by Peter Race

A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, said golf was popular “simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad”.

In spite of this the number of people, young and old, taking up the sport are seriously in decline. The average age of club members is rising steeply and some clubs are closing due to lack of financial support.

Between 2004 and 2013, the Scottish Golf Union reported a fall of 14 per cent in golf club membership, while Sport England revealed figures closer to 20 per cent. This contributed to almost £500,000 being withdrawn from the annual grant given to the England Golf Partnership between England Golf and the Professional Golfers Association. The Partnership was asked to go away and address the situation of falling numbers, tackling such elements as time involved, cost and accessibility.

The “ancient game of golf acknowledged in 1457”, has been controlled by rules established over centuries, becoming ever increasingly more complex. The dinosaurian attitude over recent years by the sport’s governing body has done nothing to assist in bringing about change that would help encourage people to take up golf. The lack of coverage of golf by terrestrial TV tends to underline the decline in interest in the sport.

However, the R&A are now, somewhat belatedly, considering changes to the rules designed to make the game more attractive, speed up play and encourage wider participation. Nine-hole competitions are already established and accepted, the six-hole competition, recently demonstrated on TV by professionals, is also under investigation.

The need for change is now being accepted. The “traditional” 18-hole round no longer accommodates the requirements of today’s faster-moving lifestyles. It is time to move forward and change the game’s image. We need to increase the individual’s satisfaction and speed up the game.

“I can hit it 300 yards if I catch it right!”

How often do you hear this from your playing partners? It’s golf’s equivalent of “the one that got away”.

Jack Nicklaus once said: “Unfortunately golfers are masochists. They want a challenge but they end up playing from the wrong tees. Average golfers never hit the ball as far as they think.”

Higher handicap golfers struggling to reach the green only slow down play and cause frustration for other players. Pressure to keep up with the game ahead – a somewhat ludicrous request when a group of high handicap players are following a group of low handicap players – simply increases the stress and has the effect of slowing down play even further.

Playing courses that are too long for the ability of the player means having to approach the green using long-irons or fairway woods which leads to inaccuracy and more frustration.

Paul Metzler, director of marketing for the PGA of America, reports that from surveys carried out, despite suggestions to the contrary, “golfers do not want a change to the rules to make the game easier, they want to play the traditional game but in a way in which a round moves along more quickly”.

Playing a shorter course, or one suited to the player’s capability, will help considerably towards speeding up the game and giving greater satisfaction.

How will golf club’s go about achieving this goal? Article continues on the next page…