Golf has a problem: it’s hard to be good at it. Golf has another problem: it’s expensive. And, golf takes time to play. In short, it’s not exactly a game calculated to appeal to a younger generation that grew up playing video games and getting participation trophies and positive feedback for every endeavor.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that golf participation is declining. Five million people have given up the game in the last decade, and more golfers are expected to quit in the next few years. People under 35, especially, aren’t into the game. (That’s true in the Webner family, too, where Richard and Russell have shown no interest whatsoever in golf.)
If you own a golf course, this trend is a serious concern. In many communities, like Columbus, there was a golf course building boom in the ’80s and ’90s, and now many of those courses are struggling — with some private clubs becoming public or semi-public or folding entirely. Golf courses are economically viable only if there are players willing to pay to play.
The response to the decline in players has been interesting. Rather than figuring out how to encourage people to see the beauty of the game in its current form, some want to change the game radically to try to make it “fun.” Among the ideas include a much bigger hole on greens, giving players a mulligan every hole, allowing people to throw the ball out of sand traps — what my grandmother called using her “hand mashie” — and letting people tee up the ball on every shot.
I’m no golf purist, but these kinds of ideas seem like a panicky reaction that would ruin the game rather than popularize it. The golf establishment should simply accept that golf is not going to appeal to everyone, and if a few golf courses fail, so be it. Golf is supposed to be a struggle, and it inevitably will have its frustrations. It’s not a sport for someone looking for immediate gratification. The attraction of the game is not easily shooting low scores, but rather legitimately improving with practice so that when you do play a good round it really means something.
I haven’t been able to swing a club for months because of my foot, but I’m looking forward to the day when my doctor gives me the go-ahead to get back on the links. I’m sure I’ll curse my ineptitude, but at least it will be golf I’m playing — not some bastardized effort to appeal to impatient people with short attention spans who need constant reinforcement.