Growing the Game? Bah Humbug

by Jeff Skinner

Last week golf lost two of its interesting characters in 1955 U.S Open winner Jack Fleck and former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan.

While Fleck’s monumental win over Ben Hogan was a bit before my time I do remember Hannigan but not in his Executive Director role (83-89) but as the rules expert on ABC golf coverage.

Geoff Shackelford of Golf World had a unique relationship with Hannigan and had published Hannigan’s rants disguised as letters, on his blog.  You can read Shack’s touching memorial to Hannigan here.  Indeed, Hannigan was a special breed: unafraid to speak his mind and willing to take on all comers, even his old buddies at the USGA.  He took the USGA to task for losing its way as a group of golf fanatics that cared for the game that had morphed into a bunch of corporate cronies.

On Shackelford’s masthead he posts a golf quote each day and on the day of Hannigan’s passing this was what he used to honor his friend:  Contrary to what people may think, the USGA has no responsibility to grow the game.  There has never been a successful attempt by any entity that really caused more people to play golf.  Frank Hannigan

I say amen to that.  The USGA’s motto is “For the good of the game” not for the growth of the game.  It has become politically correct for everyone to rally around this concept of “growing the game.”  But when all is said and done it is just rhetoric.

Hannigan was right.  All the programs that have tried to attract new players to the game have failed miserably.  If watching Tiger Woods set record after record and win major after major didn’t attract more players during Tiger’s heyday nothing will.  In ’97 there was one African-American on tour, in ’14 the count is the same.

The National Golf Foundation tells us that there are less golfers on the course each year and golf course closings outnumber course openings by 10-1.  It is a vexing problem and an important one but one I am growing increasingly tired of listening to.

Much like Hannigan on this one, I’ll play the role of curmudgeon.  It may be selfish but do I really care if more players start playing golf?  From my myopic point of view all that will do is make the courses more crowded and that’s the last thing I want because no one plays fast any more.

Do I admire all the initiatives that are trying to get more golfers?  Sure, as long as they don’t interfere with my tee times.

But this task of growing the game may be beyond the reach of all these golfing institutions.  The programs to attack young golfers to the game seem to be having as much success as a 20 handicapper trying to draw the ball on command.  Getting them while they are young is a good idea but the numbers haven’t translated into more golfers.

Certainly adding more golfers is a long term proposition, a very long one.  Maybe with the health issues in football there will be a trend in parents leading their children away from contact sports and into golf and other non-contact sports.  And in my opinion it may take generations before the numbers in golf increase.

I don’t have an answer on how to attract and keep more golfers on the course.  But this I know for sure: I am tired of listening to it.


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