The Changing Game of Golf

     The recent PGA Announcement that the Legends of Golf tournament on the senior Champions Tour was moving under new sponsorship from Savannah, Georgia to a new venue at Ridgedale, Missouri where a nine-hole par 3 course would be used in official competition made me realize that the venerable game of golf was profoundly changing. In making this historic announcement, PGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Finchem stated:

We believe the inclusion of this dramatic short course will demonstrate to a time-crunched world that par-3 golf is fun, entertaining and a worthy alternative for golfers.

     As an avid golf fan and competitive amateur golfer, I began to re-examine the game and my future role in amateur golf. What has changed since 1954, the year I began playing golf at age 11 and the year Arnold Palmer joined the PGA tour?

      The first thing I thought about was distance – the length of a golf shot. I did some research which confirmed what I had observed over the years, namely, that circa 1980 the golf ball began to travel significantly farther than it ever had before. Take the Driver, for example. Back in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, when reliable driving statistics were not available,   230 yards was considered to be a very good drive by amateurs and professionals alike. While driving distances were increasing in the 80s, reliable statistics demonstrate that from 1980 to 1990 no tour player hit a driver more than 280 yards on average; but by 2000,  fifteen percent (15%) of  tour players hit drivers more than 280 yards on average; and by 2011,  ninety percent (90%) of tour players averaged more than 280 yards with a driver, with 21 tour players driving the golf ball more than 300 yards on average, and no tour players averaging less than 260 yards with a driver.  See PGA Driving Statistics over the Decades. PGA Driving distance statistics remain much the same in 2014 through the Heritage last week. See PGA Statistics Off the Tee. The reasons for this phenomenal increase in distance are not so important as the fact that the distance a golf ball is hit by a touring professional today is simply not relatable to the average amateur golfer, whatever handicap (man, woman or junior) and regardless of equipment used. I was reminded of this fact up close and personal last week when I walked the fairways of Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina as a Shotlink Walking Scorer at the Heritage.

      The next thing I thought about was pace of play. In the early 1960s,  a foursome of  teammates on my college golf team would play 36 holes in 6-7 hours  walking the course  and carrying their golf bags. Sure we were young and strong college kids back then,  but that does not explain why, with golf carts whisking amateur golfers from shot to shot today, rarely does a foursome complete even a casual round of golf  in less than 4 hours. A 4+ to  5+ hour round is normal today for most amateur tournaments using golf carts, especially senior tournaments; and  today a twosome or threesome of young, strong, walking touring professionals with professional caddies rarely complete a round in a tour-sanctioned event in less than  about 4 1/2 hours. The reasons for slow play are not so important as the fact that slow play has generally proven impossible to eliminate in the game today.

      Finally, I thought about affordability of the game. Even with the decline of private golf clubs and the growth of quality and more affordable public and semi-private golf courses, a round of golf with the latest equipment is still a relatively expensive proposition for most people, especially for junior golfers on whose shoulders rest the future of the game.

      These factors – distance, pace of play and affordability – negatively affect the popularity of the amateur game today and the PGA and USGA have taken notice because they know that the future of the game is at stake. To understand what is changing in the game of golf and why, click on the following links to learn about the Tee It Forward and While We’re Young  initiatives of the PGA and USGA, as well as serious proposals for a 12-hole golf course,  a 15-inch Cup and Limited Distance Golf Balls.

      So what does all of the foregoing have to do with law or politics? My answer is EVERYTHING because the game of golf has been an integral part of the fabric of American life for so many years. Commonsense tells me that the game will change along with almost everything else in American life. The only question is whether the changes will be healthy for the American way of life ….but that is a subject for another day. Leave a comment and subscribe. Good Day!

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