Even if it was for just a moment, Jordan Spieth looked like the rest of us last Sunday when he took that drop at Amen Corner and hit his next one fat as a hound-dog tick right into Rae’s Creek. Here we are, Jordan, pathetic figures, locked up by the sight of what seems as imposing as Niagara Falls smack-dab between our half-wedge shot and the green.
For the past week it’s been a reminder that some things in golf just never will go away. The meltdown. The collapse. The yip. The chili-dip. The choke. And, the apocalypse.
The apocalypse? Of Golf? Kidding?
Yes. It’s a twisted thought for someone who calls himself a purist, a lover of the game.
Perhaps it’s “the haters” who push us to accept such a harsh term – apocalypse -- for golf’s decline in participation. It’s a line of thinking that parrots “social media trending.”
But, like Doug Sanders’ yip at St. Andrews in 1970, Greg Norman’s final-round meltdown all over Augusta in ’96, Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in ’99, and now Spieth’s Splash (Splashes?), our march to golf’s apocalypse continues also with hard examples.
A Boston Globe article written by Michael Whitmer appeared in 2011 and stated there were 1 million fewer golfers at the previous decade’s end than at the start. There was a January 2012 issue of Golfweek that cited a decrease of annual rounds played to 475 million from 518 million in that past decade (an 8-percent drop). At that time it marked a fifth consecutive year of declines. Just a couple of years ago the National Golf Foundation announced that by 2013 there had been eight consecutive years of golf-course closures outnumbering courses that had opened. Even this year, as the PGA announced these numbers had bottomed out and there were signs of growth from young golfers taking up the game, there still was a reported 600,000 decline in golfers from last year.
I’ve listened and read as some of golf’s most willing thinkers have brought golf to its Book of Revelations for the past decade. It’s been articulated at least as early as 2006 when Jackie Burke Jr. wrote in his book It’s Only A Game: Words of Wisdom from a Lifetime in Golf that the game is subject to “ … a vicious cycle. The (new) equipment makes the golf courses play too short, so golf course builders produce back-breaking golf courses that cost a fortune to create and maintain.”
Certainly, it’s an important issue, but it’s been harped upon through blogs and podcast episodes so endlessly that the point has been driven toward prattle. One of the chronic recidivists is the author and blogger Geoff Shackelford. Finally, he’s peeked beyond the equipment issue with a paragraph that I think fairly summarizes golf’s challenge as a participatory sport:
“A lot of these issues with the game are just simply the demise, at least in the United States, of our middle class. … We have an income inequity, divide, that’s expanded, and we have a class of people who used to be able to afford to play golf or have jobs that allowed them to go play in an afternoon Tuesday league and now they don’t really make enough money to do so, or they don’t have the freedom at their job to do those kinds of things. And that’s really the biggest problem more than anything for the game” (State of the Game, TalkinGolf Productions, Episode 16, January 31, 2013).
While I’m no demographer, and I’m not willing to research the figures that would support Shackelford’s claim, I’m close to yelling “Bingo” on that one. The cost it requires to play the game, the concept of the cost really, is a huge detractor to participation. If it’s not the biggest, it goes hand in hand with the game’s pace of play and difficulty.
And, I’d suggest, there’s even more. It’s out there, that light just below the horizon and down the narrowing road on that old promotional poster from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But, like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the movie, it takes a manic to chase it, and find it.
So, I’ll not touch that one, for now. Since there’s plenty written and discussed about those other issues, I am willing to tackle the concept that it costs too much to play golf, and go on down that road and find whatever else is blinking out there.
It’s important to distinguish that the high cost required to play is a concept, a traditional line of thinking, that you have to play one of the resort properties when you could play a cheaper daily-fee course and have just as much, or more, fun; that you have to pay for a cart rather than walk; that you have to buy Titleists or a box of a dozen other brand of shiny balls when some of the dingy ones you found embedded in the side of a water hazard would do for your skill level; that the $300 driver they just can’t seem to sell much at the major retailers is better off in your bag than the one for $50 that those places have on their “previously owned” rack.
So, Golf Like You’re Poor is not detailing, nor predicting, an apocalypse of the sport. It’s not looking through us-versus-them glasses, not the view of a muni player grousing around that he’s not able to play at the upscale resorts. People can go about golf how they please.
This will be a journal that pursues the deep love of the game with the need to stay in a budget and keep perspective with family life. It’s a search, a Huck Finn-rafting-down-the-Mississippi journey, that can produce a lot of meaning from golf, even if not a lot is spent on it.
Tim Price is @golflikeurpoor on Twitter.