Ivan Morris Column - Golf will forever be a niche sport

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris writes about one of the big problems facing golf.

In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris writes about one of the big problems facing golf.

Mutt: What was your man, Ivan, on about in last week’s Leader - illegal starter clubs, 15-inch diameter cups and 6-hole golf courses?

Jeff: Don’t blame the messenger. He was only reporting on what took place at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Every January, whatever new is launched there becomes old hat norm before too long.

Mutt: Taylor Made’s illegal clubs and 15-inch cup concept is one of the daftest ideas ever! It won’t help to solve golf’s shrinking numbers and unaffordable costs or satisfy the demands of TM’s shareholders. By using a target instead of a hole, SNAG golf has already shown itself to be a much sounder concept.

Jeff: I suppose it’s the everlasting battle between human needs and wants? Manufacturers need an endless supply of golfers, new and old, to be continually dissatisfied with their equipment and foolishly thinking that ‘the latest and greatest, something new’ will miraculously cure all of their ills.

Jeff: There are some golfers who must always have the newest/longest/most-forgiving toy to keep them happy but I don’t! My 13-year-old Ping irons are perfectly functional, thank you! Nonconforming clubs and a 15” diameter hole are irrelevant from my perspective.

Depending on your attitude, golf can be perfectly enjoyable on the scruffiest of golf courses and no fun at all on an impeccable, top-10 lay out if you are having a bad day.

Mutt: The satisfaction derived from golf is much more profound than that trite and overused word “fun.”

Playing a game of golf usually involves inevitable humiliation and frustration mixed up with odd smidgens of satisfaction and joy. We all think we can play better than we can. That’s what the manufacturers try to exploit.

Jeff: Golf is beyond fun. There’s more involved than winning. It is a mental test as well as one of physical coordination.

Mutt: There’s a solid minority of hardcore golfers who play more often than 3 or 4 times a month.

The rest (vast majority) are “non-active” golfers with handicaps of 40-plus with no real interest in playing regularly and improving, let alone buying expensive equipment. Their motivation is more social than sporting.

Mutt: Golf is hard to play well but you don’t have to play well to enjoy it. Educating new golfers how to play the game to an acceptable standard of both skill and etiquette and at a brisk and enjoyable pace would make the game more attractive for everyone but it requires a investment of time and effort from established golfers who are notoriously selfish and jealously protective of their own, precious, golfing time.

Jeff: Golf is forever destined to be a niche sport with a relatively small, dedicated, participation base.

It’s not conducive to the big profit expectations of multi-national Corporations and their misguided policies of constantly advising golfers that the game would be so much easier if ‘only’ they bought the latest, greatest equipment.

Mutt: A boardroom conspiracy to keep generating more and more revenue for the benefit of shareholders who do not care a toss, is clearly failing as the effects of shrinking golf participation instead of it growing year on year, is having a serious effect.

Jeff: If the likes of Taylor Made went belly up, the obscene money that is squandered on the tiny minority of ‘elites’ who populate the professional tours would take a big hit.

Mutt: Although, the pro tours provide tons of money for a handful of golfers at the very pinnacle of the pyramid, everyone else is scraping and scrimping to survive - many of them very, very good golfers, too. The pro tours are living on a knife’s edge. Too much goes into the pockets of too few and not enough put back into developing the game.

Jeff: Pros are ruthless mercenaries that don’t give back. The game’s No. 1 player (Tiger) won’t even look at an ordinary golfer let alone speak to him! Professionals feel no responsibility for developing the grass roots.

Mutt: It is also the fault of foolhardy golfers themselves who invested in longer golf courses and luxurious clubhouses that are too expensive to maintain.

Jeff: Not sure what the answer is. It would be a sad state of affairs if golf ultimately returned to being an exclusive game for the few.

Mutt: The world is changing before our eyes. Incomes are shrinking. The middle classes are disappearing. Modern technology and gadgetry makes younger generations too easily impatient with anything that takes time. Everything has to be instant! Golf’s greatest attraction is that it is a slow process with improvement coming incrementally after intelligent application.An improving golfer is a happy golfer!

Jeff: The game of golf was not created to make shareholders rich.

The game of golf is more important than the business of golf. Mutt: I’m suspicious of people intent on growing the game who are at the same time trying to profit from that expansion.