Much has been written in recent years about the slow, steady decline of golf as a participant sport. The usual rationale for the lack of new participants in the game is because golf takes too much time in an era of increased competition for leisure hours and, another, is golf remains too difficult to play.
Despite technological advances that have allowed the best players to increase their distance, better equipment hasn’t done much, if anything, for most golfers, the recreational golfer.
People under 35 have spurned the game, saying not only does golf take too long to play, it is too difficult to learn and has too many tiresome rules.
In comparison, skiing, which enjoyed a resurgence amidst golf’s downturn, put together user-friendly improvements in equipment with standardized instruction to greatly accelerate the learning process. Today, a rank novice can take a single day of lessons and be skiing beginner trails from top to bottom. Not so for golf, which has done nothing to shorten its long learning process, at best, and in most cases, lasting the golfer’s entire life.
To date most industry efforts to “fix” golf have centered on faster playing alternatives to the traditional 18-hole course. As far back as 2007, Jack Nicklaus was advocating 12-hole designs as the new normal. Another PGA Tour superstar turned top designer, Greg Norman, has suggested 6-hole courses. There are other thoughts on the problem, as well.
Increasingly a victim of its own image and conservative ways, golf has lost five million players in the last decade, according to the National Golf Foundation, with 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers apt to quit in the next few years. Sweden is no exception, losing about 15% of its golf players since 2005.
Now, the group, HackGolf, backed by the deep pockets of top equipment and clothing manufacturer Taylor Made-adidias Golf, is trying to tackle the difficulty side of the equation by making golf easier.
Its website is devoted to “…making golf more fun…” and plans to “…(take) the best ideas… through real world experiments and then ramp them up as accepted. The goal is to alter the game’s reputation in order to recruit lapsed golfers and a younger demographic.
Many of golf’s leaders are so convinced the sport is in danger of following the baby boomer generation into the grave that an internal rebellion has led to alternative forms of golf with new equipment, new rules and radical changes to courses.
HackGolf recently did just that, debuting the 15-inch golf hole. Immediately following the Masters, TaylorMade sponsored golfers Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose headlined a field that tried the new concept at Georgia’s Reynolds Plantation, a Ritz-Carlton hotel and luxury resort. Offering a dinner plate sized target that should make a three putt all but impossible and dramatically increase the number of birdies, eagles and, of course, holes in one.
They installed 15-inch cups and played 9-holes, Garcia shooting 30 and Rose 33, which frankly are not especially low scores. However, it also stands to reason that since they are so much better they benefit less from the increased size than the average player would.
When HackGolf debuted the system at the Pauma Valley Country Club in San Diego, Hack Golf said that the new cups reduced the length of an 18-hole round from 4:30 to 3:45, while many golfers saw a 10-stroke improvement in scores.
No matter how many advantages the tests show, it is unlikely the USGA and R&A change the hole size anytime soon. Then again, so few recreational players closely follow the rules of golf now, that the official version hardly matters if people are having more fun.
“It is clear our game needs something to recapture the incredible growth and momentum we were experiencing a decade ago,” said Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade-adidas Golf, via a press release. “Whether it is this 15-inch-cup concept or an idea that comes in from outside the industry, we need to spark a revolution that will bring new participants to the game.”
In Sweden, the “solution” to their shrinkage is to get the “kids” interested. Could Hack Golf be a tool? The drawback is that Sweden is so competition oriented, they will need to switch to “normal” golf eventually. Will that be easier for the golfer or difficult? What if they don’t want to switch?
Many of golf’s leaders are so convinced that golf is in danger of following the baby boomers into the grave that has led the uprising to alternative golf with new equipment, new rules and radical changes to golf courses. The goal is to alter the game’s infamy to recruit lapsed golfers and younger demographics.
Huge holes and free mulligans can’t fix that situation.