Us Them and The Future of Golf

By Adam BarrAugust 20, 2005, 4:00 pm
We were shooting at a golf bag company the other day. I watched one of the pattern experts laying out the pieces of a new bag design. She referred to plans and drawings, paused frequently to ponder the intricacies of the design, tried changes, made decisions. Clearly, this woman knew a lot about golf bags and enjoyed making them as functional as possible.
 
When she came up for air, I asked her if she plays golf.
 
Oh, wellyou knowpar 3 and all that, she said sheepishly. Once Im on the green, I like it a lot better.
 
Well, thats still golf, I answered reflexively.
 
I suppose so, she said. And she returned to considering how to expand the ball pocket.
 
On the plane ride home, I thought about the conversation and wondered: Is the bag ladys golf any less worthy of the name than the play em down, count em up kind of serious competition I enjoy? Does the tank-top-and-cutoffs, all-the-mulligans-you-can-eat crowd play the same game as the traditionally dressed, but-O.K.-to-roll-em-in-the-fairway clique (or any other group you can dream up)?
 
And why does it matter?
 
The simple answers: Yes. And it matters because if we want golf to live up to its potential in the U.S. and beyond, we need to be as inclusive as possible.
 
Now, before you start stringing your bows and firing arrows, hear me out. Im not suggesting that anyone re-engineer his or her idea of what golf is and should be. But I am suggesting more tolerance for people whose notion of the game diverges from your own. In the long run, that will make for more golfers, better solutions to the games challenges, and a happier golf populace.
 
Its not just the purists who get militant about this sort of thing. Weve all heard of certain members of upper-crust clubs who are fond of pontificating about certain golf practices they consider beneath the games dignity. The attitude seems to go both, or all, ways. The kind of player who is more comfortable putting his ball in line with the others in the steel-wire rack at the city course can sometimes be heard decrying the allegedly stuck-up customs of the private-club (and often wealthy) golfer.
 
But as long as those who hold differing golf views arent interfering with your game, why get your bag towel in a knot?
 
Rounds in the U.S. have declined in three of the last four years (the only increase, in 2004, was just 0.7 percent), and the trend continues ' through June, the last month to be measured, rounds are down 1.1 percent nationwide compared to 2004, says the National Golf Foundation.
 
Considering that, and the competition golf faces for a slice of Americans limited leisure time, it would be best to treat anyone who plays the game ' or plays at it ' as a golfer. This might not provide the best business metrics (how much can you learn from the buying behavior of a guy who plays once a year?), but it might provide the welcoming environment that impels someone to play more often, and at a higher, more economically active level.
 
None of this is to say that serious players should have to deal with groups of occasional (read: slower) players in front of them. Nor should beginners, hit-and-giggles, three-holes-is-plenty players, or any other variation have to endure blank stares from players who like their golf serious and fast.
 
The solution? There must be facilities for all kinds of golfers. It may take some business courage, and it will definitely take some creativity. Golf has to find a way to make three-hole, six-hole, and beginner courses profitable. Alternative ways to enjoy the game, ways that defuse the classic objections to full-scale golfs need for large amounts of time, money, and ability, will be the hope of the industry.
 
To be fair, many good minds in the business are working on this problem. But as years go by with little new golfer retention, the job becomes more and more critical. Adult attraction programs and opportunities for youth from various economic strata are helping at the grass roots, to be sure. But more bold thinking is necessary, especially if golf is to grow ' or even hold level ' over the next decade.
 
Heres an example of the kind of idea that might help: A municipal course or daily fee could consider splitting its 18 into three courses between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Golfers with kids in tow or on their way home from work could choose the option that fits their available time: three, six or nine holes. And perhaps a post-round dinner special would pump up the food-and-beverage business.
 
And who knows? Perhaps that kind of golfer ' could one day develop into your kind.
 
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
Getty Images

Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

Getty Images

Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

Getty Images

McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

Getty Images

Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.