In my last article, I touched on the “grow the game” initiative and what I think needs to happen for the game of golf to flourish. In doing so, I expressed some ideas on why golf seems to be in a decline of late and one of those was one of the most controversial and talked about topics in the game today: The Rules of Golf.
Yes, the rules. The 34 laws of golf devised by joint collaboration of the USGA and the R&A that tell us how this game of ours is meant to be played. 34 rules, huh? That doesn’t seem too hard to wrap your head around when you’re learning the game. Except that each rule has what seems like 17 articles and 23 subsections that try and cover every possible scenario that could possibly come up on a golf course from accidentally stepping on a fellow competitor’s golf ball to if ET came down, picked up your ball, and flew home with it.
For the nature of being unbiased and fair I want to cover both sides of the rules of golf and let you make your own decisions on what need to be done, because ultimately it is you, the golfer, that gets to play the game the way that you want to play it.
I don’t think anyone is denying that the Rules of Golf are important, they are the scripture that make golf as special and magically as we all know that it is. Golf is for, the most part, a game that is self-patrolled with golfers and their peers calling their own penalties and enforcing the rules on themselves; And that is great!! If the rules were not around then golf would be nothing more than hitting a rock into a gopher hole in the middle of a cow pasture. The Rules of Golf are a foundation of the game, and they have to be respected.
We live in a complex age, but that doesn’t mean that golf has to be complex. Give a 10-year-old a copy of the rules book and tell them in order to play golf you have to know everything written in that size 6 font and they aren’t going to stick with it for very long.
The rules need to be simplified. There is no doubt about that….this year proved that. Superstars like Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson falling victim to the rules of golf because they have not been changed since the game was created is doing nothing but hurting the game. Will that grow the game? No, I don’t think that it will; but we are at a point with this game where we need to have a set of rules for professionals and elite amateurs, and those will be fairly complex, but we also need to develop a set of rules for beginner and intermediate type players. Call them “amateur rules” call them “relaxed rules” call them whatever you want, but those simplified rules need to fit hand and glove with the more complex rules. It’s like having baseball without tee ball…there is no entry point into the game. To expect juniors and beginners to go out and play big-league baseball on a big-league field immediately makes no sense……
Will the USGA and R&A get on board? We will see. But in the meantime, if you’re a weekend warrior that enjoys playing with their kids go ahead and foot wedge that ball out of the trees, go ahead and fluff that lie in the rough, or make a two-putt rule, or start at the 200-yd marker. Do whatever lets you enjoy this special game, because that’s what it is…a game. And we all, myself included, lose sight of that sometimes.
The Rules of Golf hold a special place in the game, and they deserve that, but at the same time you’re allowed to make your own rules. The game needs to adapt with the times in order to survive, but that doesn’t just mean the USGA, the PGA, or the R&A. Courses have to adapt, you have to adapt, and I have to adapt as well.
If you follow the PGA Tour or watch the Golf Channel you’ve probably heard about the “Grow the Game” initiative. The USGA’s “newest and greatest” idea to get more people out on the golf course. But what goes grow the game mean? And who is responsible for it?
The PGA TOUR?
The First Tee Program?
The Golf Courses?
The Course Pro?
The truth is that there really isn’t an answer to that question. It is all our responsibility and none of ours at the same time. There is only one fact that matters: golf is in a decline. Fewer people are taking up the game, and we have find an answer why.
Again, there isn’t a singular answer to the question of why. The fall of the Tiger Era. Yeah, we have Rickie, Jordan, Rory, Dustin and Jason, but NO ONE will be able to be as big of a phenomenon as Tiger.
The rules of golf are too complicated and the game is too hard. Golf didn’t just suddenly become hard; it has driven people crazy for centuries. The difficulty of the game has always been a large part of its allure. The difficulty is offset by the passion that people have for it.
Golf has a negative reputation for being exclusive and elitist. This isn’t necessarily false in a day when new irons will run you over $1,000, but golf has always been expensive. In the 1600s, a golf ball, or a featherie, as it was known then, cost the equivalent of $14. The average salary in Great Britain in the 1600s was $75. Golf has always been expensive.
