Thinking about the blog this week has been making me feel a bit blah and irritable, cross in an indeterminate sort of way. I’ve been sad and down since hearing about Dave Musgrove’s death the other day – given the current rate of attrition, this could easily turn into an obitblog – but deep down I know what’s been annoying me. (I was tempted to use another expression but just in time remembered my resolution to reduce my swearing!)
It’s all this stuff about golf being too dull and boring and needing to jazz up its image, to get its act together and appeal to a younger demographic, to try different formats and liven things up. I heard European Tour boss Keith Pelley on the radio the other day – couldn’t see if he’s still rocking those blue-framed specs – hyping up this week’s bold new event in Perth (the sunny one in Western Australia) and then I heard myself, shouting at the radio. Oops.“Don’t blame the game. It’s your fault; it’s professional golf that’s to blame, with its interminable diet of 72-hole stroke play events, week in, week out, all over the world, now televised day in, day out (yawn, yawn) in its tedious entirety. It encourages players to be risk averse and, above all, slow, slow, slow. It’s not golf that needs livening up, it’s your players.”
We amateurs, certainly in Ireland and Britain, have always tended to play matches with our friends and even mix our competitions up with different formats: greensomes, foursomes, Stableford (oh happy invention), the odd Texas scramble (fun but always long for some reason). For the pros, however, it’s the spirit-sapping tyranny of the card and pencil.
And how slow they’ve become at it. Now that they’ve nothing else to do, no shop to run, no members to teach or placate or beat up (on the course), nothing to do but play golf, they don’t care how long they take about it. They may pay lip service to speeding up but they won’t bother their eye, continuing to waste the time of rules officials like the legendary John Paramor, a man of infinite patience, who was recently awarded the Christer Lindberg Bowl for Services to European Golf by the PGAs of Europe. Perhaps the Tour should unleash an impatient Paramor, an angry bull elephant permitted to trample any slowcoaches into the turf no questions asked. Paramor on the rampage, that would be a sight worth seeing.
Sadly, the only thing likely to help is penalty strokes, lots of them, applied ruthlessly and relentlessly but no tour player is going to vote for that and they will continue to dawdle and footer about to their wallet’s content and the game’s detriment.
Because, worst of all, the rest of us will follow their example, taking hours longer to play than we should, forgetting that golf, invented in Scotland, where it is often bitterly cold even in the summer, is a game played on the move for fear of hypothermia. Too many people seem to have forgotten, or never learned, to think and calculate as they approach their ball, so that their decision about the next shot is nearly complete by the time they reach the ball. If you mostly play on your home course, why do you need long deliberations over what club to hit from a position you’ve been in thousands of times? You don’t. As my aunt used to say, “Just get on with it, dear!”
Anyway, on reflection, I think that Keith Pelley and I are probably on the same side because he’s trying to remind everyone, not least his players, that golf, big business though it’s become, is FUN and a game for everyone, from toddlers to totterers. If you’ve got time to spare, seek out a copy (undoubtedly remaindered) of Teach Yourself Golf by David and Patricia Davies, who try to share the sheer enjoyment this frustrating game has given them over the years. For a start, we’d never have met without it!
This train of thought raises other issues, including providing people who are new to the game with places to play. We don’t need more ‘championship’ courses, we need more munis that are accessible and well run. That takes money that councils don’t seem to have any more, failing to appreciate that if golf is available to all, it has health and social benefits that could be invaluable. Perhaps the R&A could use some of its Open money to fund local, low-key, accessible nine-holers; could help councils keep open their munis; and could help ensure that people taking up golf and developing a taste for it, have places to play and progress.
The professional tours, the sponsors and the governing bodies need some serious joined-up thinking if the game is to thrive as it should. If it’s beyond the wit of man, perhaps we women should step up to the tee.