Golf was one bright spot amongst a thick layer of fog that was 2020. Rounds played were up as much as 30% in some parts of the country and retail sales saw figures that haven’t been seen, well…ever. Golfers who played maybe once a week were now playing 2-3 times as hugs and handshakes were replaced with fist and elbow bumps. With walking the course being the best way to social distance, push and pull carts saw 8-10 week delays from manufacturers while “starter” package golf sets met the same fate. Softball and bocce leagues were replaced with golf leagues, and thanks to innovative ways to get the ball out of the cup without having to touch the flagstick, the inventor of the pool noodle enjoyed a record-breaking year as well. We had a Masters in November, no British Open, no Olympics, and no fans. From fire ants to 8 daily protein shakes and a U.S. Open victory, Bryson DeChambeau dominated the scene in tremendous fashion. Collin Morikawa stuck a driver to 8 feet on the 16th hole at Harding Park and won the PGA and Phil won his first back-to-back starts on the PGA Tour Champions. DJ shot a record 20-under par at Augusta and fought back tears as he barely made it through his post-round interview, and Sophia Popov beat Lyme disease, the haunting thoughts of quitting the game, and the world’s best in women’s golf to capture the Women’s British Open. We also got to see 3 made-for-tv charity matches showcasing the game’s best and other celeb-athletes to benefit Covid-19 first responders and social injustice groups. The Callaway MAVRIK blew every other driver out of the water and custom-fit Mizuno irons sold like bottles of water in the Sahara.
2021 can be even better. In many ways it has to be, for us. For all mankind. But what can golf do to keep riding the wave of popularity it’s currently on? The last golf boom was thanks to a phenom by the name of Tiger Woods. But a lot of those newbs realized golf was too hard, too expensive, and took way too long. What can we do to ensure that the new players keep playing and the buzz doesn’t fizzle out? Well I’m glad you asked. Of course I have some suggestions.
Keep it short I’m not just referring to yardage here. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Die-hards, although will certainly complain about it, will deal with a 5-hour round when faced with it and be back to tee it up the next day. But slow play and grueling long rounds will quickly turn off the new player, especially one that is used to a quick 90-minute recreational softball game. If courses aren’t going to employ a ranger and worse-yet, fail to enforce slow play protocols, they need to bite the bullet and spread out their tee sheet accordingly. Tee times should be made in 10-12 minute intervals. Just because you can technically get 4-5 more groups out with smaller windows doesn’t mean you should.
Over the last decade or so the course owner and golf professional has been afraid to anger the consumer in fear they would leave a bad review or quit playing their course. Every golfer and every dollar mattered. Wanna play as a fivesome? Sure! Wanna start on the back 9? Have at it! Wanna show up without a tee time on a Saturday morning and get out right away? No problem! The 10:10 group just went off and the 10:20 group is still waiting for their 4th to arrive. You can have the nonexistent 10:15 slot. That will help the entire front 9 run smoothly this morning! We operated under 10-minute tee intervals at my course in Kentucky with much success. I know first-hand that golfers will boycott a course if they are known for slow-play. This will pay-off in the long run. What will keep golf healthy is the desire to play, and a 3 hour round is much more desirable to than a 5 hour one.
Not everything has to be 18 holes. Most leagues are 9 holes but I’d like to see more 9-hole scrambles and events. Even try doing a 3 or 6-hole league for juniors and ladies. This is the beauty of joining a club. You always have a place to practice and you can play 4 or 5 holes without paying a full green fee.
The 7,000 yard golf course if just too long for 90% of players out there. Hitting a hybrid or fairway wood into every hole is enough to make a seasoned vet quit the game, much less a beginner. Playing the tips because you “wanna get your money’s worth” or “wanna see the whole course” is dumber than playing with a range ball. Stop looking at tee markers as color = age and starting playing the right ones for your handicap and ability. If you can only hit your 5 iron 150 yards, par 3’s should play no longer than 150 yards, par 4’s 350 yards, and par 5’s around 450 yards.
Us golfers can do our part to make things less excruciating out there as well. Play OB like a casual hazard and drop where it exited play. Play gimmies within reason and forget honors, unless someone makes an ace on the previous hole. Go ahead if you’re ready; won’t bother me in the least. If you don’t own a range finder or gps device…buy one before you spend another dime on anything else. No more than one practice swing and quit watching your buddy from across the fairway when you should already be going through your preshot routine.
Add rough to the list of things in golf that should be shortened. Shorter rough leads to less time looking for balls, faster play, better scores, and happier golfers. Happy golfers who play well and do it faster…play more!
Change the Olympic Format We get individual competition all year ‘round and almost all of the Olympic events are team oriented. I’m for changing the golf event to 2-man teams and maybe even doing a match-play bracket. This is something that would not only excite the fans but also the players and really make them feel like they are playing for their country. Why is the Ryder Cup the most exciting event in golf? They compete as a team in match play for the love and honor of their country. Interesting concept! The fact that the Olympics do anything but that is an abomination.
Be welcoming and accessible Some players are stuck in their own world to no fault of their own. Humans are creatures of habit, especially golfers. Need an example? Take a foursome of seniors who have been playing together every day at 9:00am on the same course for 35 years. Change their tee time to 9:30 and grab some popcorn. A scene from a collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King ensues. Invite a new player you’ve seen on the range to join your foursome or invite that buddy from work to join your Wednesday night league. I ask more pros to offer free and discounted lessons or clinics, especially to kids and women. Keep them stress-free and fun. A group of men often cringe at the site of a foursome of women heading to the first tee, especially if they are of higher handicaps. But in my experience that group of ladies plays way faster than any group of serious male golfers any day of the week. They don’t look for balls, stress over 3-footers, nor take 7 practice swings. They laugh, sip their Michelob Ultra, hit the ball then do it again.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional