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Morri: In defence of the game

Arnold Palmer had it right - golf is the greatest game mankind has ever invented. (Photo: Getty Images)
You don’t need to look far on the internet to find dire predictions about golf’s future. In fact, you don’t even need to look outside the industry, such is the hand-wringing over dwindling club membership numbers and an apparent dip in sales of golf equipment.

'Big Hole' golf, Footgolf, nine-hole rounds, 'Speed Golf'… all ‘solutions’ from within the industry to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

This week, on a website called marketwatch.com, an author by the name of Jason Notte became the latest to predict the death of the game.

In a piece which made some valid points about television ratings and the demographic which watches the sport, Notte rolled out a number of well-worn and simplistic observations about golf that are often heard from those who don’t play the game.

The first point, and possibly the most important, to make about the current state of golf is that the importance of the professional game and its following is grossly overstated.

It may be an important indicator of certain sections of the business side of golf but it reveals nothing about the state of the game itself.

If all of the world’s pro tours collapsed tomorrow, it would have no impact on the field size at next Wednesday’s single stableford at Mangrove Mountain or any other golf club around Australia.

That isn’t to say professional golf doesn’t matter. It is clearly the ‘shop window’ to the sport, but it’s place needs to be kept in perspective. Now, back to this week’s doom and gloom story.

Pointing to the rules kerfuffle that Lexi Thompson brought upon herself when she incorrectly marked her ball at the recent ANA Inspiration (see last week’s column for clarification), Notte makes some unfairly disparaging remarks about the game’s rule-makers.

“Though both the United States Golf Association and Britain’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews have agreed to sweeping rules changes that would eliminate such pedantic penalties by 2019, they’re more than happy to let Thompson’s loss stand and continue their draconian approach to the game for another year and a half.”

There was nothing ‘pedantic’ about the rules Thompson breached nor are the governing bodies ‘happy’ to let the result stand (they have no option). And it’s never made clear what exactly is ‘draconian’ about the approach of the governing bodies.

Moving on from the game’s administrators, the story then claims that “There is no burgeoning generation of children longing to play a four-hour game filled with nitpicky, self-policing rules.”

In the phone and tablet age, it seems unlikely any sport has a ‘burgeoning generation of children longing to play’ (though watching on a screen will no doubt be as popular as ever).

And to categorise the rules of golf as ‘nitpicky’ is extreme. Many golfers likely sympathise with this view but, in a game with no straight lines, and where hazards are a unique part of the playing field, there is no option but for the rules to have some complexity.

Notte also points out that, in the US, ‘the number of people aged 18 to 30 playing the sport is down 35 per cent in the past decade’.

These figures would likely hold true for most golf playing nations but is that really a problem?

Golf’s biggest demographic for as long as I can remember has been males aged 45-60. The ‘crisis’ isn’t the number of 18-30-year-olds playing but the obsession of the industry with the importance of this ‘millenial’ demographic.

If you’re aged between 18 and 30 and want to join an upmarket club, there will usually be a discount available on joining fees.

Of course, this is a very limited pool because most 18 to 30-year-olds aren’t really in a position to engage with the game at any meaningful level.

Even dedicated golfers in this age bracket find work and children generally conspire to keep them away from the course.

Now, if you happen to be 45-50 years old, an age where getting into (or even back into) golf is an option, there will be no such welcome mat cast out.

The truth about golf is that the business side of the game has challenges but the game itself is still, as Arnold Palmer once said, ‘without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.’

It can be enjoyed in formal competition or socially with friends. It can be enjoyed alone or in a group.

It engages the mind and the body and instills in people a passion at least the equal of any other human endeavour. The indifferent golfer is a rarity because the majority who try it, come down on either the ‘love’ or ‘hate’ side.

The world without golf would be a worse place. Thankfully, that’s a scenario unlikely to ever play out.

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