All of the sudden, those friendly slight mishits that rhyme with the place where we keep our money show up. First a few here and there and then literally every shot. He shows up and shanks 10 wedges in a row and is literally ready to cry. I said, “Go home, take this week off and come back… and what’s your favorite beer?”

He comes back the next week, pulls a club and goes to hit one. I tell him to have a seat. I hand him a beer and we talk football for 15 minutes. Then I pull out my iPad and show him exactly why he is hitting shanks. I tell him one setup issue and one intent change and ask him to go hit one. It was slightly on the heel, but not a shank and very thin. I said to do both changes a bit more. The second one — perfect divot, small draw and on target. I walk over, put my hand up for a high five and say, “Awesome job! Great shot!”

He leaves me hanging and says, ”Yeah, but I hit it in the toe.”

Don’t judge him. Every day I have people with 50-yard slices toned down to 15-20 yards saying the ball is still slicing. These are people who won’t accept a fade, but slam their club when it over draws 15 feet left of the target… and so on. I can’t judge or be angry; I used to be these guys, too. During a one-hour lesson, I often hear people get frustrated with themselves for thin and fat, left and right, heel and toe. Apparently, anything not hunting flags or hit out of a dime-sized area is an epic fail. I also get emails the next day saying the fault and miss is still there.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

My big miss has always been a big block, often in the heel. Instead, I now often hit a pull in the left fairway bunker out of the toe. I celebrate like I’m Kool & the Gang and it’s 1999… and I get strange looks from everyone. I can manage a 10-15 yard low, slightly drawn pull. I cannot not manage a 40-50 yard in the atmosphere block… that cuts.

So, now that I have described all of US as pathetic, let’s see what we can do.

  1. Be hard on yourself, be competitive and set lofty goals all you want… but you need to accept at least a one-side miss. If you hate hitting thin, weak fades, you need to allow yourself a slightly heavy over draw. Not allowing yourself any miss will make you miss every shot.
  2. Generally, the better the player, the larger the pool of results that are used to judge success. Pros judge themselves over months and years. High-handicappers judge themselves on their previous shot. Do you think pros make a swing change after 10 good shots and one minor miss? We all seem to think that course of action is astute. Bad shot, must have done something wrong… HULK MUST FIX!
  3. Don’t judge your shots on a pass/fail grade. Grade yourself A-F. Are you going to feel better after 10 A’s, 25 B’s, 15 C’s, 4 D’s and 1 F… or 10 passes and 40 fails? If every non-perfect shot is seen as a failure, your subconscious will do something different in order to please you. Again, 40 different swings.
  4. Improving your swing and scores is a lot like losing weight. No one expects to make changes in a diet and exercise routine and lose 20 pounds in one day, yet golfers expect a complete overhaul in a small bucket. Give yourself realistic time frames for improvement. “I’m a 12. By the end of next year, I want to be an 8.”  That’s your goal, not whether or not your last range session was the worst in a month. It’s a bad day; that is allowed. Major champions miss cuts and all of them not named Tiger Woods don’t change their swings. They try and do better next week… and they nearly always do.
  5. DO NOT measure yourself either on the mechanics of your swing or your scoring results according to some arbitrary standard of perfection… and especially not against tour players. Measure yourself against yourself. Think Ty Webb. Is your swing better than it was 6 months ago? Do you hit it better than 6 months ago? Are you scoring better than 6 months ago? If you can say yes to at least two of those questions, your swing looking like Adam Scott is less relevant than the color of golf tee you use.

That is a winning formula, and just like bad habits in your swing, you can’t wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re no longer into self flagellation. It takes effort and practice to improve your approach and get out of your own way… but more importantly, have some fun.

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Opinion & Analysis

15 hot takes from Greg Norman on our 19th Hole podcast

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Our Michael Williams spoke with the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman, for GolfWRX’s 19th Hole podcast. Not surprisingly, the two-time major champion had no shortage of hot takes.

While you’ll want to check out the full ‘cast, here are 15 takes of varying degrees of hotness, from Norman’s feelings about bifurcation to whether he’d pose for ESPN’s Body Issue.

1) He wants bifurcation immediately, rolling back technology for the pros, rolling it forward for amateurs

“I would instigate a bifurcation of the rules. I would roll back the golf ball regulations to pre-1996. I would roll back the technology that’s in the golf equipment for the professionals. And I would open up the technology and give it to the masses because the pros who developed the maximum club head speed of 118, 120 are the ones who maximize what technology is in that piece of equipment. So the person who’s under 100 miles an hour does not hit the ball an extra 30, 35 yards at all. They may pick up a few yards but they don’t get the full benefit of that technology…I would definitely do that because I think we’ve gotta make the game more fun for the masses. “

2) He has no relationship with Tiger Woods and doesn’t plan to watch him play golf

“And this might sound kind of strange. What I’ll say is … I really, in all honesty, I really don’t care what Tiger does with golf. I think Tiger is, golf probably needs him to some degree but golf doesn’t need him, if you know what I mean, because there’s so many other incredibly talented great young players out there, probably a dozen of them, maybe even more, that are equal, if not way better than Tiger, and they can carry the baton of being the number one player in the world. So, I get a little bit perplexed about and disappointed about how some of these guys get pushed into the background by the attention Tiger gets. I hope he does well. If he doesn’t do well, it doesn’t bother me. If he does do well, it doesn’t bother me.”

3) He plays almost no golf these days

“I really don’t play a lot of golf. I played with my son in the father-son at the end of last year, had a blast with him. Played a little bit of golf preparing for that. But since then I have not touched a golf club.”

4) He doesn’t enjoy going to the range anymore

“To be honest with you I’m sick and tired of being on the driving range hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls. That bores me to death now. My body doesn’t like it to tell you the truth. Since I’ve stopped playing golf I wake up without any aches and pains and I can go to the gym on a regular basis without aches and pains. So my lifestyle is totally different now. My expectations, equally, is totally different.”

