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Do We Need to Reinvent Golf to Save It?

With the number of US golfers down almost 10% over the last 5 years and an overabundance of courses, our beloved sport is struggling. All too often, new golfers find the game difficult and the rules daunting, resulting in their early exit. Creating a new kind of golf to attract and retain new golfers is an idea that’s been suggested before (think TeeGolf and SortaGolf), but the recent publicity about “flogton” has many golfers wondering if radical change is indeed what’s needed to save our game.

Mark King, President & CEO of TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, wants an alternative set of rules endorsed by the USGA that make the game easier for beginners and recreational players. King says that the USGA should maintain the current rules for tour professionals and for other serious golfers who want to abide by them.

Gene Yasuda, writing for Golf Week recently asked, “If we let golfers tee up every shot, swing clubs with ‘trampoline-powered’ faces, toss their balls out of bunkers, and putt into 15-inch cups, would golf still be golf? And would it matter?”

To Golf or “Not Golf”?

One of the advocates for real change is Scott McNealy, avid golfer and former CEO of Sun Microsystems. McNealy introduced the Alternative Golf Association, which presented a game called “flogton” (‘not golf’ spelled backwards) at the PGA Show. Though still in the planning stages, flogton permits equipment that allows faster and easier play, like golf balls embedded with microchips, so they can be found in the woods.

McNealy likens flogton to snowboarding, which rejuvenated ski resorts when skiing participation was steeply declining. Remember when traditional skiers (like some of us!) were annoyed by the early snowboarders who seemed reckless as they weaved in and around us on the slopes? It wasn’t long before snowboarding integrated with skiing, and we all accept it now.

Two Games of Golf Can Co-Exist

I tend to agree with those who suggest two games of golf can coexist: a professional one and a recreational one, which is more fun-driven than rules-driven. Golf could attract a whole new demographic, which would fill the void we’re currently experiencing.

Besides the degree of difficulty inherent with golf, some newcomers are also put off by the cost of playing golf, and the time it takes to play a regular 18-hole round. A couple of creative alternatives I like, that are less costly and less time consumptive, are Power Play Golf and golf-by-the-hour.

Power Play Golf

Power Play Golf is a reinvention of golf by a couple of Englishmen. You play 9 holes only and scoring is by the Stableford system, which means 4 points for an eagle, 3 for birdie, 2 for par and 1 for bogey, with half of one’s 18-hole handicap applied. Each green has 2 hole locations for you to choose from: an easy one with a white flag and a difficult one, marked by a black flag. You double your points if you make net birdie or better when shooting for the tougher pin – known as a Power Play. (6 Points for birdie, 8 for eagle). Each player is entitled to three Power Plays only in the first eight holes. On the 9th tee, you can choose to take a bonus Power Play, but if you make net bogey or worse, you lose 2 points. Highest 9-hole score wins.

I like the risk-reward angle of the game, which adds to the positives of playing in less than 2 hours and of paying less than $20 at most venues. This game has expanded to Europe, South Africa, South America and Japan. There is even a world ranking of Power Play golfers. Several U.S. Golf clubs feature Power Play, and you can learn more at www.powerplay-golf.com.

Golf-by-the-hour

Feel like playing a few holes after work some days, but don’t even really have time for the required minimum of 9 holes? Golf-by-the-hour is being offered at Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club in Winchester VA. Area residents and hotel guests pay a fee of $20 to play any of several 4 and 5-hole loops that return to the clubhouse. This is especially appealing to families with children, which is where growth in the game really begins.

Free Golf for Juniors

Another concept that addresses cost has been implemented by golf companies such as Myrtle Beach National, owner of Pawleys Plantation (my headquarters in Pawleys Island SC) MBN offers free play at all their courses for Juniors, when accompanied by a paying adult. This has been a terrific complement to the Mel Sole Golf School’s Parent/Child Program, where a Junior’s 3-day school costs only half when joined by his/her parent or other adult.

Sacrilegious?

Now, for those of you who feel that all of this is perhaps sacrilegious to the traditions of golf, look at it this way: if we can make the game more fun and less intimidating, maybe the new players will stay with it and even graduate to playing 18 holes by traditional rules.

So, what do you think? Do you have friends or relatives who you think would be interested in playing a different game to the one you play? Email me your opinion and I’ll enter your name in a raffle to win a FREE 1-DAY GOLF SCHOOL. The winner’s name will be announced in my May newsletter. If you’re not receiving the monthly email newsletter, containing free golf tips, news of international golf trips I host, monthly giveaways and more, please click here to subscribe.

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