Beware of the impatient futurists
Golf has been around for hundreds of years, evolving into one of the planet’s most popular leisure pursuits, yet there’s something of a dangerous whirlwind brewing in the game today. A surprising number of the people who control golf seem to believe that age-old traditions must be swept aside in order to make the game relevant in today’s social-media age of immediate gratification and low consumer attention.
These people are concerned that golf is losing popularity, despite there being no worldwide evidence of this, and that youngsters will not embrace golf because it is too slow and the rules overly complex. Others are trying to push through shortened formats. It’s all very well to have innovations like the Super 6 played in Australia recently, but there are those futurists who imagine a time where golf will become like squash, for instance, where you pop in to the nearest course for a few holes, paying per hole or by the minute, and dash back out again.
What the rush is about, I have no idea, but we have in our midst many who think nothing in the world today can stand still and evolve at its own pace.
All this talk of change is now affecting the two respected organisations who oversee golf around the globe,The R&A and US Golf Association, who should know better than to be influenced by the futurists.They are attempting to radically revise the Rules of Golf, streamlining them so that they are no longer “unwieldy, undesirable and unintelligible,” in the words of one observer. Starting in 2019, the Rules of Golf may look very different than it does now.
Some of the rules are indeed complex, but that’s part of their fascination. Because they are so esoteric you need to pass a difficult exam to qualify as an expert. Solving a tricky rules decision is like working on a crossword puzzle, and they make for many happy hours of conversation at the 19th hole. One thing I’ve never found them to be is unintelligible.They are nearly all very logical.
Now the two golfing bodies are talking about adopting “ready golf ”, leaving the flagstick unattended in the hole when we putt, giving us less time to look for a lost ball, and heaven forbid, allowing golfers to drop the ball from whatever height they choose. I like some of the proposed changes – allowing golfers to repair spike marks on the green, being able to move loose impediments in hazards, and not incurring a penalty if your ball strikes you or your equipment – but several of the others are suspect in my opinion.
We must be careful where we go with all of this. Golf ’s popularity among those who love it passionately, rather than those who play occasionally and badly, and find it frustrating, is that it does take up an inordinate amount of time for what certainly could not be described as an endurance sport.Average runners complete marathons in less time than we take to finish 18 holes.The pleasure of golf, to me, is its relaxing rhythms, the gently flowing nature of getting through nine holes, having a short break, and then doing it all again for another nine holes.We don’t need to be rushed by having to play “ready golf ” – which may bring out the worst in impatient golfers – or having just three minutes to look for a lost ball. Club golfers will never adhere to that rule anyway.They generally look for their ball until they find it. More golf balls will be lost, and more golfers left unhappy.
Much has been made of the fact that golf’s participants are becoming older,as if that’s a bad thing. People are living longer, and golf is a wonderful pursuit for senior citizens. No game defies the aging process more than golf.The legendary Simon Hobday, who passed away recently (see Page 18), loved his three full rounds of golf every week in his retirement years. Like many of us, he would rather play a leisurely 18 holes every few days, than nip out for a snappy six every day.That’s not golf.