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Can Big Hole Golf help grow the game?

IN THE first of a series of articles, Golf Link looks at a host of initiatives aimed at increasing participation in golf.

INCREASE the size of the hole, grow the game of golf. It can’t be that simple can it?

Last month, Golf Australia released the 2013 National Golf Participation Report and there were some telling statistics about golf in this country:

  • There were 1.18 million Australians who played at least one round of golf during the year. Two out of every three of those players were not club golfers and play social golf instead.
  • There were 398,804 golf club members last year with 60 per cent of that club membership base aged 55 years and over.
  • All age groups have seen a fall in participation since 2002.
  • There was a 1.6% decline in club playing members.
  • 51% of Australian clubs have less than 100 members.
  • 50% of clubs are under financial duress.

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But what can be done to improve participation rates, finances of golf clubs and the enjoyment of the sport?

Murray Blair, ex-coach of the Malaysian national team and now club professional at Gungahlin Lakes Golf Club in ACT, has developed one solution: Big Hole Golf.

Since 2006, Blair has been devising eight-inch (20.32cm) cups and the product was launched online in April.

“When I played junior golf in Canberra, getting into pennant teams was difficult,” said Blair.

“There was depth to selection. I’ve really discovered that that’s just died off for many reasons.

“Right through to the older generation, there’s just not a huge influx of golf members.”

Blair has played in numerous pro-ams and he noticed that, on most occasions, the best putter would triumph.

“The person who has the best proximity to the hole should win,” said Blair.

“Not the person who has the least putts.”

In response, Blair created the eight-inch cups and installed them at Gungahlin Lakes.

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“We’ve trialled Big Hole Golf here at my club and everyone loves it,” he said.

“We’ve left them in the practice putting greens so visiting groups from all over Australia come and play.”

It’s not just Gungahlin that will have Big Hole Golf.

Dozens of other golf clubs have already signed up to install the product on their greens: from Bundaberg to Bathurst, Phillip Island to Wodonga, meaning that thousands of golfers around Australia will soon be able to try the larger cups out for size.

Big Hole Golf

Through its website, Big Hole Golf is now selling nine and 18-hole kits to any willing club in Australia.

In late-2014, Big Hole Golf will open a national leaderboard that anyone from participating clubs can enter.

Then, in 2015 a 36-hole national final will be held that will make use of Big Hole Golf’s ‘fastball’ scoring system.

“The whole concept is about growing participation rates,” he said.

“Our events are designed so that you are going to have to bring a family member to be your partner.

“Hopefully that family member doesn’t play much. We don’t want two club golfers playing together.”

Blair believes the game is fantastic for kids, especially the ones he coaches who are now sinking chip shots and experiencing the joy the game offers.

“We’re trying to just tweak the traditions of the game,” Blair said. “The whole thrill of golf is holing the putt. That’s really what the bottom line is.”

The idea has gained some momentum outside of Australia too. In April, PGA TOUR stars Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia took part in a tournament using slightly larger 15-inch-cups (38.1cm).

Garcia recorded a score of 30 playing nine holes with 15-inch cups installed in the greens, while Rose shot a 33.

The tournament was a showpiece for Hack Golf, an initiative conceived by TaylorMade and the USPGA aimed at re-invigorating the golfing experience to make it more fun for everyone.

“It is clear our game needs something to recapture the incredible growth and momentum we were experiencing a decade ago,” said Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade-adidas Golf after the event.

“Whether it is this 15-inch-cup concept or an idea that comes in from outside the industry, we need to spark a revolution that will bring new participants to the game.”

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