Amateur golf, not the professional golf on TV, has been the subject of many articles in recent years, and there have been few, if any positives when the subject is participation. Course closings, dramatic drops in play, retail chains selling golf equipment going out of business… and the list goes on.
There is a melody in the wind, distant, but if you listen closely it’s growing. Reduced to numbers, it’s this: By The Year 2020, The Number of Americans Over 65 Will Increase by 55 percent.
Think of it this way. You own an Italian restaurant and you hear that Italy is closing and moving down the block. I don’t think the entire country will be dropping in, but you can bet I’m expanding the menu and sprucing the place up.
I realize that reaching 65 doesn’t mean automatically retiring and taking up golf and that some in this category already play, but if you just look at hard numbers the message is irrefutable. There are a whole bunch of folks that, starting in 2020, could have a positive impact on a game that has suffered participation losses. One could even conclude that now is a good time to formulate plans and programs to capture a chunk of this significant market.
What kinds of plans, you might ask. Well, to start, the industry has several organizations with well paid, skilled people who are more than capable of tackling such potential. Since I brought it up, I’ll throw out some thoughts, but I’m simply another amateur voice.
To start my big picture objective, I would engage the Golf Channel and get them actively on board. Why so much emphasis? Go back to the participation statistic. If we can’t get them on the bandwagon (they’re a for-profit business, and their business is golf) it’s time to head to the 19th hole and a cold one.
What is on the bandwagon? Again, I’ll repeat, they’re the golf marketing experts. I prefer to be regaled by the quality and depth of their insight. Should they ask me, if it were “my restaurant,” I’d say we need a definitive culture on speed of play. Bringing in new players to “enjoy” slow play invokes the response “too slow, no fun” as they leave the premises.
I’m a very strong advocate of 3.5-3.75 hour rounds. I play with other old people and we have no problem with those times. We could run around and crowd the folks in front, but that’s just as objectionable as a 4.5-hour round.
If we approach this (or any) group and say that golf is fun, we are being disingenuous. Golf is fun only if you are clear that the definition is the joy of overcoming a very difficult challenge. No one will defeat the game; the fun comes with small victories. Now Top Golf is fun, but it isn’t golf unless swinging one-handed while holding a cell phone in the other is the long lost magic move we’ve all missed. I still take the grandkids, though. It has beer and excellent viewing.
I watch young, supple instructors showing swings that if I attempted I’d need a lifetime pass to the Chiropractic Institute. The market here is a 65-year-old group. They aren’t flexible, and many have scars and lesions from surgeries. I see the Golf Channel running a series on lessons specifically oriented to the physicality of the majority. My restaurant customers don’t like really spicy food, and I don’t try and teach them how to enjoy it.
Courses are set up with range flags tuned into tee markers. If you comfortably hit the ball to the green flag, play the green tees. Why? Go back to the paragraph on “too slow, no fun.” In this instance, the green tees allow the occasional chance to hit shots into a green that provides an “occasional victory.”
This issue isn’t about perfect ideas that guarantee success. It’s understanding that the amateur game is facing an opportunity that’s unique and significant to long-term stability.
Now, being honest, this story doesn’t really apply to GolfWRX readers. They already play, in fact; some may play on courses that have plenty of customers, thank you very much. It really applies to those in industry leadership positions and it would be nice to see some positive programs emerge. It would also be nice to pick up 20 yards. Call me negative, but I think the odds are about the same.
It’s a positive opportunity; gotta keep pushing!
The Wedge Guy: Have a ‘Plan B’
One of the things that I think is very interesting and fun about this game is that there are a number of ways to play every hole you encounter. And sometimes a hole offers “better” ways to play it than you might think. Let me explain with a couple of experiences from my own golf life.
ONE. In my thirties and forties, I played at a club outside of San Antonio – Fair Oaks Ranch. The 18th hole was a tough par 4 with a very small landing area and a gaping bunker at about 175 out. The skinny fairway left of that bunker wasn’t more than 15 yards wide, and there was a little mott of trees on the green side of the bunker that you would have to carry with your mid-iron bunker approach. Tough, to say the least.
That hole drove most of us nuts, and double bogeys were more common than birdies, for sure. Par was always a great score and bogey wasn’t “bad” at all.
So, one day it hit me that if I hit 4-wood off the tee, I would have an elevated fairway look at the green from about 200-210, giving me another soft 4-wood or 3-iron to the green, and the fairway was about 40 yards wide back there. Being a good long club player, I began to play the hole that way. Doubles disappeared entirely, pars became the norm and I even made the occasional birdie. Hmm.
TWO. At my recent club, the ninth hole just didn’t fit my eye or my game. I play a fade off the tee most of the time and turning over a draw was just not reliable for me at the time. That ninth is a dogleg left, with a bunker on the right side of the fairway that runs from about 160-125 from the green, right where the prime driving area is. What makes this hole so tough for me is that the prevailing wind is left to right, and trees just 60-100 yards off the tee keep me from starting the ball out left and letting it ride the breeze. This is another one where birdies are rare for me there, and bogies and doubles way too frequent. So, it dawned on me one day, finally, that I could hit 4-wood right at that bunker and not get to it, leaving me a 5- or 6-iron into the green, rather than the short iron the rare proper drive would leave me. So, that became my new strategy on that hole. I’m a good mid-iron player, so I’m fine with that, and that damn fairway bunker never caught me again.
THREE. My new club puts a premium on accurate wedge play. Most of the shorter holes have the smallest greens I’ve ever seen, so distance control with your wedge approaches is critical. And I find that reasonably full-swing wedges are easier to control distance than those awkward 60- to 80-yard partial swings. So, I’ve learned to put a premium on club selection off the tee on those holes to leave my approach shots in the 85-115 range, so that I can “dial in” my approach shotmaking.
My point in all this is that sometimes a hole gets under your skin or just doesn’t set up well for your game. When that happens, design yourself a Plan ‘B,’ and change the way you play it, at least for a while. Quite often you will find a solution to a problem and your scores and attitude will improve.
Club Junkie: Mizuno T-22 wedge and Cuater Moneymaker shoes review!
Mizuno’s new T-22 wedges are forged from the same 1025 carbon steel with boron as the irons, giving them an extremely soft feel. Very versatile, the sole grinds allow for hitting any shot your heart desires.
The Cuater Moneymaker shoes might be some of the most comfortable I have worn in years. Tons of cushioning, exceptional traction all over the course, and they are even waterproof!
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