Golf In The New Age
Changes in public perception are fueling a new passion for golf. That's good news... and bad.
Thursday, February 3, 2000
With the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in town this weekend, a few ruminations on golf in the new millennium seem appropriate.
If you''re already a golf fan, you probably already know there are those who think golf is little more than wasted space for fat white guys in checkered slacks to hit a stupid ball 400 yards into a hole in an ecologically butchered landscape. What''s the sport in that?
To be honest, perception sometimes does equal reality, particularly on courses which make golf carts mandatory. Walking a course is the only exercise involved in the sport, and when you can''t even do that... well, you may as well be sitting home on your couch.
It''s unfortunate that most courses do require carts, and they do so mostly for the fees they can charge for their use. If an average course gets 50,000 rounds per year, and each player is charged roughly $10 for the cart, that represents $500,000 in income for course owners every year. Personally, I''d like courses to offer a trail fee for walking the course. That way golfers could get the exercise, and the course would still receive the revenue.
This is a long-standing battle between golfers and courses, but the truth is, golf faces some dramatic new challenges these days.
The primary catalyst for change has been Tiger Woods. His skill and demeanor have inspired throngs of junior golfers, and have brought new and larger galleries to the tournaments in which he participates. When Tiger plays at Pebble Beach this weekend, his gallery will be huge, probably 10 times larger than those watching other top players.
While this has been a tremendous boon to tournament organizers and sponsors, it has created its share of problems on the links where a growing number of young golfers are teeing off. Take, for example, this scene, which is likely to happen every day in the summer of 2000 on any public and municipal course in the United States. Two mid-50s golfers have been paired with two mid-20 golfers. They have little to talk about:
Mid-20s golfers to mid-50s golfers: "Dude, like, radical putt on that last hole. You da bomb, dude!"
Mid-50s golfers to each other: "Huh?"
There is also a bit of good, old-fashioned etiquette missing in the mid-20s golfers'' game. One of these baseball-cap-backward lads has just chipped in from the greenside rough. A loud scream of "WHAZZZUP!!!" can be heard across the golf course. He and his friend exchange high fives, low fives and shaka signs. Together they let out another course-rattling, "WHAZZZUP!!! DUDE!!!"
Mid-50s golfers to each other: "Huh?"
Golf observers will have to stay tuned to see how this particular evolutionary conflict plays itself out.
Another quizzical transformation taking place in the golf world in the 21st century is that courses are shedding some of their age-old reputation of being bad for the environment. These days they''re even being lauded as eco-friendly enterprises. (Pebble Beach, in fact won an award from the state for its recycling efforts last year).
The truth is, golf courses use chemicals that are far less dangerous than those found in most backyards. These days, greens keepers are severely regulated as to what they can and cannot use. For example, a golf course cannot use Round Up, but you can find it used on many lawns and backyards across the U.S.
Many golf courses are, in fact, working hand in hand with ecology-minded groups like Audubon International, a split-off from the Audubon Society. The organization has become involved in a unique certifying program for golf courses, too. They work with courses to: 1) Enhance wildlife habitats on existing golf courses by working with the golf course manager and providing advice for ecologically sound course management; 2) Encourage active participation in conservation programs by golfers, golf course superintendents, course officials, and the general public; 3) Recognize golf courses as important open spaces and credit the people actively participating in environmentally responsible projects; 4) Educate the public and golf community on the benefits of golf courses and the role they play relative to the environment and the wildlife. (Audubon International''s Web site can be found at: http://www.audubonintl.org/
Bottom line? Golf has recognized many of its faults (although some of the clothing is still awful) and has taken steps to rectify them, particularly in the environmental area.
While golf''s enhanced public image has led to its unprecedented popularity today, the cost of public golf continues to rise ($80-125 per person is common), and many potential newcomers are scared away. Rounds at private clubs can cost upward of $150 per person, and some resorts have reached ludicrous levels of $300-400. It''ll cost you $330 to play Pebble, if you''re not a hotel guest--but that does include the cart.
And, while these courses are operating at full capacity today, sustainability should be a major focus of the industry.
Not enough municipal courses are being built, where new golfers can play the game for $25 and learn things such as etiquette and rules. If the upward trend in fees continues, the golf industry may find that today''s boom is tomorrow''s bust, with the game being played only by stereotypical old fat rich guys.
Carmel resident George Fuller''s most recent book is Discover Hawaii''s Best Golf (Island Heritage Publishing). He runs the Web site www.golfreview.com