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The WEEI Country Club
02.14.12
We Got Trouble

By: Pro From Dover

Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man” sang “we’ve got trouble right here in River City.” He was bewailing a game with balls and sticks and holes. Pool, not golf, was the demon.

Out of the recently completed annual PGA Merchandise show in Orlando, FL emanated a similar lament: we’ve got trouble in golf.

According to those who keep count, in the past couple of years, the number of regular golfers has declined a the rate of about one million per year…net. So, the base of 28,000,000 players in the U.S. continues to shrink. No doubt some of that is due to the excruciating recession of the past four years from which we may or may not be emerging.

But anecdotal information as well as industry research reveals there is more to it.

People are giving up the game in droves and the industry needs to figure out a way to cauterize the wound and generate growth. Often cited as reasons people quit are expense, time and difficulty to master as the three major culprits.

We don’t know what the right answer is but there are a lot ideas being floated by people smarter than us. Here are just some we’ve heard recently:

  • Have different (read: more lenient) rules for amateurs and pros. Dispense with the stroke and distance penalties, permit preferred lies everywhere and, our personal favorite, make the cup bigger.
  • Ease up the courses. Since the 1980s course architects seem to compete to see who can build the most difficult golf course. It’s crazy and defeating to the game to build water laden, 7500 yard monster courses that are impossible for most amateurs and take five hours to play. Stupid.
  • Play shorter rounds. Nine holes seems to have an implication of inadequacy for no good reason. Why not play nine or 12? The idea is to play the game. 18 holes was just an arbitrary decision by some long dead Scots, anyway.
  • Market different, more forgiving clubs and hotter balls to amateurs. Yup, the manufacturers know how to do that. They won’t invest in them, though, until the ruling authorities legalize the equipment.
  • Shorten courses. The USGA and PGA have partnered to promote the idea of “Play It Forward”. It’s a wonderful idea. Not long ago most courses had just three sets of tees. Forward for ladies, middle (regular) for just about all amateurs and the back for the big hitters. Now courses have added one or two more sets. One might be shorter than the standard ladies’ distance and the other between the ladies’ and regular tees.
  • Enforce pace of play rules and penalize slow play.  Heck, hang one person one time in front of the clubhouse and word will get around.
  • With regard to expense, one of the only good things coming out of difficult economic times is there are deals everywhere for greens fees and memberships. With demand shrinking, the suppliers have responded. Even formerly exclusive private clubs have greatly reduced or abandoned initiation fees and lowered dues. Wait lists are almost a thing of the past.

The essence of this game we love is the challenge of playing it, the exercise it offers and the collegial atmosphere of spending time with pals. We need to preserve it, protect it, curry it and prepare it for the next generation.

As with most things, change is inevitable. The solution to golf’s current ills probably lies in a combination of actions. But one thing is clear.  We need to change and modify the way the game we love is played or, too soon, it will be a distant memory to too many people.