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Morri: Exclusion Not The Way Forward For Golf

On Sundays, the 18th fairway at the Old Course is home to cricket and football matches
Golf confronts all sorts of issues in this still young millennium but the biggest might be an image problem.

Among non-golfers the game is all too often seen as stuffy, elitist, expensive and governed by incomprehensibly penal rules designed to punish already hapless players for minor indiscretions.

While none of this is true, of course, golf doesn’t always help itself in the way we present to the outside world.

Somewhere in the game’s history we went from being a pastime that encouraged inclusion to one that promoted exclusion.

In most parts of Australia and the world, golf exists ‘over there’, behind fences and inside private clubhouses that do little to welcome the non-golfers of the world. The unfortunate truth is we are not, for the most part, very good at being part of communities.

Like most facets of the game, this is one area where we could all learn from the Home of Golf.

Many people don’t realise this but the Old Course, the most revered in history, is closed to play on Sunday. It is not, however, closed to everyone.

On the 'sabbath', it is parents pushing babies in prams who walk in the footsteps of the game’s greats while children run freely on the hallowed turf. The only activity not encouraged is golf.

Unlike the bulk of the world’s playing fields, the Old Course - which like many in the UK is geographically central to the town - is shared quite happily with non-golfers.

Both physically and culturally it is part of the local landscape and community, even for those who don’t play the game.

Imagine if this arrangement or a version of it was more ‘normal’ here in Australia. Imagine if golf courses could be a shared space where those who don’t identify as golfers could also be welcome.

In recent months we’ve seen growing calls by politicians at local government level to shrink or even eliminate municipal golf courses in order to use the space for other recreation.

And they are finding golf an easy target thanks to the mostly false stereotypes that surround the game.

But if golf was more a part of the fabric of communities, taking it away would be a much harder policy to sell.

Golf is not a game of gin-drinking, blue-blazered, white-haired, elderly Caucasian men who believe they are Masters of the Universe.

But that’s how it continues to be painted by many outside the game (such as this appallingly lazy effort from The Times last week) and it’s an image we need to change.

If golf is to continue to be a viable business and pastime on a planet of finite and shrinking resources, lots of things need to happen but first and foremost is an image upgrade.

Not to grow the game but to sustain it.

SIGNATURE HOLES: 5TH AT NORTHBRIDGE GC, SYDNEY

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