It Doesn’t Have to Suck: How to Make Golf Great

BreakingModern — Golf isn’t what it used to be. A great time in the outdoors with friends. A weekend priority. A growing sport.

For many reasons, golf has been in decline for years. The economy was primarily to blame but a wealth of other options played a role. Who needs to play the local public course when you can take on Pebble Beach on your Xbox? Or if a major or World Golf Championships event is on TV?

Everyone shares responsibility for helping the game thrive, from course designers to course ownership to the players themselves. We offer these simple suggestions to get golf back on its feet.

Stop making courses that only pros can play

Not every course needs to be Bethpage Black during the U.S. Open. Long holes, tight fairways, brutal roughs and fast, tricky greens draw complaints from the pros. Just imagine how the weekend golfer feels. There’s no shame in designing a course that the average player can take on. Most recreational golfers have a tough time breaking 100. Don’t make that the course’s fault.

Add junior tees to your design

I’ve played some tracks that have as many as five tee boxes and not a single one for young kids. There’s no sense in discouraging youngsters from wanting to take up the sport because they naturally don’t have much distance off the tee. While it’s a necessity to get children started on the driving range, they need to play for real at some point.

Stop with the crazy pin placements

Putting pins on the sides of hills, right next to bunkers or a couple steps off the fringe is bad for business. This isn’t to say that every green should be huge and flat with the hole set directly in the center. There needs to be some challenge. But these brutal pin placements frustrate weekend golfers and, worse yet, slow the game as players struggle to get out of greenside traps and wind up three-putting.

Here’s one possible solution.

Have good restaurants that stay open late and serve as sports bars

Take a hint from the Topgolf concept: You can mix golf and good times even off the course. Most places have yet to capitalize on a captive audience. Many restaurants at clubhouses are simple and dull, a perfect recipe to keep players away. Treat the place like a hangout, maybe even stay open a couple of hours past the course’s closing time. Put in big-screen TVs to watch the local team play, offer beer specials, bring in interactive games and offer good food. You’ll be amazed at the response.

Make the game as affordable as possible

Nothing chases away the average golfer quicker than a $100 green fee. While course owners deserve to make a profit, it’s better to have more players on the course paying a slightly lower fee that fewer paying a bit more. It builds interest in the game, thus keeping more people associated with the sport employed and engaged. Start twilight rates earlier in the day, too. No one wants to start a round at 2 p.m. just to save a few bucks.

Form junior programs and leagues

Once your course is actually playable for juniors, give them a good head start on the game with quality instruction from a pro who can work with kids. Give them plenty of encouragement to keep them from ditching the game. As cliché as it sounds, they are the future of the game and will be responsible for its growth or demise.

Make golf less intimidating for women

The National Golf Foundation reports that women represent the biggest growth in the game right now. They should feel welcomed on the course, not intimidated by a good ol’ boy network. A friend and I were paired with two women recently and it was one of the more enjoyable rounds we have played. They were there to have a good time and didn’t get upset over bad shots. Guys should take a cue from that.

Let the grass grow a little in the fairways … and cut down on punitive rough

Most average golfers like having the ball sitting up a bit when they hit it. I actually prefer hitting fairway shots off the first cut of rough. Tight lies in the fairway make us mid- to high-handicappers hit the ball far more often than we want. Don’t get me started on brutal roughs. Okay, you did. Missing a skinny fairway by a few feet shouldn’t result in a lost ball or unplayable lie. This goes back to the concept of constructing courses that an amateur can play without wanting to run from the course screaming.

Don’t be afraid to take lessons

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need a little help. Lessons are the building blocks for a better game. There are plenty of good instructors who won’t charge a David Leadbetter price. A friend and I go to a local driving range and learn from a good teacher for $50 an hour, split between the two of us. I’ve lowered my handicap by seven strokes the past two years and I feel much more comfortable on the course.

Get a real set of clubs

That hodgepodge set of sticks that you collected at three garage sales? That needs to be the first thing to ditch on your way to improvement. This isn’t to say that you need to invest more than $1,000 on a professional set of irons. There are plenty of excellent clubs that will cost you half that price. Major manufacturers also offer game-improvement irons for players who need them.

Stop watching the pros

Televised golf has been both good and bad for the weekend player. More people, especially minorities, wanted to get in the game by watching Tiger Woods dominate. That’s great. On the other hand, amateurs spend too much time trying to emulate their favorites while on the course. Here’s the best tip you’ll see all day: You aren’t as good as the pros. Thinking you’ll have Rory McIlroy’s swing and game will add up to nothing but disappointment. Do the best you can on the course, take lessons and have fun.

Play from the right tees

The PGA of America’s Tee It Forward program says it all: Play from the tees most appropriate to your game and you’ll shoot lower scores and have a better time. It doesn’t matter if your buddies want to play from the tips. They probably don’t belong way back there anyway. Don’t play the course that includes 400-yard par-4s if you only hit it 200 or 210 off the tees. That’s just self-defeating.

Play relaxed rules

Golf Channel started the momentum for this concept last year. The network proposed maximum scores per hole, nothing worse than one-stroke penalties and conceding putts, among several other novel ideas. Again, few of us play like the pros. So why should we use the same rules? The average player will be responsible for making the game grow and prosper. He or she could use a few breaks now and then.

For BMod, I’m Rodney Campbell.

Above shot of the 2014 Accenture Match Play Championship in Marana, Ariz: Rodney Campbell, all rights reserved.

Rodney Campbell

Author: Rodney Campbell

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