Stare at a part of your course. Exhale. Shout the following: “Golf is fun!”
Let’s hope some of the cranky people in this business are getting this message.
A segment of the industry seems to think fun needs injected into golf. Or, even worse, these greenmudgeons sell projects and around the concept golf is a torturous activity.
A prominent architect recently told a consumer publication, “The future of golf is fun.” Oh, really? The past wasn’t fun? The present isn’t enjoyable? The architect, by the way, is one of the busiest and, presumably wealthiest, people in his field.
Everybody working in this industry, from big-name architects to retirees mowing greens, can thank the three-letter word. Golf reached America in the late 1880s, experienced a Golden Age, endured a wicked depression, boosted national morale during World War II, emerged as a television sensation, helped sell millions of homes and endured another wicked depression. The game has swelled to provide a $70 billion economic impact because 24 million Americans play it. The country supports more golf courses than McDonald’s restaurants. And discretionary spending funds the whole damn thing.
A quick economics refresher: discretionary spending accounts for non-essential purchases. Vacations. Luxury cars. Sports and movie tickets. Mochas. Milkshakes. Notice a theme here? Golf exists because of money devoted to fun.
The pursuit of fun also produces millions of jobs. The golf industry employees nearly two million Americans. Approached with the proper perspective, the jobs can be fulfilling and, well, fun. Consider some of the jobs in the maintenance segment of the industry. Instead of occupying a confined cubicle or spot on a line, workers roam 100-plus acres of mostly green swaths. Gratification is instant. When the weather cooperates, employees leave a golf course in better condition than they found it. The clientele, in most cases, acts pleasant because the courses represents a diversion.
The greenmudgeons insist a golf course is no longer a diversion. They suggest it’s a place of misery. The water doesn’t gleam. It gobbles overpriced golf balls. The greens are too fast; the fairways are too narrow. The forward tees aren’t short enough for novices; the back tees aren’t long enough for the best players. Bunkers are too numerous and deep, and hitting from one is akin to slamming an axe into a tree stump. Rounds last five hours, somebody once accidentally hit a ball toward somebody else and a four-putt wrecked a quality approach shot.
Here’s what greenmudgeons rarely mention: golf courses are arguably the most scenic and soothing recreational landscapes. They are also highly social places. Not every round lasts five hours, misdirected shots cultivate friendships and joyous howls reverberate when a novice drains a 45-footer from the fringe.
Greenmudgeons are the fearmongers of the business. Creating images of a painful present help sell their vision of the future. Greenmudgeons are also a bit hypocritical. The courses they bemoan possess similarities to the ones they strive to play on a regular basis. Are venues such as Oakmont, Winged Foot and Pebble Beach no longer fun? Four-putting an Oakmont green or spending six hours meandering Pebble Beach are exhilarating experiences, yet they aren’t the only forms of fun in golf. Playing the neighborhood course beats waiting in line at the grocery store, fighting traffic or sorting emails in an office.
Golf never stopped being fun. The future resembles its past and present. Millions of fun-seekers will continue visiting courses of all varieties – even ones with tight fairways, ultra-slick greens and forced carries. A challenge, after all, can be fun. An ego-boost can also be fun, so fewer green-hugging bunkers and wider fairways fit into the future, too.
Skirting complacency, rather than fearmongering, will protect golf’s future. Smart courses will become better facilities, using technology and the industry’s vast brainpower to their advantage. Their managers understand the intense tussle for discretionary dollars, but they aren’t panicking because their product has outlasted hundreds of other recreational activities. See anybody rollerblading lately? Orangetheory, CrossFit and Pure Barre are trendy activities. They are also less inclusive and more expensive than playing once a week at the local municipal course. And, yes, golf courses will easily outnumber TopGolf facilities in 2050.
Imperfections exist everywhere, so expect well-intentioned tweaks to elevate golf courses. But declaring today’s facilities as fun-stealing bullies doesn’t benefit anybody except those wooed by muddled personal marketing.
Don’t be fooled by the greenmudgeons. Believe the scenes on your course. People who don’t have to be there are enjoying themselves. Fun stuff.
Guy Cipriano is GCI’s senior editor.