I love golf. I am a typical golfing addict-not that good, but getting better and I love learning more about the game, from equipment to swing tips. I often fall asleep at night thinking about that great shot I hit on the seventh, or (and sadly, more often) that duffed chip followed by a three putt going down the last. Nothing would stop me playing, surely? Or would it? People give up the great game all the time. Golf course and clubs are struggling to make ends meet. So what’s going on in the golf world? Is it really time to stop playing?
It seems to me that people stop for three different reasons. I would call these time, money and difficulty. Let’s take a look at each one and see if there are any solutions.
Golf takes a long time. There are no two ways about this. It isn’t the fastest sport in the world and, unfortunately, it isn’t getting any quicker. So what’s the problem? I often play golf on my own. I find that heading out to the course early on a weekend helps clear my head and means that I can get out and back before my kids are up and about (one of the few advantages of teenagers-they don’t get up early!) I oftn head out for nine holes, playing 2 or 3 balls per hole and am done in maybe an hour and a half at the most.
Let’s compare this to an average 18 when i play in competition. I would guess that the usual 18 hole competitive round is about 5 hours in my experience. I have done quicker rounds, but also some a hell of a lot slower. Even with a quick warm up on the range beforehand and a few minutes chat at the bar to check the cards, this means basically six hours to play 18 competitive holes. I would love to say that I have 6 hours a few times a week (or even every week) but it just isn’t so. In fact, I probably play less than 20 full 18 rounds a year. For a golfing addict, this isn’t a lot!
You might be saying that this is competitive round and is obviously going to take more time. Actually, again in my experience, this difference isn’t huge. But’s let’s just say that you can play 18 in 4.5-5 hours. Fine.
Compare this with pretty much any other sport you care to mention. The difference is remarkable. I know we all prefer to play golf rather than jog, play squash, play pick up basketball, ride a bike or whatever. However, there are two important things.
Firstly, if you aren’t a golfer but are thinking of playing, this time factor is probably going to weigh in the balance. You might love golf, but if it isn’t going to fit in to your life, why not try something that will? And secondly, this time factor can be a problem with spouses and families. “I’m just off to the course. see you in 6 hours” might not go down quite as well as “I’m just off for a game of racquetball with Jim. See you in two hours” Of course, your mileage may vary. If you are lucky enough to have a wife who says “ok, honey, see you in 6 hours, I’ll deal with the kids again” and says it without reaching for the bread knife, more power to you!
So are there any answers? Actually, I think there are quite a few and they have been quite widely discussed, although less-widely adopted. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things that could make the game a bit less time-consuming.
- Change the rules. This is going to annoy some people, but I think that some rule changes would make a difference for the better. One thing I would like to see is more use of hazard/water stakes before out of bounds. This changes a bit depending on where in the world you play, but hitting provisionals all the time, whilst better than having to go back to the start when you can’t find your ball, isn’t the answer. If more out of bounds became water hazards (or a variant thereof), we could drop the ball, take our penalty and just get on with life. Yes, I do understand the downside of this, but I prefer the time-saving upside.
- Use fewer clubs. I’ll come back to this later when we get to ‘difficulty’, but suffice to say, I think 14 clubs is too many for most. I am (currently) a pretty average 11 handicap golfer. I can’t really say that my distances are consistent enough to really miss a club or two. My nine iron might go 120 yards one time and 110 another, and even 130 when the planets are aligned and really, I don’t know why. So maybe fewer clubs and a few more yards between them might speed up decision-making and give me less to carry.
- Stop copying the pros. When Jordan Spieth stands over a putt, chip or whatever, he has hundreds of thousands on the line. He is dealing with flags tucked behind pot bunkers, hidden slopes, thick rough and all the rest. We aren’t. There is no need to rush, but really, how many times do you need to walk around the line of your putt before leaving it 6 feet short? Are 6 practice swings really necessary? Just play the damn shot. The same goes for getting ready to play while your partner plays. This should be part of every golfer’s etiquette.
- Play fewer holes. I really would love to see more short courses. My home course is only nine holes and because of the layout, it is easy to play 8 and return to the clubhouse. More and more layouts are being built with two or more nine hole loops. It is important to remember that there was no standard number of holes originally. There are some fantastic old courses in Scotland with 14 holes, 12 holes or fewer. Heck, go out and play 4-5 holes if you can. Of course, this is going to depend on cost, something we will talk about in part 2.
- Play short courses. My home course has a 6 hole short course. In fact, quite a few courses nearby have this set up. They are relatively cheap, a good test of your short game and you spend a lot less time looking for balls! If it is not too busy, I usually get round in well under 45 minutes and sometimes a lot less.
There are probably a lot more ways to save time and speed the game up little. I would love to hear your comments and in part two we’ll talk a little about the cost of our great game.