5) It took him a long time to get used to recreational golf

“But I’ve been in this mode now for quite a few years now so the first couple of years, yes. My body was not giving me what my brain was expecting. So you do have to make those mental adjustments. Look, there’s no difference than when you hit 40, you’re a good player or not a good player. Things start to perform differently. Your proprioception is different. Your body is different. I don’t care how good you are and how great physical shape you are. Your body after just pure wear and tear, it eventually does tend to break down a little bit. And when you’re under the heat of the battle and under the gun, when you have to execute the most precise shot, your body sometimes doesn’t deliver what you want.”

6) He’s a big Tom Brady fan

“I’m a big fan, big admirer of his. He gets out of it what he puts into it obviously…But he’s also a role model and a stimulator for his teammates. No question, when you go to play Brady and the Patriots, you’d better bring your A game because he’s already got his A game ready to go.”

7) He believes we’ll see 50-plus-year-old winners on Tour

“I said this categorically when Tom Watson nearly won at Turnberry in his 50s, when I nearly won at Royal Birkdale in my 50s….if you keep yourself physically in good shape, flexibility in good shape, as well as your swing playing, and your swing. Yeah, maybe the yips come in maybe they don’t, that depends on the individual, right? But at the end of the day, my simple answer is yes. I do believe that’s going to happen.”

8) The Shark logo has been vital to his post-golf success

“But I realized very early on in life too that every athlete, male or female, no matter what sports you play you’re a finite entity. You have a finite period of time to maximize your best performance for X number of years. And with golf, if you look at it historically, it’s almost like a 15 year cycle. I had my 15 year run. Every other player has really has had a 15 year run, plus or minus a few years.”

“So you know you have that definitive piece of time you got to work with and then what you do after that is understanding what you did in that time period. And then how do you take that and parlay it? I was lucky because I had a very recognizable logo. It wasn’t initials. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just a Great Shark logo. And that developed a lot of traction. So I learned marketing and branding very, very quickly and how advantageous it could be as you look into the future about building your businesses.”

9) He’s tried to turn on-course disappointments into positives

“We all … well I shouldn’t say we all. I should say the top players, the top sports men and women work to win. Right? And when we do win that’s what we expected ourselves to do because we push ourselves to that limit. But you look at all the great golfers of the past and especially Jack Nicklaus, it’s how you react to a loss is more important than how you react to a victory. And so, I learned that very, very early on. And I can’t control other people’s destiny. I can’t control what other people do on the golf course. So I can only do what I do. When I screw up, I use that as a very strong study point in understanding my weakness to make sure that I make a weakness a strength.”

10) Jordan Spieth is best suited to be the top player in the world

“I think that Jordan is probably the most balanced, with best equilibrium in the game. He’s probably, from what I’m seeing, completely in touch with the responsibilities of what the game of golf and the success in the game of golf is.”

11) His golf design is built on two pillars

“Two things: Begin with the end in mind and the least disturbance approach. I think we, the industry of golf course design industry, really did the game of golf a major disservice in the 80s and 90s when everybody was leveraged to the hilt, thought they had unlimited capital, and thought they could just go build these big golf courses with big amounts of money invested in with magnificent giant club houses which weren’t necessary. So, we were actually doing a total disservice to the industry because it was not sustainable.”

12) He’s still not happy about having essentially invented the WGC events and not getting credit

“I’ll always be a little bit salty about that because there’s a saying that I keep telling everybody, “slay the dreamer.” I came up with a pretty interesting concept where the players would be the part owners of their own tour or their own destiny and rewarded the riches if they performed on the highest level. And quite honestly, Michael, actually a friend of mine sent me an article, it was a column written, “Shark and Fox Plan to Take a Bite out of the PGA”. And this is written in 11/17/94 and I literally just got it last night. And I’m reading through this article and I’m going, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I was ahead of my time!” I really was ahead of my time.

So, it was very, very kind of like a reflective moment for me. I read it again this morning with a cup of coffee and I did sit back and, I’ll be brutally honest with you and your listeners, and did sit back and I did get a little bit angry because of the way I was portrayed, the way I was positioned.”

13) He was muzzled by the producer at Fox

“I’m not going to dig deep into this, I think there was just a disconnect between the producer and myself. I got on really well with the director and everybody else behind the scenes, some of my thought processes about what I wanted to talk about situations during the day, and it just didn’t pan out. And things that I wanted to say, somebody would be yelling in my ear, “Don’t say it, don’t say it!” So it became a very much a controlled environment where I really didn’t feel that comfortable.”

14) Preparation wasn’t the problem during his U.S. Open broadcast

“I was totally prepared so wherever this misleading information comes saying I wasn’t prepared, I still have copious notes and folders about my preparation with the golf course, with the players, with the set-up, with conditioning. I was totally prepared. So that’s an assumption that’s out there that is not true. So there’s a situation where you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

15) He would do ESPN’s Body Issue

“Of course I’d do it. I think I like being fit. I think on my Instagram account I probably slipped a few images out there that created a bit of a stir…And I enjoy having myself feel good. And that’s not an egotistical thing, it’s just none of my, most of my life I’ve been very healthy fit guy and if somebody like ESPN wants to recognize that, yeah of course I would consider doing it.”

Don’t forget to listen to the full podcast here!

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Podcasts

TG2: “If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” (Part 2)

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“If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” Brian Knudson and Andrew Tursky debate their choices in part 2 of this podcast (click here in case you missed Part 1). Also, TG2 welcomes special guest and GolfWRX Forum Member Ed Settle to the show to discuss what clubs he has in the bag.

Listen to our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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