The truth is, we all should work together and collaborate to grow the game of golf. There is a reason that we are all obsessed with the game. It takes a combination of both mental and physical skill, and it’s a game that conceivably can never be perfected. We must show more kids, more twenty, thirty, and forty somethings, how rewarding golf can be.
At the junior level, the trick is to get kids to fall in love with the game. And parents, that doesn’t mean having your 7-year-old beat range balls for 3 hours in the July sun because they are showing some promise on the course. I see these parents supervising their young child as they putt 3-footer after 3-footer and I have mixed feelings: 1) I see a kid with a ton of talent that could be the next star on the PGA or LPGA Tour, and 2) I see a kid that’s going to burn out at 15 and never pick up a club again. Have them fall in love with the GAME of golf.
To grow the game, we must focus on the game, because that’s what golf is: a game and one that’s meant to be fun and entertaining. Let’s not develop kids that have golf skills, let’s develop kids that are golf-ers. So, parents, get out there on the golf course and play with your kids. Members, don’t get annoyed if you see juniors out on the course. Instead, think, “there’s the future of the club at work.” Maybe mentor them!
To the kids out there… play, play, PLAY. Fall in love with the game. Get out there and play and don’t let anyone discourage you because this is a sport that can give you so much.
The goal shouldn’t be to grow the game at all costs, it should be to connect on a one-to-one level with each golfer, or prospective golfer, and to help them appreciate why it’s worth taking the time to learn how to play.
Someday a star just as alluring as Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, or Tiger Woods will come along and once again, the game will flourish. And this discussion will be as old as the game itself.
General Manager / Head Golf Professional
Madison Golf and Country Club
Welcome all! This is the first of a weekly blog post where I, your humble golf pro, will discuss what is hot, what is not, and what I think needs to be discussed in the world of golf. I hope that you will find this blog series interesting, and my goal is to provide you with information and opinion that will excite you to how special the game of golf really is.
As some of our membership may know, yesterday I competed in local qualifying for the U.S. Open. It is an event that I have participated in for many years now, and while it is only one day, it is one of the coolest and most special events of the year.
First off, let me give you a run-down of how qualifying works. There are two stages of qualifying for the U.S. Open, local and sectional. 90% of the 9,485 golfers across the US, oh and don’t forget the UK and Canada, that signed up will have to start at local qualifying. Local qualifying is an 18-hole event where a certain percentage of the dreamy-eyed golfers playing at that site move on to sectionals. For example, at my site we had 45 golfers where the top 3 players moved on to sectionals. If you’re one of the lucky bastards that advance through locals you then move on to sectional qualifying, where there are 10 sites across the country. Sectionals is still one-day and 36-holes, dubbed the “longest day in golf” because every golfer there is sweating so many bullets they have to triple check their alignment on every 2 foot putt. The format is the same, a certain percentage of the entries and that site move on, only this time your moving on to THE U.S. Open. Which this year is at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
This is why the U.S. Open is great: Anyone with a dream can compete in qualifying and, theoretically, win it. All you’ve got to do is shoot the scores. It’s meritocracy in action. All this is assuming you are a professional golfer or an amateur that boasts a handicap of 1.4 or less, but in today’s world becoming a professional golfer is as easy as clicking the button on the online application for the event (que the dude that shot an impressive 127 at local qualifying just a week ago.)
If you’re lucky enough to make it to sectionals you could find yourself paired with some familiar faces, specifically guys like Luke Donald, Gary Woodland, Camillo Villegas, Aaron Baddeley, Jamie Lovemark, and Bryson DeChambeu. All PGA Tour players who failed to earn exception into the Open through the PGA Tour and now have to qualify just like the rest of us mere mortals. A good friend of mine qualified for sectionals two years ago and was paired with Hudson Swafford, PGA Tour player who recently won at this year’s PGA Tour CareerBuilder’s Challenge.
The U.S. Open is our national championship. And that is what keeps the mystique of the event alive. YOU can make it, YOU can play in it. YOU, the college golfer trying to fulfill the dream of playing for a living, YOU, the weekend warrior with the 9-5 job. And yes, YOU, the 24-year-old local course pro from Madison, South Dakota. All you have to do is shoot the scores.
General Manager / Head Golf Professional
Madison Golf and Country Club