Ways to Reverse the Decline in Golf Play

The declining number of golfers has the PGA, LPGA and USGA worried about the future of golf in the U.S. There will continue to be private clubs and even muni courses where avid golfers will play. The big concern is with the number of casual golfers who have reduced the number of rounds played per year or dropped out of the links scene altogether.

Avid golfers have always represented a much larger percent of rounds played than casual golfers. However, the future growth of the game depends on converting casual golfers into avid golfers, which is a function of time, money and skill. If your friends all play golf that helps, too.

A few proposals have been presented in the trade publications that, in my opinion, should be tested where results could be reliably measured.

1. Simplify the rules; Go back to the original 13 rules in the Articles & Laws In Playing Golf of 1744. Most golfers know or can understand these rules. The rules won't stop cheating but they make it easy for the vast majority of golfers to play by them.

2. Shorten the courses and make them duffer-friendly. This is especially important at daily fee, resort and municipal courses where the majority of casual golfers play. Making golf courses tough for all but the lowest handicappers is stupid, even if a makeover matches some historical design.

3. Heavily penalize slow play with fines, termination of play or other penalty. What difference does it make if a penalized golfer doesn't come back if his slow play discourages six other golfers to stop playing altogether? This requires much more attentive ranger action than I've ever seen, but if good rangers reduce the time to play 18 holes to 4 hours or less, they are well worth it.

4. Eliminate any equipment design barriers for amateur golfers. There should be no such thing as illegal drivers, balls or wedges. If a foursome wants to gamble they can decide in advance if they need to address non-conforming equipment. Otherwise, who cares?

5. Make golf courses interestingly beautiful with native plants, animals, grasses and trees. Why not label the plants and trees, and provide signs about the kind of wildlife living in or near the course? Make it interesting for casual golfers to be in the natural world even if their game stinks.