2005: Club Life - Don’t blame the game

I was breaking bread with a pair of PGA club professionals the other day when we began discussing golf and the reasons why participation is not growing. We hashed over the usual arguments: that the game is difficult for most, that it is unwelcoming to newcomers, that it is populated by a bunch of grizzled old men who really don’t care whether juniors or women ever catch the bug. And we quickly agreed that those conclusions are so much bunk.

In fact, my friends and I determined that the people who allegedly are interested in picking up golf, or playing it more, are the primary problem, not the game itself.

Let’s start with the issue of scheduling, or more accurately, overscheduling. A family in today’s world has so many things going on during prime golf time, whether it is soccer tournaments or sailing lessons or Girl Scout meetings, that it is next to impossible for Mom, Dad or the kids to find time to fit in golf lessons or time on the course.

“That’s the biggest concern at my place,” says one of the club pros. “Either the parents are running their children from activity to activity, which leaves them no time to tee it up. Or the youngsters are so booked that they do not have a moment for anything else – even in the summer, when they should have all the time in the world.”

Tell me, how is golf at fault here?

Another consideration is the different way most golf or country clubs are used in this day and age.

“When I was growing up, my mother would drop me off at the club early in the morning and leave me there all day,” says the other pro, a fiftysomething fellow who was raised in Westchester County, N.Y. “That was the same for most of my friends, and we’d play all the sports we wanted to until we got picked up at supper time. So did our mothers, who usually hung around the club for much of the day as well, taking time for a game of tennis or nine holes of golf with their friends in between watching us.

“But very few people do it that way anymore. They have all these sports outside the club, these travel teams that promote weekend-long soccer tournaments at venues two or three hours away, and so no one is spending the day at the club the way my friends and I used to as kids.”

Is it any wonder, then, why participation is off?

Unfortunately, getting the little darlings or their parents to the practice range still does not guarantee development of lifelong golfers.

“People talk about the game being hard, and it is, even for those of us who have played for years,” one of the club pros says. “But that still doesn’t excuse how easily newcomers give up on it these days. I know folks who take three or four lessons in a month and then stop playing because they are not getting any better. After four lessons!

“The problem is, we have become such a fast-food nation that we expect immediate results on everything. And if we don’t get them, we give up and move on to the next thing. Sticking to something has become almost a lost art in our world, and golf is one of those games you have to stick to if you hope to get any good.”

Similarly, we as a society have become soft, particularly where our children are concerned. Consider, for example, the way we give out trophies or certificates to every member of a youth softball team, no matter what their contribution or ability. No one gets a “most valuable player” award anymore. No one receives “most improved” or “best sportsmanship” awards. Everybody wins something, which certainly is not the case in everyday life.

No one gets cut from a squad, lest someone’s feelings be hurt. Dodgeball is frowned upon in many circles because it might highlight – and offend – the weaker beings. Competition is downplayed whenever possible, and way too many young people grow up in environments where they are not allowed to face athletic failure. Which, of course, does not bode well for someone thinking of taking up golf.

“There is a lot of adversity in golf,” says one of the pros. “It’s not easy to hit a ball straight, shanks come out of anywhere and even the best players struggle at times. Breakdowns are an inherent part of the sport, but if you are not able to deal with them, then you are probably going to go elsewhere for your recreational pleasures.”

Sadly, those are the realities golf faces these days. But instead of laying all the blame on the sport, we would do better to acknowledge this reality: The game is not growing because of the choices we make in our daily lives.

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