Ivan Morris’ two friends Mutt and Jeff discuss one of the biggest challenges facing golf
Jeff: Full marks to the Leinster Branch GUI for initiating ‘Roadmap 2017’ and taking on board the opinions of over-8000 ordinary golfers in the province. It’s hardly a surprise that the cost and length of time it takes to play 18-holes repeatedly came up in the answers to a comprehensive questionnaire.
Mutt: I can see you about to have one of your famous fits! It sounds like unnecessary duplication that a Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) was set up only last October to do something similar.
Bringing together the top people from the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI), the Irish Ladies Golf Union (ILGU) and the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) to form a Board to address the same issues is typical of the Irish way, stealing ideas and claiming them for one’s own and ignoring those who can help most.
Jeff: I told them once, I told them twice, I told them once again - it’s more than just Irish golf that is struggling. The game itself needs urgent adjustment. Losing so many golfers IS a catastrophe but I fear the analysis will be flawed and the solutions won’t work unless the game itself changes too.
Mutt: This is not an Irish phenomenon in isolation. It’s worldwide, especially in the traditional golfing nations. It’s the game itself that is flawed.
The GUI, ILGU and PGA should have been roaring their heads off at the R & A and USGA for the last 20-years because of the (high-tech) way they allowed the professional game to over-dominate and develop at the expense of the game’s overall well-being but they didn’t. For pros golf is too easy; for amateurs it’s harder than ever.
Jeff: The CGI needs to address that issue first, or else they have no hope of achieving long lasting success. We forget how difficult golf is for beginners. We need more courses where people can learn without feeling intimidated.
The constant search for more length, deeper bunkers and more difficult greens makes learning very difficult and it is turning people away from golf.
Mutt: We live in odd times and I am uncertain that anybody can solve the issue of golfers leaving the game. They can regulate equipment but leaving the desires of the less than 1000-tournament pros worldwide aside, the remaining 12.2-million golfers still want balls that go further and clubs to hit them further.
If tournament courses are getting longer it’s not that important, as most of us will never play these courses off the back tees anyway. The loss of golfers is pure economics. The game is expensive and takes too long. People do not see golf as value for money anymore.
Jeff: That is why it’s not such a bad thing that golf is losing some players. During the boom, too many people took the game up for the wrong reasons. The purity of the game suffered. Courses became over crowded. Too many palatial clubhouses were built.
Golf was better when a smaller number of enthusiasts appreciated the game and respected its traditions. Golf reminds me of a favorite restaurant that suddenly becomes ‘too popular’ - the owners forget about their old, reliable customers and end up with none!
Mutt: Some courses will always need green fee players to remain economically sound but they are in the minority and are not ‘real golf.’
Jeff: Membership at the majority of Golf Clubs effectively covers the period from March to September. Not great value when you effectively lose half the season to temporary greens and bad weather.
Mutt: So, what is the solution? Perhaps, one of the things the CGI could look at is the viability of member-owned courses ‘slashing’ annual subs and operating a ‘muni-type’ pay and play basis - say, €10/15 per round?
Would the courses be packed 7-days a week, or empty? Who would be prepared to take the risk? Privately owned Courses are irrelevant. They operate as businesses and will stand or fall on their own efforts.
Jeff: I suggest we appreciate what we have and try to enjoy the game as best we can with all of its faults.
Mutt: Perhaps golf’s biggest challenge is the way social media is changing living styles? The availability, 24/7, of every kind of entertainment you could ever want means nobody gets bored anymore. The urge to go to a golf course for ‘something to do’ is gone. Youngsters are so engrossed in their devices they won’t leave them for any length of time.
Indeed, they are increasingly taking them onto the golf course and dinosaurs like me hate it! Young people aren’t used to frustration and learning something as difficult and as slow as golf is. If they cannot get to next level quickly, they quit! Young tastes have to be gratified instantly in the 21st-century.
Jeff: It’s partly our fault that we were unable to make committed golfers out them but the equipment manufacturers conned them into thinking they could buy a game when the secret is, and always will be, hidden in the dirt of the practice ground!