While we are all waiting for our courses to get slightly less wet, it is comforting to know that elsewhere in the world top people are working hard to make the game of golf easier and less frustrating for us poor souls who find it so difficult.
At the PGA Merchandising Show in Orlando, Florida, last week they staged a special conference to discuss how to grow the game, how to make it more appealing to the masses and thus swell the profits of the golfing industry.
One of the suggestions was to increase the size of the hole from the existing four and a quarter inches to 15 inches thereby speeding up the act of putting and reducing frustration for beginners.
In case you have a violent reaction to this idea you’d better watch your language because it came from Mark King, chief executive of TaylorMade, largest golfing equipment manufacturer in the world, whose lawyers wouldn’t welcome some of the names that may be on your lips.
And he didn’t stop there. His firm are also working on four super-forgiving, and super-illegal, clubs that will make it much less of a chore to hit the ball — which, by the way, would be twice the normal size.
Just to prove that these are not the after-dinner ravings of a well-wined executive, TaylorMade have already signed up a dozen courses to host tournaments to test out the feasibility of using a bigger hole, a bigger ball and clubs which would be regarded as well-dodgy by the powers that be.
Yet, the powers that be are quite aware of the drive to popularise the game and were represented at the State of the Industry Forum held during the PGA show which attracted 40,000 to see the latest in all sorts of golfing equipment — not least a stand selling John Daly Pizzas with the slogan ’Grip it and Eat it’.
The objective behind the Forum was how to reverse the slow decline in the number of golfers. In five years the game has lost 25 per cent of its core players — those who play eight or more rounds a year — and 30 per cent of those in the vital 18-35 age group.
Obviously, the manufacturers are desperate for more golfers to buy their products and services. The industry may be at fault for over-estimating the expected boom following the Tiger Woods-led interest in the game in ’80s, ‘90s and early 2000s but the mass-market support didn’t materialise while an over-supply of new golf courses did.
Other explanations for the non-advancement of the game include the increasing length of time a game takes, two-earner families and the poor state of the economy.
One view is that golf will always be a niche sport, incapable of dramatic growth. The urge to attract new golfers is still present, however, and the latest initiative is ‘Hack Golf’ which is being backed by TaylorMade to the tune of $5 million.
The term ‘Hack’ has nothing to do with the way most of us proceed around the course but to the production of ideas from outsiders, however zany — like, perhaps, the 15 inch hole.
And as Mark King says: ‘ If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, we’ll move on to something else.’
I am sure there are lots of ways to make golf more user-friendly and no doubt that would include scrapping the strict dress codes most clubs hold dear. Up to now, the instinct of governing bodies has been to protect the interests of the millions of core golfers at the expense of the millions more who may want to play if golf was more fun and less intense.
They are right because those tradition-bound golfers contribute 80 to 90 per cent of the money spent on golf. It wouldn’t pay to alienate them for the benefit of those who would never bring the same dedication, discipline and devotion to the game.
It may take us a long time and many strokes to get the ball down that little hole. But the pleasure when it rattles the cup is probably irreplaceable.