Be­ware of the im­pa­tient fu­tur­ists

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Behind The Scenes - By Stu­art McLean, Ed­i­tor

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.

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