Let's Make Golf Better

There are a plethora of problems with the world’s greatest game, but most of them seem fairly obvious and difficult to remedy: amount of time and patience needed to learn the sport, how much time is needed to actually play, the complexities involving the sport’s rules and regulations, the pompous nature of some of the sport’s upper crust, and, finally, just how incredibly humiliating it is, for everyone. Ultimately, however, some of those issues are some of the things that make the sport great. The humiliation keeps you coming back and wanting more. The rules and regulations, once learned, can be used to your advantage and make it a much bigger chess game. And come on, who doesn’t want to put on a green sport jacket and be part of a special club.

A key factor in understanding Golf in 2016 is recognizing (that a lot of sports face) is that it is stuck in its old ways. In other words, the guys running the show don’t want to see the sport evolve. “Jack Nicklaus was the greatest ever because he played the way golf should be played.” But the problem with that line of think is that even Jack was an evolution on the game – Bobby Jones famously said “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” Bobby-fucking-Jones! And I am sure if old Tom Morris saw how Bob played, he would have had a fit. In fact, Tom had a falling out with his mentor, Allan Robertson, because of the type of golf balls he used. Golf has been a sport that evolves at a pace faster than most others, so let it keep evolving, powers-that-be.

I should make myself very clear: I do not think that Golf is a crumbling industry with no support, no future, and losing to China at everything. There are plenty of stats and figures that could show how healthy the sport is in 2016 and positive signs about its future abound. However, there is evidence that it’s not as great as it once was. There is no denying that Tiger Woods completely rejuvenated the sport and that the golf world without him just isn’t the same. As a result, I put together a few ideas for ways to innovate the game, on a PGA level and on a recreational level, for the better.

                  First: can we get some more team golf? I understand that many people grew up playing the sport in the arena by themselves. The ultimate individual sport, a player is frequently noted as playing against him/herself and against the golf course. But anyone who has ever played match play knows that is not the case. And anyone (most high school and college golfers) who played in a team environment know that it is so much more exhilarating when you have to rely on your teammates’ abilities to hit a good shot, make a long putt, or put together a solid tally. It also makes it a sport that is easier to access – when someone has a team to rely on, they can have more room to grow and improve their game. A teammate can mask mistakes and carry a developing player. They can also be a more trusted advisor and are just more reliable on the course. Obviously, an issue can be that this would water down the sport, but there is no reason Golf has to be all team based or all individual based. When the PGA begins its season in early October, who really cares about The Safeway Open or some other events that I can’t even recall the name of? These are great for rookies and people trying to break onto the tour, but why can’t we have a handful of team events during this period to shake things up. Or how about a couple interspersed throughout the season? Or even the golf equivalent of an international friendly so that our national players can warm up for the Olympics, Ryder Cup, or other patriotic events. At this point, I would settle for pretty much anything. As the Ryder Cup in 2016 proved, team golf can be exhilarating for the fan and the player and there needs to be more of.

                  Second: Golf doesn’t need to be just a summer sport. There is basically nothing I despise more that mountain biking, for a litany of reasons, but I would like to take a page out of the mountain bike world’s book and attempt to have some indoor golf. There are indoor mountain biking ranges, so why aren’t there at least a few indoor golf arenas. This could be as simple as converting an old warehouse (like in Cleveland, where there are a lot of old warehouses) into a couple of artificial holes. Alternatively, there currently a few golf simulators that can be franchised out to businesses. The startup costs can be somewhat hefty, but it does seem like an obvious opportunity for pro-shops, country clubs, and golf retailers. I know simulators are probably not the most profitable product, but the advent of virtual reality and augmented reality seem like they could potentially lower the cost and make a golf video game that is close to the real thing. At the least, it could provide an opportunity for the avid golfer to shake off some cobwebs during the winter months.

                  Third: Let’s change the order in which golf is played. I love golf’s unique peculiarities, like playing two sets on 9-holes, or scoring based on par instead of aggregate strokes, but I don’t think we need to keep these around to maintain the integrity of the game. Instead of having to provide a golfer with only 9 and 18 hole opportunities, I would like to see courses offer chances and rates to play 6 or 12 holes. This way, a twilight player can get in a quick six after a long day at work without having to worry about overpaying for the experience. Shrinking the bite-size of course experience could also open up the golf course, providing an extra avenue for golfers to tee off from if there is a large gap in playing time. Instead of being stuck behind the 76 year-old couple who started their round when they were 75 years-young, a more ambitious player could jump in front to the next six just like a group might choose to play off the back when there is a clog on the first tee. This could also be an opportunity for new courses to be more accessible. As population trends shift towards more urban living and condensed living space, a more condensed form of course design would help fit the needs of the younger crowd of golfers and improve the pace of play, a major problem plaguing the game today.

                  Obviously, we recognize that these solutions are not the only way to make this already-great sport even greater. And we recognize that they are not total hole-in-one ideas – they have plenty of flaws and maybe are not the best thing for the game. But we wanted to at least try and introduce some new ideas into the world so that we can continue to march on. There are a lot of people out there who are already attempting to disrupt the climate and make the golfing world a better place and we salute their efforts. Whatever works is great, just as long as we can dig it out of the dirt.

Peter G Schmidt