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’
As usual, another well written piece by Eddie, a golfer who I much admire as much for his sense of humour as his golfing ability. Golf needs more people like him. Keep up the good work Eddie, and that includes your always funny banter on twatter 😂😂😂
Eddie, come n play at Conwy w me n mates before Open👍 Mark
Sent from my iPhone
Another good piece Eddie.
I agree that slow play can be a pain when playing but is not a show stopper on tv anymore because they have cameras on so many players now.
I would also offer the suggestion that the downturn in golf and other sports participation is due in part to the extra sport that is available on tv. Football is on most nights and if wifey allows that she is not likely to allow him out to play aswell.
Also, state schools offer much less sport these days so children don’t engage with sport as much as they used to when I was a lad! (I’m 58 now. Played cricket til 50 and now obsessed with golf and down to 12).
Keep up the good work and word Eddie.
Eddie top comment as ever – you should be the first golfer to become PM! 👍👊
As usual, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Topics shouldn’t be unfulfilling for you to write about because they are so devisive. Isn’t that the point surely? If everyone reading your article thinks ‘I agree 100%’, then surely what you have written would be bland and probably not of any interest?
Slow play – could be my nickname sadly. Spending far too much time in the rough or the trees in the vain hope of maybe spotting my ball, rarely finding it, but at least emerging with 3 or 4 other balls abandoned by other weekend hackers! Doesn’t matter though, I still love it!
Nice one Eddie. I look forward to your ramblings, please get back on the Sky Sports podcast and add some more sense and sensibility.
Here’s a question for anyone to answer.Why do tournament organisers lengthen the courses for the top pros ? Why don’t they play from the medal tees that the members use ? The footballers at the world cup don’t play on bigger pitches.
You should look at it the other way round: why don’t amateurs play off the championship tees? Whenever I have played championship courses it has been from the tees of the day I looked at the back tees with wonder. Quite often I would have no chance at all of carrying the rough from the tee. Sometimes I would never get across the chasm or lake.
Take a pro on a par 4 of 500 yards. He hits his drive over the bunker at 230/250 yards and takes a long/mid iron to the green and has a birdie putt. I hit my driver and am short of the bunker, Then I hit a 3 wood or long iron towards the green but short of the protecting bunkers. I pitch at the flag and have a putt for par. Not very exciting. Give me the front tee and I can take a shot at carrying the bunker. If that works I can take a 5 wood at the green. If that works I have a birdie putt. Alternatively I take a 5 or 6. That is a hole that got my adrenaline going.
The article was about slow play. I wonder how long it would take to complete a typical round for the monthly medal off the championship tees of a great course. Especially if they let the rough grow.
Agree with all of this Eddie, a great article.
Slow play needs to be addressed for the enjoyment of its players but participation is a whole different problem.
I think one of the main reasons for the drop in participation however, is golf is too difficult for beginners and takes too long to get to a standard where they can actually get on the course, combined with a far wider range of things competing for the short attention spans of youngsters.
A very perceptive analysis of where the game of golf is right now and how it got there.
Really enjoyed reading your thoughts there. Fully agreed with the instant gratification comment.
By way of my own thoughts on slow play and you can ignore.
We need to be cognisant of the difference between the pro and amateur games. Pro competition set ups are significantly different and difficult. Equally, whilst I will pay attention to my three foot putt in my weekly medal so I do not loose money to my friends. I would take more time if it was to pay my mortgage. Equally, at the end of the year. If I haven’t maintained my status. I may drop a category. But I will still return to my same job on a Monday. I won’t effectively suffer a demotion (no insults intended to players on any of the tours).
Amateurs liken their game to the pros. We use a ball and clubs which are similar. We play courses. But we don’t have the pressure to make a set amount of money to effectively keep our jobs.
I follow your writings because I enjoy the consideration put into them. Feel free to ignore this. As you say. Fire out.
Best regards. Andy.
Slow play is a very annoying thing, Strangely it seems to be everywhere and everyone grumbles about it, but you never meet anyone who thinks themselves slow – but they all know other people who are slow. However despite a lot of moaning, I have never heard any of our members say they are giving up golf because of slow play – or anyone tell me they are not going to take it up because of slow play. However the factors that you identify, Eddie, that do discourage people from playing are not under R & A or USPGA control, These bodies feel they must do SOMETHING and slow play is the dragon they have decided to fight. It worries me that they talk about the problems of golf too much and not about the pleasures and advantages and this has an overall negative effect.
