Jordan Spieth winning the 2015 Masters at 21 is an amazing accomplishment. The feat and some of the youth movement within the game, got me to thinking about the health of the game. According to the experts, participation is down and the golf business is generally awful as equipment sales continue to shrink. Why the hell is one of the finest games ever invented struggling? Time and money are the obvious culprits. The game can take far too long to play….much less enjoy. Even accomplished players find it difficult to near impossible to turn a quick round when courses are stacked up on a Saturday. Who wants to middle around for 4+ hours and pay a premium to do so? So the billion dollar question, how do we fix it? Definitive solutions don’t seem to exist. Industry wide the blight is pervasive.
What of the children? Wasn’t there a song about the children are the future? Love the sentiment, I hope it can become reality. Lately there have been active campaigns targeted at getting kids involved in golf for the sheer fun of it….visually trying to champion the cool factor. Tiger Woods made it cool for a time, but then he had a slight fall from grace. Guys like Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcilroy are appealing lures to kids wanting to play. They bring a certain cache that can only exist when you are young, rich, and very successful at what you do. No offense to Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, or any of the older guard that still bring in the sponsor dollars, the tour needs more of these young guys to begin to make positive strides growing the game. Your fan base is secure, and many who enjoy your games are already on the course from time to time. The next generation is where the focus should lie.
My son who is 15, absolutely loves the game. He will play any day and everyday even if it’s just chipping and putting. He is a former baseball kid who played pretty high level travel ball before making the decision to focus solely on golf. Becoming a good player is a difficult undertaking, but youth and time are great assets to have taking the game up. Also helps to be an athlete, actually it’s rather important.
An aside, for the longest time I would get into discussions with people weighing the merit of golf as an athletic endeavor. Usually devolving to….is golf really even a sport? Obviously, I believe it to be a real sport and have argued as such for years. Anyway….another post in the future perhaps.
I help out with my son’s high school team as an assistant coach of sorts. I’ve found at least at his school, golf isn’t an overly competitive sport. Doesn’t move the meter like football, basketball, or baseball. Sure his school has had several very good players come through…a few going on to play in college, but overall, the pool of available good players is rather small. That said, I think it might be a cyclical thing. Some of the rival schools have quite a few players who can tee it up and play at a very high level. Often you have to play well in order to earn a spot in the lineup at those schools. The more affluent the area, generally more players…I don’t make the rules, it’s how it really is. The majority of these kids are golfers to the core. They love the competition and the traditions of the game of golf. Refreshingly, they uphold many of the customs on the course. Having also coached travel baseball for a number of years, I would say the climate is similar in a lot of ways. Kids competing against other kids for sake of competition to determine who is better on any given day. Really how it’s supposed to be.
When I was playing as a young adult, I rarely saw kids on the course. Didn’t really think about it at the time, but as I look back, it’s astonishing I didn’t see more of them out there. For my own golf, I didn’t start till late, but there were many reasons for that….primarily my father didn’t play. We did expose my son to golf as soon as he could walk, perhaps even sooner as we have video of him crawling and hitting the ball around the house. Yet, when he was enamored with baseball and soccer at age 5, we just kind of stuck with the tried and true team sports. When he began to excel at baseball, I was told many times by coaches not to let him play golf….”it will only mess up his baseball swing”….they also stressed specialization at the tender age of 9. Foolishly, I listened to the advice and he only played golf a couple of times a year in between baseball seasons. He loved golf, but he too believed the rhetoric that it would ruin his baseball swing….might have heard the same thing at home from time to time. Another factor was patience on my part. Taking a kid out on a Saturday afternoon for a round is daunting. You don’t want to hold up guys trying to get in a round, but you are paying to play too. Getting stuck behind the usual slow group can cause aggravation…..now add a 6 year old trying to get it down from 100 yards. Yep, you can feel the daggers porcupining your backside from the tee box where the next group waits for you to clear the green. Attitudes change real fast…”wow, cute kid, you going to beat your dad today little man”….to, “why do these guys bring these little shits out on the course slowing up my round”…when they are behind you. Additionally, golf is tough to learn and it’s harder to teach when you don’t want your young protégé to learn from your flawed example. Probably, the biggest factor for me was the Tiger Woods effect. When my wife was pregnant with my son, the running joke with my regular playing partners was how long it would take for me to start training him following the edicts from the Earl Wood’s manifesto. Not that I am opposed to his process or beliefs, I actually admire a lot of the positives in that sort of upbringing. I just didn’t want to be perceived as "that guy" chasing a dream through my son….it was always going to have to be his desire not mine (I have no doubt Tiger wanted it more than his father, he’d never been that good otherwise). Watching my son play now with such an intense joy for the game, reaffirms my intuition.
Kids playing golf, I firmly believe, is the key to the game of golf growing once again. If your child is specializing in a sport year around, take some time off and play a little golf with him or her. Put things into crystal clear perspective. If it’s baseball, football, or lacrosse, it won’t hurt your phenom’s abilty to make it big, it just might enhance his or hers chances. I coached my son in baseball for a little over 7 years. Lots of time together and some great experiences. In the two years since we’ve had so many more meaningful conversations and a shared love for the world’s greatest game. These are memories that he will carry hopefully long after I’ve gone to glory.