Despite several years of gloomy forecasts from commentators and consumer surveys on the popularity of the game, golf will survive, and I believe that it will thrive.
Golf will thrive because of the open air environment in which the game is consumed. Golf supports moderate physical activity, satisfying social interaction, distraction from the never ending roller coaster of life’s ups and downs, and not least the game offers a personal challenge.
The game is fundamentally one in which, you take a stick, to hit an object to a target, that is in, on, or above the ground.
Golf is not only a game but also an industry. An industry that ‘services the game‘. Be mindful of those three words – ‘services the game‘.
Without doubt, the game and the industry must be aligned to deliver an experience that men and women want to consume in the way that they want to consume it. Golf should entertain, challenge, and above all be an enjoyable experience. Even though the game and the industry must work together, the game should not become a service provider to the industry.
From this standpoint, there are many questions that continue to attract my attention, two of which are as follows:
Imagine if we drop a handful of clubs and balls into a remote part of the Amazonian Rain Forest, where the villagers had never heard of Tiger Woods, and there were no TV or golf magazines. What game would they invent?
Would the villagers design a game where they take a stick, to hit an object to a target, that is in, on, or above the ground? Perhaps so. Would it be the same as we find in the some 200+ golf playing nations in the world? Would it have four par fives and four par threes on a 6,000m + course? Would it have miles of buggy paths and two starting points and finishing points, each near to a clubhouse?
Imagine that the golf ball travelled just 30% of the distance of the current ball. What effect would that have on the game? I suspect very little. Golf would still entertain, challenge, and above all be an enjoyable experience. I do however think that such a change would change the industry.
Certainly, courses could be made that were just 30% of the current length. So 2,000 metres would offer the same challenge as we have now over a much longer course. Golf course developers would need less land, and so potentially less investment; the course would perhaps be easier to design, certainly easier and cheaper to construct and maintain. Smaller parcels of land could be more easily found near to areas of population, so making the game more accessible. Would golf take less time on this shorter course? Is it reasonable to expect that if the ball travelled just 30% of the ‘normal’ distance, then it would also only go 30% of the distance into trouble? Perhaps there would be less time spent looking for golf balls? Would this form of golf become both a quick way for established golfers to play a few holes and at the same time be a simple but effective way for newcomers to be introduced to the game?
Softball in the US, has legions of participants, soft tennis and soft cricket, all forms of the mainstream sport, have introduced a ball to make their game more accessible. Could this simple act give golf a much-needed boost to reach new communities? The commentators say that golf needs to be more accessible, less expensive, quicker and easier. Perhaps a ball that travels significantly less distance will help.
In any case, I advise continually questioning why we do what we do, and also how we do it. Perhaps the answers will be surprising.