Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Playing the game faster - better?

The last time we met, I mentioned a few ideas that the common man has brought up that would make them play more golf, or in some cases, take up the game. Here are a few things they mentioned.

Time. This has been a common complaint for awhile. In today’s society, the thought of spending four to five hours on any one activity is unacceptable. Personally, I’ve always believed that a certain commitment is necessary if you’re going to be a participant. However, since I’m in a small minority on this issue, there are options.

Please don’t tell me a Scramble is an option. We’ve all played in scrambles that have seemed to be interminable. The main reason is that the strategy discussed among the team, make the meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff look like an office water cooler discussion. Forget the scramble.

A viable option is a Shamble. This is where the team selects the best drive and plays their owan ball through the hole with a double bogey maximum. There’s only one team decision and the lesser-skilled players will be playing from a better position than usual. Trust me on this—a Shamble is quicker than a Scramble by a lot.

A better option is a true round of Alternate Shot. A few years ago, I had the thrill of playing Royal Dornoch. There were just two of us walking (another way to speed up the game). We were played through by a foursome playing Alternate Shot. Their precision was incredible. The two players who holed out on the green would immediately proceed down the fairway while their partners hit their drives. While the drivers would immediately proceed towards the green, the other pair would hit the second shot. There were always two people in motion.

When we finished our round, we asked the club secretary about that foursome. We were told that they play every day at lunchtime and are back at their job in the village in an hour and a half.

Somewhere along the way, Ready Golf has become Rude Golf. Truthfully, I’m surprised someone hasn’t been killed playing Ready Golf. For some reason, golfers who choose this path think if they can run to their ball first, they can just hit it is on a course to disaster. I’ve seen more near-misses because the hitter hasn’t visually accounted for the rest of the group. I’d rather see the golfer away be prepared when the time comes.

One other idea that would have merit in a civil society would have every golfer be issued a time card. It’s punched on the first tee and the 18th green and you’re charged by the hour. Unfortunately, if one group is playing behind a slower group; mayhem may ensue.

Equipment. Golf is one of the few industries regulated by a non-profit organization that caters to one to two percent of its membership. I’m talking about the USGAs regulation of equipment. Hey, I’m all for maintaining the skill level of the game, but right now it’s not totally in the best interest of the game. Why not give the players who really need it the most, the novice and high handicappers, the real game-improvement equipment. Trust me; the stuff these engineers can produce goes way beyond the clubs, shafts and balls now available. Then make certain criteria. If you achieve a certain skill level, the level of game-improvement equipment is dialed back; but only if the golfer wishes to attain a legitimate handicap and compete in a tournament. Give the golfer the option.

Mr. Bartender, would you mind pouring me another tall, ice cold draught beer. Please use that high tech mug that keeps the suds at the optimum temperature from first sip to the last. It’s time to vacate the soap box for another week.

If anyone has an idea how to make the game more viable for more people. Please let us know and we’ll give your idea a trial balloon.

See you on the first tee.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No Golf 20/20 Conference

It will hardly be noticed by the golf public next weekend, but for the first time since 2000, the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremonies won’t be preceded by the Golf 20/20 Conference. Instead there will be a Board of Directors meeting where decisions will be made concerning the future of this tremendous undertaking.

For those of you who have never heard of Golf 20/20, it is an undertaking in which the world golf organizations, the golf club manufacturers, course and club owners and developers and the media collaborate in trying to find ways to preserve and grow the game and industry of golf. They’ve been at it for a full six years and while there have been some seemingly worthwhile programs; these efforts have been punctuated by seemingly interminable wheel spinning.

It would be pure folly to pull the plug on Golf 20/20; however it would be worse to continue on its present path. Thus far, figures have been produced on how the game and industry has flat lined. Programs have been formulated to enhance the efforts of the First Tee which is good for future of the game.

A program called Link Up 2 Golf that encourages adults to begin playing golf has been incorporated into the PGA of America’s Play Golf America program and has yet to yield noticeable numbers.

Basically, Golf 20/20 has taken note of the lack of country club golfers and not necessarily the grass root golfers. I’ve never seen it and I doubt anyone has ever seen a questionnaire asking what golfers want to see in the game and industry.

Although hardly a scientific poll, I have asked in the course of golf conversation what people would like to see. Here a few general responses.

Cheaper Golf. This has been the most common refrain. People are tired of paying upwards from $50 for a round of golf. Good luck. On a worldwide basis the price of golf is going through the roof. Maintenance costs have escalated, but the real culprit can most often be found in design fees. Tour players turned golf course architects provided a great growth spurt in the game, but enough is enough. Two million dollars will get a developer a great course designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, et al. It will also give green fees or membership dues a real boost. Who did you think was going to absorb the cost? The developer? Get real. Just wait until the Tiger Woods designed courses start to pop up at a $20 million design fee. These golfers-turned-designers had a tremendous effect on the growth of the game, but the lingering effects are beginning to stifle it.

The Game is too Difficult. This goes back to the expense of playing the game. Developers are hung up on getting their courses on a “Best” list and this means making it a real challenge with aesthetics thrown in for eye candy. Somewhere along the way, difficulty became synonymous with great. A challenging course must first be fair. If a golfer is rewarded for meeting the challenge with something better than another more difficult challenge, chances are he’ll come back. There are too many courses being built where golfers play once just to say they played there. That’s not a solid base on which to build a game. By the way, these fair courses can be designed and built for less, thus providing an answer to the first problem.

There are a few more ideas that I’ve gleaned during these conversations and we’ll get into them down the road.

Right now, I’d appreciate it if the bartender would pour me another tall, cold draught beer. I might as well go straight for the suds. What did you expect from a guy on a soap box?

See you on the first tee.