As my Twitter feed would suggest, arguing that slow play isn’t what’s killing the game of golf right now is tantamount to arguing for Tommy Robinson to be treated ‘more fairly’ by the justice system. You’ll get shut down on both counts. One for a superior reason, I would agree. I think being considered a ‘slow golfer’ right now is as bad as being a migrant during an economic downturn*. The famous scene from The Big Short where the narrator sarcastically remarks that bankers were jailed after the Great Recession, but then proceeds to remove the wool from our eyes and remind us that poor people and migrants would take the blame for the ensuing pain ahead, kind of makes me think Bryson DeChambeau is playing the hospital nurse.
In all seriousness, we like difference only when that difference suits are ideals. Take Beef, or Renato Paratore, both great guys, very good golfers, and great for golf in a number of ways. Beef because of his image and popularity with the crowds due to his infectiousness and Renato because he hits a shot faster than it takes to warm up a bowl of Dolmio in the microwave**. At another time in our history, or maybe at a time in our future, Bryson DeChambeau would be popular for his incredible innovation and insight into our conventionally one dimensional game (technically speaking). But right now, poor old Bryson just gets lamented because he takes too long to hit a shot. While I agree, he does take longer than many of us would prefer, to look beyond his skill and success is at best unfair. For what it’s worth, I am willing personally to deal with twenty more seconds of airtime to watch this mad scientist win golf tournaments a completely different way.
Onto my central points about slow play not being the reason the game of golf is currently experiencing some participation issues. I should say here, that I don’t deny slow play is an issue for some. Frankly, I hate slow play. I hate waiting too. The main reason I prefer to fly Business Class***. (Provided I am seated in the correct cabin) Since 2007, golf participation rates have gradually declined, year over year in the UK. As they have in tennis also, it’s probably worth mentioning. I was only 16 years old back in 2007. I don’t remember exactly how long a round of golf took back then, I was too busy losing to Oscar Sharpe every week. I also don’t remember the economy ‘booming’ or my mum and dad spending more money than they should have. What I do know about 2007 now however is that things began to take a turn in the global economy, culminating in a significant recession in 2008 and 2009. The reason this is important in the golf discussion is because all charts will show a direct correlation between the general health of the economy, and participation in golf. Contrary to what some may believe, not even Tiger Woods’ victories had any impact on golf participation rates (in the US). This makes abundant sense to me, due to the costs of golf and the time constraints inherently built into the game. If people are generally poorer, they will spend less money on their recreational hobbies. If people are poorer, but their costs of living remain the same as before, they will work more to bridge that gap in earnings. So people either become poorer with the same amount of time available to them, or ‘time poor’ as they attempt to make up for a loss in earnings. Nothing new here.
Apportioning blame is something we have historically been pretty bad at too, due to a number of factors no doubt. Possibly the main one being the effects that the media, and general sentiment, have on us. As opposed to thinking rationally about things and identifying the many, real causes of something, we just take whatever the popular message is and go with that, hence my reference at the beginning to migrants. I think the golf industry right now, especially in the UK, is apportioning too much blame on slow play as to the reason why golf is struggling. Firstly, and above all, we should recognise how the golf industry took off (somewhat unrealistically) along with the wealth of the Baby Boomer generation, the stock markets, and real estate markets globally. It could be said that the current downtrend we’re seeing in golf is merely a return to the norm. In fact, I would probably argue that, as it’s not just golf as an industry which is experiencing problems right now. I feel like we need a more sophisticated debate around golf, as opposed to the current one we have, whereby someone is either too slow, or hits the ball too far.
If we look at golf on a global scale, there are other, more serious reasons as to why we should be concerned for it’s short to medium term future. We have fewer and fewer juniors playing the game. Again, there are plenty of reasons as to why this is the case, Fortnite being one of them. But this is obviously of worry as they represent the future. There is no doubt in my mind, that one of the main causes of this would be due to the nature of golf not being a rewarding game in the short term. Golf doesn’t provide the instant gratification young people receive these days doing other things. I even feel this myself having been young (relatively speaking) not that long ago. I could turn on Football Manager on Monday, sign up to coach Mansfield, and by Friday be winning the Champions League.**** The unrealistic nature of reality, compared to what kids experience growing up these days, will cripple their mental health for years to come. The other concern should be that the average retirement age in the US is 64, and the average age of the Baby Boomer generation now is also 64. You may think that this will be a good thing for golf. But when you consider the discrepancies in wealth distribution among that cohort of people, as well as the fact that many of their savings are heavily invested in the biggest Bull Market in history, I suspect things won’t be so rosy for this generation too long into the future.
There are of course potential reasons to be optimistic about the future, I just haven’t come across them yet.*****
I lit a fire two hours ago and said to myself I would stop writing when it goes out. It’s right at the end of it’s life cycle is this fire, and so is this entirely pointless piece of writing. That’s the problem with topics, I find them so unfulfilling to write about because they’re divisive and you can never get everyone to agree with you. The main reason I can never be a true writer.
Golf isn’t football and football isn’t rugby. Each sport is different, and for the life of me, I cannot understand why we would want to make it something it isn’t. Difference remember is what we find appealing, and while golf may not currently be the right kind of different, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love it.****** Just like Dear Old Bryson.
**unsure of this
***not a joke
****was actually Tottenham
*****sips more wine
******prepares for ‘head in the sand comments on Twatter’