Looking back at golf throughout history, one has images of sedate strolls, gentle putts, and crowds so hushed the silence is deafening. For years, there has been a noticeable time warp within the sport, and now it is screaming for change.
With older players either retiring or passing away, the door is open for a younger crowd to step through—if golf can keep up.
Increased Rate of Play
Today, it is becoming more of a rarity to see games lasting just on the low side of forever. Part of what made many people so quick to say golf is boring related to the slowness of game play. Now, increased rates of play policies are effectively solving the problem.
More players are choosing to make use of golf carts on the course, simply to reduce the chances of being responsible for slow play, which quickens the pace considerably. The emphasis is on finishing the hole rather than lollygagging around the greens.
The LPGA stands behind this new, quicker pace of the game, even though they are willing to admit it takes more work when speed play is involved. The PGA Tour is not quite as aggressive with addressing slow play concerns.
The last time a player received a stroke penalty in the PGA was in 1992. By comparison, over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the LPGA levied two-stroke penalties nine times, and four times during the 2013 season.
The tweaks to the policy for the rate of play are proving effective. According to the Senior Vice President for Tour Operations of the LPGA, Heather Daly-Donofrio, rounds played by threesomes are wrapping up roughly eight minutes sooner than in previous years. During the Lotte Championship, five hours was the average time for completing the first round.
There are several key points to the 2013 LPGA policy for the pace of play. Each venue has its own time par designated by officials. They base the decision on course difficulty, the walk between each hole, and the course length. Time pars for nine holes are found posted at both the first and tenth tees.
Although not required, one warning per round is permissible. If there is no improvement during the following hole, officials may begin timing. On average, it is expected for a player to complete their shot within thirty seconds, meaning that if the hole were par 4, they would have 120 seconds to finish all four shots.
When it comes to the amounts charged for fines in slow play, the LPGA does not make the amount public knowledge. If a certain player continues to accumulate fines, the penalty rises with each one. After a year with no infractions has passed, the golfer starts over from zero.
With each year that passes, there seems to be a steady decline in the number of golf club memberships purchased. Many attribute this to the utter lack of evolution in the game and the clubs themselves.
Growth in the sport may need to come from within in the beginning. Plenty of golfers choose their course based on the facilities it offers. The more that is provided, the better the chances that a particular club will be chosen first.
One suggestion to address this issue is to routinely complete reassessments every year or two to discover where there is room for improvement, and where already implemented changes are showing results. The biggest challenge is in creating an ambiance that suits both the older players and the young members, making interactions pleasant for everyone.
New rules are needed—not five years down the line. We need them now.
Since the majority of decision-makers in golf clubs are from the older membership pool, there can be a tendency to hold on to what worked in the past. There is also a fear of the unknown—of what they may not understand.
Various clubs are offering membership incentives that are a broad step in the right direction. Membership prices based on age make it more affordable for the younger generation to join, bringing an entirely new dynamic to the course with them.
Course Etiquette Relaxation
Another area in which golf clubs are beginning to show less rigidity is with a relaxation of course etiquette. Dress codes are of special interest to the younger members, who see nothing wrong with the way they dress on a daily basis and, certainly, see no reason why they are unable to wear jeans, t-shirts, or tank tops.
Part of golf's decorum is the dress code, however out of date it may be. When you make it to the pros and are on the Tour, dress code rules have more significance than for recreational players. With that said, most golf courses do have relaxed dress codes that still maintain golf's long traditions.
Men should be attired in long pants made of a polyester blend or cotton, or in dress shorts with a flat or pleated front. Certain courses allow men to wear jeans, but many do not. Women should wear long pants, dress shorts, golf skirts, or capris. Basketball, running, or workout shorts and cut-off jeans are usually not allowed for women or men.
Collared shirts are required for men at almost every course. This usually means traditional polyester, microfiber, or cotton golf shirts. There is a wider variety of women's golf tops, but modesty is the defining factor.
Socks have become an important part of golf attire in recent years, mainly due to advances in fibers to keep golfer's feet dry and comfortable. They are available in a variety of styles, and one unspoken etiquette rule states that socks should complement the rest of the player's outfit.
Shoes are considered a piece of golf equipment. They will help stabilize a player's swing, provide comfort during long rounds, and allow for traction when walking. Spikes are found on the bottom of the shoes—but look for plastic or hard rubber since many courses will no longer allow steel spikes.
Golf hats are not a dress code item per se, but some are more appropriate than others. The two you will find most often while out on the links are visors or baseball caps. If you want extra protection from the sun, straw hats are also permitted.
