Whilst the reports of golf’s death are being greatly exaggerated, a common theme seems to be emerging around the industry that the game needs to be quicker. Whether this is by using shorter forms of the game, such as Golf Express, or by providing advice to golfers on how to play quicker, England Golf and the R&A are keen to reinvent the game for wider appeal.
Is shortening the time the game takes the key to mass participation? There is no doubt that a shorter format would increase the chances players can fit in a game. There is the added advantage that if the perception is that a game of golf takes under two hours, then the whole marketing of golf changes.
Golf is not only fighting the time element. If the press is to be believed it is also fighting cycling and a serious image problem.
Cycling has developed an image that everyone can join in young and old alike and going out on your bike can take anything from half an hour to a whole day. As far as I am aware there is no dress code (Lycra is optional) and clubs welcome all comers.
Many golf clubs are now family friendly, with short courses, Adventure Golfs and driving ranges being added into the mix; but there are still a lot of private members clubs who are not inclusive and maintain golf’s image of stuffiness and exclusivity.
Top Golf has shown that golf can be played in a different way, using a driving range to play a game more akin to ten pin bowling than traditional golf. A game takes around half an hour, depending on how many are in the group. It has also managed to make golf ‘cool’, opening sports bars in their facilities which offer good quality food and drink and appeal to so called millennials.
The traditional 9 hole tournament preceding the US Masters is an excellent example of how the professional game has got behind shorter formats, but to make this stick we really need the pro’s playing 9 hole tournaments on a regular basis, not just once a year.
It was brilliant to see the Golfing Union of Ireland take the unprecedented step of introducing ‘Ready Golf’ to a prestigious tournament earlier this year. The first round had taken much longer than normal on account of poor weather. The result was that the times taken to play the second round were significantly improved by an average of 25 minutes. The organisers of the AIG Irish Close Championship are to be applauded.
There is no single magic bullet to the issues golf faces, but quickening the traditional game with pace of play initiatives will help. The professional game needs to continue to lead by example and clubs up and down the country can continue to help by encouraging shorter formats and making their golf clubs family friendly.