Much has been written and discussed about how modern equipment has changed the game.
Often, there is talk about the days of wooden-headed woods and balata golf balls and many go so far as to recall wooden-shafted clubs.
They yearn for the days of delicate little bump-and runs and greens that stimp at eight or nine, but nobody is selling their recently custom-fitted $1000. driver. Nobody wants to concede 25 to 30 yards of tee shot length to their playing partners/opponents.
Why not? I thought everyone was playing for fun.
Nobody plays for fun.
Let’s be clear; everyone wants to play the game of their lives every time they tee it up. A perfect illustration came my way about seven o’clock on a beautiful Sunday evening in August.
I was working in the golf shop, doing some paperwork when an elderly member entered and began swinging and feeling clubs on the putter rack. Naturally, I went out speak with him and during the conversation, asked if he was interested in purchasing a new putter.
His immediate reaction was “I play for fun. I don’t need a new putter”. I knew he was blind enough that he could not drive a car. He could get around, but couldn’t play golf by himself because he couldn’t see the ball. He regularly played with his wife. They left the shop and went to play golf.
The very next Sunday, the exact same scenario was acted out. Once again, I asked if he was interested in a new putter. I followed that with, “What kind of putter do you use now?”
His answer shocked me.
“I don’t have one now. I broke it,” he grumbled.
“You broke it? How did that happen? Was there an accident of some kind?” I replied.
“No,” he admitted meekly; “I placed it across my knee, pushed down hard on both ends and it broke.”
In one my strongest moments as a golf professional, I did not laugh – at least not right then.
Here was an 85-year-old blind man who needed the help of his wife so he could play golf getting angry enough at his poor putting that he broke his putter – so much for playing for fun.
So here is my question.
If there is a faction who really would like to play for fun, why don’t they form a little group who removes every club in their bag that hits the ball further than 225 yards? Then, remove the even-numbered clubs including their gap wedges.
Take this small handful of clubs, put them into a light carry bag along with a few balls and head up to the forward tees. They could then play a form of golf like it used to be, with no more dashing smashes from the tee, no more choice of three or four wedges.
They would have to be creative because every other iron has been removed. Bump-and-run would become part of their repertoires and, believe it or not, everyone would start having fun.
A very big part of why we don’t play the same game as history tells us existed years ago is the evolution of course conditioning. Mowers are no longer towed behind a tractor, greens are surrounded by underground pipes delivering computer-regulated amounts of water to perfectly located pop-up irrigation heads and fairways stimp at long ago greens speeds.
Even if we returned to wooden-shafted clubs and balata golf balls, the playing surfaces are different. The whole course holds more water at any given moment than the old ponds which means “hard pan” is long gone, browned-out rough and firm greens coated with thick, quarter-inch long grass are in the past.
In days gone by, it was extremely rare to see a golfer ‘back-up’ an iron shot for two reasons. First, the fairway grass was longer and coated the face of a club at impact. Secondly, the grass on the green was long enough to resist anything but forward motion.
Strangely, nearly every golf magazine published today has some positioning toward reducing green budgets to aid the cause of lower green fees and to become more environmentally aware.
Many subscribe to theories that use far less water, fewer amounts of fertilizer and a lot less maintenance particularly in the area of rough and bunkering. However, the absolute minute someone suggests implementing such measures, a huge baritone voice reverberates from the heavens questioning the sanity of such actions.
How will we attract membership applications if prospects can’t putt off the green on downhill putts? If our fairways aren’t shaved and a perfect emerald green colour, framed by cart paths paved smoother than a billiard table surrounded by rough cut precisely at 2.5559 inches, who will join our club?
If everyone agrees we cannot continue this futile quest for perfect surfaces and that the average player doesn’t have the skills to play them even when a course does produce them, what should we do?
I began to wonder “how” we could do what would have to happen, not so much “what.” The “what” is sustainability and would require commitment and effort but “how?”
The Ontario government, for example, is developing an agricultural system in the Greater Golden Horseshoe are on the western end of Lake Ontario to enhance the area’s agri-food industry.
The sector contributed $37.5-billion to Ontario’s GDP in 2016. The new agricultural system will protect a continuous base of prime farmlands from development, support the services and communities critical to the farm and food industry and ensure farmers’ needs are considered in future infrastructure planning.
This is in response to land use for purposes other than agriculture where local official land use plans seem to have favoured housing, shopping malls, roads, schools, etc., over farming. It will also rein in land use management because the government has determined that local municipal governments and individual land owners are not guided by the best motives.
In other words, self interests have ruled too long and now ‘big brother’ will impose a system to protect everyone.
As I see it, the golf industry isn’t far behind. We already have water use restrictions, fertilizer restrictions, restrictions on the encroachment of wetlands. The question is do we want to be legislated or do we want to be grandfathered into a new management style/system?
Suppose the golf courses coordinated an operational standard that included a quantitative irrigation program and fertilization schedule that was applied universally within clubs who agreed to it?
No doubt every course is different and requires variable amounts of water and fertilizer, but the agreement would include the end product which would be what we now describe as “brown.”
If everyone agreed, there would be nobody to step across the boundaries and sooner rather than later, a new standard of playing surfaces would become the norm. Playing conditions would be monitored by an outside agent to ensure consistent results within the agreeing group.
The whole concept could be marketed in an entirely new way because the agreeing clubs would endorse each other as a group and have the capacity to deal with political opponents to water consumption by golf courses.
As leaders taking the initiative, we might be placed in positions that determine water use and/or rationing before it is imposed, giving golf the first word.
If brown is to be the new green, let us establish the criteria, the official standard, the “golden” rules.
Let’s agree among ourselves on an acceptable program with boundaries, accountability, and common practices or we can continue along our own independent roads, wondering who will determine our future and when.
Undoubtedly, we won’t like the how.