Golf is dead, long live golf
Sometimes with all the noise its hard to see what’s really going on in the world of golf. Seeing all the hype around TaylorMade’s new driver release and the hysteria around how far DJ is hitting the ball you have to wonder if the version of golf the business of golf cultivates is sustainable and what the long term might look like. What seems certain to me is that TV ratings and equipment sales are really what the world of golf is built around. Participation seems to be secondary and at every opportunity viewers are reminded that they can’t do it, have flaws and need to buy into the world of golf teaching in order to be a golfer.
Granted I’m sure if I was new to the game I would be blown away by shot tracer and seeing the launch and distance numbers but its got very little to do with the game. I feel the same about things like Top Golf or Foot Golf, the world of golf seems to think these are the shining lights but they aren’t golf. I’m sure they’re great fun and successful businesses but we have to wait 600 years to see if they measure up to golf, and they won’t.
In my opinion sadly the battle is lost. The governing bodies have lost the battle against the corporations. This is a quote from an article in the Guardian before the release of the Michael Moore documentary The Corporation:
“Bakan is a Canadian law professor whose brief is as well-ordered, concise and sober as the accusation is grave: behind its benevolent face, he argues, the most important institution of modern capitalism is a Frankenstein’s monster that has broken its chains and is now consuming the society that created it.”
The big players in the golf industry have only one interest and that’s short-term profits. Any company who uses the term “grow the game” is part of the problem. The moment the professional’s started to run the majority of their own tournaments (TV) the battle lines were set and its been a slow burn. A sign of things to come was the anchoring ban a few years back. The PGA Tour were under very close pressure from its members to create its own rule allowing players to continue anchoring. This would have been the beginning of a professional game separated from the amateur game completely (golf WWF!).
The R & A and USGA will introduce a tournament ball pretty soon because if they don’t Augusta will. So the decision to do so is really to avoid the accusation of total and utter negligence. Lower compression and higher spinning balls will help but in the end it won’t even reduce distance by 10%. The higher spin will create a slight premium on ball striking skill (good) but the players will get around it by slight changes in driver spec (lower spin). The issue is that modern drivers require far less precision so players can hit them as hard as they like, it’s so bad that two generations of golfer have grown up hitting the ball as hard as they can, it’s all they know. There is no chance that at this late stage the governing bodies can do anything meaningful at all.
The real problem is the battle between the game and the business. TV coverage is making the distance madness part of the entertainment and as a result making the stakes higher. Even though the USGA and R & A have massive cash reserves they do not have the resolve to take on the business of golf. Plus they fear the players’ power. Add to that the mob rule of social media and it’s fair to say the horse has bolted.
So what will rise out of the ashes? The game of golf, that’s what, because none of this has anything to do with the game. People who understand and love the game will carry on playing, and when the locusts have left the field, golfers will still be playing the game the way its always been played. Long live golf.