Modernizing Golf – Make it “Cool”

A few weeks ago, I spent some time with an old college friend and a young business development professional from one of the biggest golf and club management firms.

My college buddy is a successful businessman, good player, has qualified for USGA events and played on the Division 1 intercollegiate golf team.  As one might expect, we got to talking about the state of the game and among other things, focused on the rules changes and whether they’ve achieved their purpose of modernizing and streamlining golf.

When the rules changes were announced, it seemed like a good thing to reduce the number of rules from 34 to 22.  However, it seems as though some didn’t achieve their goals:

  • Ball Drop – Dropping the ball from below one’s knee is an awkward position and one that can (and has) caused some back injuries.  Hopefully, this will be reversed to the shoulder height drop, or anywhere below the shoulder.  What was wrong with the previous procedure of simply holding your arm out at shoulder height and dropping?  Why fix it if it’s not broken?
  • Flagstick in or Out – The option of leaving the pin in takes more time, especially if there’s no consensus in the group.  Besides, the characteristics of how the ball reacts when it hits it depends to great degree on the style of flagstick.  Taking the flag out is a more consistent test.
  • Spikemarks –  Fixing spike marks also takes more time, but probably makes the game more fair.  Wouldn’t consistency also suggest that being able to drop from a divot in the fairway also be more fair?
  • Playing Damaged Equipment – Just recently there was an incident on the PGA Tour where a player was prohibited from replacing a cracked driver because it wasn’t “deformed”.  This seems inconsistent with the new rule allowing damaged clubs to be replaced.  It’s either damaged or it isn’t and you can either replace it or you can’t.

Golf is perceived by many as a game with too many rules and many of which (to them) don’t make sense.  Combined with some of the game’s more antiquated traditions, the allure those of us in the game experience may not readily be seen by those not already bitten by the bug.  Golf competes with an ever growing number of activities for attention and has the well known obstacles of cost, time and difficulty to deal with.

While many of golf’s traditions are very appealing, the game’s leaders have a challenging task.  How can some traditions be preserved and still move the game forward to broaden its appeal to a new generation so that golf experiences growth, courses and clubs thrive and we can pass on to our kids a healthy and vibrant pastime.  The attempt by golf’s hierarchy (USGA & R & A) to modernize the Rules of Golf was a noble and positive step.  Several positives were accomplished.  Now it’s time to review and modify as necessary to keep the ball rolling in a positive direction, so that the next generation sees golf as “cool”.