Has golf ever gone through a change like the one it’s going through right now? The game is booming, we’re overwhelmed with new participants and spectators. Private clubs and public courses can’t keep up with the demand.
It’s a new day for golf — and it’s no longer our father’s game.
Our staid sport has become a mix of college-football tailgate parties, NASCAR and a whole lot of Vegas. Over-the-top cheering, hoodies, blaring music, upstart leagues, and money, money, money for players, gamblers and social-media influencers.
I’d go so far as to say golf has finally entered the 21st century. For good and bad.
Amazingly, the craziness at the “coliseum” that is the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during the WM Phoenix Open managed to take it up a notch or three this year. Golf has gone from polyester blazers to Tour players whipping off their shirts. From a drink on the porch after a round to beer cans raining down from tee to green. From two-dollar Nassaus to official gambling sites.
It’s not really new. It’s just more widespread. And a little bit louder.
But it’s all in fun, right? Today, unbridled joy, celebration and good times are par for the course. In a world of instant gratification, staid old golf has become a laugh-a-minute riot.
Golf has finally become a reflection of our society and the social nature of our everyday existence. Since we share practically every moment of our day on social media, why not share our golf moments, too? The good shots and the bad, the incredible saves and the just-as-incredible mishaps. Impossible putts falling into the hole and idiotic putzes falling backward into a water hazard.
I’m not here to tell all these new golfers and new viewers to get off my perfectly manicured Tifway lawn. I applaud golf’s powers that be for recognizing that the world has changed and the game, at all levels, must change to stay relevant. Yes, sometimes it goes to extremes, and I guarantee there are going to be hiccups and more than a few embarrassments.
But what I really want to do is make sure that we superintendents also realize what’s happening. As always, there’s going to be a trickledown effect that will deposit legions of louder, drunker and more obnoxious patrons on our tees, fairways and greens. And who’s going to be expected to clean up the mess? Look in the mirror.
As old traditions and views of golf are reset, superintendents need to do the same.
During this current golf boom, we must open our arms and embrace all comers. It doesn’t matter if they know the game’s traditions, etiquette or rules as long as their charge card is approved. If we don’t find a way to let them enjoy themselves, they’ll go somewhere else.
So we must adjust our sights, and maybe even lower our expectations. Expect a few more ball marks, unraked bunkers, carts in places they don’t belong and trash there, too. We should still do everything we can to educate golfers new and old about how to be kind to the course and, in turn, be kind to their fellow golfers. But if you thought your pleas were falling on deaf ears before …
A few suggestions for surviving golf’s immediate future:
- Don’t lower your standards. Maintain your course — and your club — the best you know how.
- Do everything you can to not tick people off, especially those not familiar with how things work. For example, if there’s an outing scheduled, don’t topdress or aerate immediately before. That also means working more closely than ever with the pro, the GM and whoever else is involved in selling events.
- Know your audience and set up the course accordingly. Easy setups allow for a rapid pace of play — and a quick exit from the course.
- Keep the “extras” fair and square. Whether it’s a hole-in-one contest or spacing the tee boxes, always try to be fair.
- Don’t be surprised by anything. Golf carts are going to be in the wrong places, as will beer cans and cigar butts and golfers relieving themselves in the great outdoors. Nothing is going to be atypical anymore.
- Cover your behind. Don’t be afraid to take responsibility, but don’t set yourself up to be the fall person should something go wrong.
We all want golfers to have fun and return, again and again. You may have to strike a personal balance between what you know is right and what you know will be successful. Take heart: You’re not the only one wondering where golf is going.