I also wonder if in the UK we are seeing an effect in addition to the ones you mentioned, Eddie. Around the turn of the century the Common Agricultural Policy forced farmers to “set aside” land and not farm it, so many saw golf as an alternative source of income and too many golf courses were built, They popped up all over the place and attracted members who had been on waiting lists for more traditional clubs as they were so easy to join, but as the economy down-turned these courses became loss making, To try to stay afloat, the owners made the members second class citizens compared with corporate events. They were not golf clubs but places to play golf. Disillusioned members left and members became spread too thinly over too many clubs, and clubs began to fail. To everything there is a season and golf’s summer was fading, It is like the stock market which grows and becomes overheated, and then shakes down to its proper level, People lose money and some companies go bust. I suspect this is what golf is experiencing at the moment though in slow-motion compared with the stock-market!
Good morning edd did you BBQ anything over the fire keep putting thouse thoughts of yours on paper very interesting and injoy able to read kevin
All true and very insightful.
In my opinion golf clubs are now boring, soulless places. I was lucky enough to join one of the best clubs in the UK in my early teens back in the early nineties. Learning to play was frustrating because as you say it is a hard game. However the atmosphere kept me there all day. There was a constant buzz in the bar, it was always easy to get a game on the day. There were games of backgammon going on, people betting on matches, others betting on the next horse race or on the next golf tournament. The staff were key, all on first name terms with the regulars, cracking jokes etc. It had me and my pals hooked, we wanted to be good enough to be part of it all, sure enough by 18 years old there was a group of 10 playing off 2 or less.
Now the same club is stale. The courses are still the best inland courses in the UK but the clubhouse is always empty. The staff are from agencies and have no raport with the members. The fun of the place has been taken away by a committee obsessed with being politically correct and frankly boring. They have cancelled all the fun events and made members feel like they are lucky to be there. Now everyone turns up, plays and leaves, the medals are all won by people in their 30’s or 40’s as there are no young people willing to spend their time at the club
If I were in my teens now I would take one look and walk the other way…….
I feel the same way about dress code – people on twitter talk as if allowing jeans will suddenly bring a couple of hundred thousand teenagers into golf – as if there are kids just itching to drop fortnight for golf but can’t bear the idea of wearing anything but denim.
There is no doubt golf needs to evolve in many places – and in some places the dress code and pace of play needs to be more inline with modern society. We should frown on anyone, be it amateur or professional taking 50 seconds to hit their shot, it’s painful to play against and equally painful to watch (Kegan Bradley provides a good example: https://twitter.com/PGAPappas/status/1004485805195350018).
Likewise clubs who are still banning caps in the bar or insisting on white socks under the knee need to adapt if they want to attract a younger player.
But we don’t need to completely rethink the game do we? Golf is a game of thought, it’s a game to be enjoyed at leisure and at fairly gentle pace. Unlike reactionary sports such as football, we have time to use our heads and plan our way around around a course. It’s also a game that can be enjoyed by any gender at any age – that’s one of the most beautiful aspects of our game IMHO.
If we start making it a fast paced game and force everyone around in under 4hrs we are going to lose sight of all that. If you want a fast paced sport there are so many other options available.
The same can be said for dress codes. Sure, golf can be a bit fussy and some older clubs can be a bit unwelcoming but that goes hand in hand with having a set of standards and rules. As a parent that’s one fo the reasons I’d find golf a positive sport for my own children to be involved in when they are older. What’s better than taking kids to a place full of people who are happy to comply with a set of standards and rules? What you can get away with on a football pitch is far more than what you’d get away with at a golf club – and I see nothing wrong with that.
Let’s stop trying to make every sport football (as much as I love football). Even if that means golf is ‘only’ the 5th most poplar sport in the UK*
*If you take away general exercise and keep fit activities such as swimming, running and gym; golf is ranked #3, only beaten by football and cycling.
Good article Eddie hopefully you do qualify for The Open and if you are stuck and you need a place to stay please email me.
Great article Eddie, really gets how modern golf is. Just about to start following you on Twitter 🙌