If golf is to be seen as a fun activity, relaxing some strict rules makes a good amount of sense, especially when the aim is to attract junior members. There are seven relaxed game-play rules currently garnering attention:
1. Conceded putts: If you have the consent of your partner, putts may be conceded.
2. Search time: There is a two-minute time limit for ball searching before a penalty is assessed.
3. Maximum score: The maximum score cannot exceed double par.
4. Equipment: There are no restrictions on equipment, including the number of clubs.
5. Penalties: Every penalty is one stroke. Play on by dropping a new ball near where the old one was lost.
6. Unfortunate lies: As long as you have the consent of your partner, balls may be dropped out of footprints or divots and away from dangerous lies, such as exposed tree roots.
7. Common sense: If there is doubt regarding game play, resolve it with fairness and common sense.
Tying right in with fun are the new golf carts currently available on the market. With course etiquette becoming far more open-minded, convenient features are now included to allow you to enjoy your time on the course.
For example, coolers are options on new-model golf carts. Some courses will allow you to bring your own alcohol, but, even if that is not permitted, you will always have icy-cold drinks at your disposal. With no cooler, by the time you reach the refreshment cart for replenishment, whatever cold drink you originally carried with you has reached the boiling point on a hot day.
New golf cart models also have fantastic sound systems installed, complete with speakers. While it is not appropriate to blare Bon Jovi while racing past a group teeing off, there are many areas where the music you play will not disturb other golfers.
Broader and Younger Demographics
Over five million players have given up on golf in the last decade, according to the National Golf Foundation in 2014. There are approximately twenty-five million golfers in the U.S., and it is expected that 20% percent of these will say goodbye to the game in the next few years. The image is the problem, and it needs a speedy rebranding.
The under-35 demographic has visibly spurned the game, citing far too many tiresome rules, how difficult it is to learn, and how long a round takes as the main reasons. This has led to some of golf's leaders banding together with a new focus: drastically alter the reputation of golf.
New rules, new equipment, and drastic course changes are part of the new alternative golf forms. For example, beginners are able to use 15" holes, increasing their chances of making par and coming back again for another round.
Nationality and Gender
Golf is meant to be enjoyed by everyone—a fact that is showing promise with the wide variation in nationalities. More countries have players competing in major competitions, and the Tour wait list is long, talented, and varied. The participation rate from Asian countries keeps increasing, but two demographics quite poorly represented are Native Americans and Aboriginals.
When first introduced, golf was specifically a sport for men. That has changed with the times, as can be witnessed in the rise of some LPGA players who have extreme talent. More women are joining golf clubs, and this trend must continue to ensure the sport has a well-rounded future.
Many of the women golfers who have exploded onto the scene in recent years are quite young. They all have varying levels of skill, but most impressive are those who qualify for the Tour on their first attempt. This is a benefit to the future of golf, as well because other young female players will follow the examples set by their idols.
On the male side, hopeful young men are watching the rise and success of younger professional golfers such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Ricky Fowler. Their stars continue to rise, and this is what makes the younger generation seriously consider a career in golf. There is the "If he can do it, I can do it" mentality.
These are the future players who must be encouraged to chase their dreams, especially when they have a passion for the game. There are no free rides—golf takes plenty of work. However, the rewards are more than worth it. Along with the fame and potential product endorsements, there are billions of dollars in prize money up for grabs in competitions across the globe annually.
Social Media Interaction
It was common to see golfers blatantly ignore their fans when they were on the course at one point in time. With everything being about social interaction today, that just will not fly anymore.
Fans long to be acknowledged. They want to hear about latest achievements and upcoming personal appearances. Following favorite players on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is a national pastime.
Part of becoming popular with the masses is getting your name out there. Almost every professional golfer has some social media account that he or she uses to keep his or her fans updated on a regular basis. Not every fan can afford to travel to championship games, but watching a posted video of the day's highlights makes a big impression.
It allows fans to feel a connection they would otherwise be unable to accomplish when golfers communicate with them. Twitter makes it a thirty-second process to tweet out any new info, and the more followers you gain, the more fans you will have.
When there is no online or social media presence to follow, it does not take long for "out of sight, out of mind" to kick in.
Showing some love on the course is becoming more commonplace, as well. Golfers will shake hands with fans, take group photos or selfies, and sign autographs. These tangible behaviors keep the game alive for fans and create memories that will last forever.
Analytics and Technology
No sport is safe from the advances of technology, and golf is no exception. One of the things fans love to do the most is to analyze every drive, putt, stroke, and score to their heart's content. When watching games from the comfort of your home, there is usually just a quick snapshot presented of the day's highlights.
Die-hard fans want more, and the PGA is listening. They decided to go mobile with their own PGA Championship app, and the coolest feature is named Binoculars. The name could not be more fitting, as the app will keep every fan in attendance completely in the loop.
You can zoom in on different holes and search out groups on the fairway. Need to know where Jordan Spieth is? Binoculars will assist you in tracking him down.
For fans who are not in attendance, minute by minute there is streaming content in real-time. Producers watching the action update the live feed with social media posts, photos, texts, and videos.
The professional golf community is starting to wake up and realize it needs to make changes if the history is to continue. The steps are going in the right direction. Perhaps they just need to move a little bit faster!