2002: Skeptics can go take a leap
Skeptics will tell you golf is in trouble.
The sport isn’t growing, they say. The number of people taking up the game is about the same as the number of people quitting the game, they say. There are too many golf courses and not enough players to fill them, they say. There are too many retail golf shops and not enough customers to support them, they say.
I have a suggestion. The next time somebody tells you golf is flat, fat or going splat, you tell them to take a flying leap into the nearest muck-filled water hazard.
I am sick of the loud-lunged naysayers. We – and they – must be patient. Growth by the numbers is not the best way to evaluate the pastime we love. Golf is a passion, a philosophy, a way of life. It is a time-consuming pursuit and thus is not for everyone. If the numbers are down temporarily, this should not alarm us. More converts are on the way. Golf has surrendered none of its beauty or allure. It is an extraordinary game, and, in the long run, it has a bullish future. There are many positive signs. Just look at the multitude of highlights from September:
The Ryder Cup was a magnificent spectacle. Behind soccer’s World Cup, it has become the second-most-compelling international team event in all of sports. People around the globe were transfixed by the riveting competition and the contrast in team strategies. This year’s Ryder Cup was more than golf. It was a reflection of the best that golf has to offer – friendship, fellowship, manners, etiquette, sportsmanship, a lot of smiles and a ton of birdies.
Prediction: For the U.S. team, loser of three of the last four Ryder Cups, preparing for the 2004 event will be like preparing for a sports version of warfare. It will be intense. The Hullabaloo at the Hills (Oakland Hills Country Club outside Detroit) will eclipse this year’s event as the best Ryder Cup ever staged. The United States will win.
The Solheim Cup for women was fabulous, if perhaps a baby step behind the Ryder Cup in tone because the teams from the United States and Europe were a bit antagonistic toward each other. It was the best of the seven Solheim Cups that have been played. One thing the Solheim Cup has proven, even more conclusively than the Ryder Cup, is that skilled touring professionals can play extraordinarily well into their 40s. Juli Inkster, Rosie Jones and Beth Daniel, all in their 40s, were pillars of the winning U.S. team.
Prediction: Finally this event will receive the recognition it deserves. Europe will win back the Solheim Cup next year in Sweden. The LPGA and women’s golf will prosper. In a growing, but controversial blueprint, more and more girls will turn pro without going to college. And, oh yes – Inkster or another woman will win a major championship after turning 50.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships for men and women, designed for amateurs 25 or older, bolstered the theory that many, many golfers are playing better golf for a longer period of time. Both finalists in the men’s event were in their 40s. One of the finalists in the women’s competition was in her 40s. A parade of golfers in their 40s and 50s performed admirably in these two national championships.
Prediction: The invasion of mature golfers will continue. Hit the wall at 50 or 55? Hardly. More golfers will excel in tournaments through their 60s. A golfer in his 70s will break the record of the late Lew Oehmig, who won a national championship, the USGA Senior Amateur, at 69.
Even the nasty flap over membership at Augusta National Golf Club was not without its positive side. Golf proved once again that it has achieved the recognition – athletic and social – to spawn a major protest. This is a sign, albeit a regrettable one, that golf has claimed an elite standing among games that people play.
Prediction: A woman, probably Carol Semple Thompson, will be granted Augusta National membership in 2003. Thompson’s father, former USGA president Bud Semple, was an Augusta National member. The Masters will continue its grand tradition as the first major championship of the year and the unofficial spring launch of the golf season around the United States and much of the world.
Golf moved closer to inclusion in the Olympic Games. The program committee of the International Olympic Committee recommended that golf be added and baseball be dropped when the 2008 Games are held in Beijing, China. Additional hurdles remain, but there are strong indications that golf will rejoin the Olympic slate after an absence of 104 years.
Prediction: Golf will be voted in, baseball will be voted out and the international stature of golf will gain a tremendous boost. The world will realize conclusively that superb golf is not just for Americans. Olympic golf will precipitate a global flurry of expenditures on golf programs. In the 2008 Games, U.S. golfers will fail to win gold on either the men’s or women’s side. Such a failure will, of course, ignite new Olympic fervor among American golfers. Tiger Woods will skip the 2008 Olympics, but will be there in 2012 at age 36.
The world clearly is paying attention to golf. It has emerged as a heavyweight sport. Around the globe, people are recognizing golf as a wholesome activity, a different kind of engagement from the lineup of rub-your-face-in-the-dirt sports. Golf is a vital component in the worldwide diversity of athletic competition.
And, for what it’s worth, thank goodness golf isn’t volleyball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer or, for that matter, baseball. How do I know golf is different? Well, golfers don’t spike, tackle, dunk, punch, kick or spit.