Everyone knows about the secret tunnels and storage rooms under the Vatican, where thousands of historic documents are kept in archives, but only an extremely limited few ever are granted the privilege of handling and/or reading them. Only those included in the inner sanctum are allowed.
Some would say that golf has a hierarchy or inner sanctum with secret rites of passage that control all playing of golf through the application of rules, enforcement of a handicap system and operation of some high profile golf tournaments.
It is said among the masses that the ruling body is so powerful that it reaches out into the golf community with an influence powerful enough to exert pressure on management companies and boards of directors during the hiring process of their key employees.
General managers, course superintendents and golf professionals are well advised to build their careers and resumes to include endorsement from the inner sanctum.
Generally, the golfing public is unaware of these underlying political nuances and probably do not care anyway. The only time they encounter such organizations is to view a national championship on TV, read about a rules contravention by a player in contention during a high profile tournament or a change in the rules.
The rest of the time the most dominant of the organizations go home to their offices near Sleepy Hollow, New York. Actually, it’s in Far Hills, N.J., but that’s called poetic licence.
The powers that be spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars providing a massive template for all golfers to follow, all in the name of enabling said golfers to better enjoy the game. In my opinion, they do so very well, even though, for the most part, the golfers they impact represent a small percentage of all people who play.
The relationship between the inner sanctum and the masses can probably best be described as distant. They are not discriminatory or exclusive, but they do tend to reside among the more affluent parts of society. What does this mean? Is it even important? Does anyone care or know the difference? Probably not.
Every sport is in relatively the same situation. There is a hierarchy that governs and makes rulings to guide the sport through the high profile competitions and transactions on behalf of the entire world of participants until they themselves become part of the high profile picture.
Yet, on a daily basis, the game is played casually by countless numbers of people who are just having fun. They don’t keep score or have a handicap, but they make up their own rules and they enjoy their playing partners and the weather more so than they enjoy knowing a water hazard brings with it a one-stroke penalty.
Undoubtedly, there is a significant need for hierarchy, but the game survives more through casual players. The hard-core contributes enough revenue to sustain the meat of a budget, but the peripheral players produce the big profits. On the downside, they are seriously affected by the economy, the weather and other events, some organized, some not, making them unpredictable.
Golf has one clear distinction from all other sports – it has to be played on a golf course. There are some games played by kids on what we used to call “caddie courses,” which are those enjoyed with one club in a park from the sandbox to the leg of the swing set, but, for the most part, golf is played on a specific property.
On the other hand, baseball, soccer, road hockey and riding bikes require nothing more than a suitable piece of property. Millions of kids around the world play all of these other sports on a makeshift basis with little or no cost, few, if any, rules and certainly no handicap.
Golf does have a feeder system through the incredible efforts of thousands of believers who are trying to grow the game, but the bottom line is golf costs money to play, even at the most basic of levels.
Additionally, another drawback faced by newcomers to the game for some unknown reason other than safety, golfers who are trying to introduce new players to the game immediately begin teaching them how to swing a club. Why is it so important that everyone swing the club with their feet straight, hold it like Harry Vardon, maintain a stiff left arm and keep your head still?
Why aren’t beginners offered a putter and a ball with the instruction, “Make a swing that sends the ball across the green and into the hole”?
Repeat this exercise for a few days and we will add to your arsenal a chipping club and ask you to perform the same task – try to sink the ball. If they show an interest in learning more, lead them into a video library to look at some swings of good players, etc.
When a youngster picks up a bat and swings at his/her first pitch, the other kids don’t start yelling, “Keep your arms extended through the strike zone.”
Why do we have this insane routine in golf that we’ve all been indoctrinated with that says rules about holding the club, rules about swinging, rules about no talking when others are playing, rules about keeping score, rules about penalties, rules about what to wear, rules about driving the golf cart, rules about no running, rules about keeping score, rules about a handicap, rules about who can hit first.
When a newcomer enters the game and sees the beauty of the surroundings at a golf club, they are either filled with excitement or washed with relaxation. One thing is certain, if it’s the latter it won’t be too long before they swept up in the frenzy that they must abide by a lot of stuff decreed by the inner sanctum or face disciplinary action.
We do need a ruling body to help shepherd the game through its changing times, to provide a map made up of rules of play, to help maintain a cohesive direction, but most of the golf played doesn’t conform to anything remotely close to what the book decrees. Perhaps what we need is a developmental program introducing kids to the game that begins in a park from the sandbox to the leg of the swing set.
No rules, just fun.
I’ve never heard of an association that oversees sandlot baseball, pick-up hockey, road hockey or neighborhood pick-up soccer. I see kids whacking a tennis ball against a brick building to learn how to play. Do they have rules?
A “work-up” baseball game has rules – three strikes and you are out, score a run and you remain at bat. Get tagged out and you start in right field to work your way back up and how many times can a kid fire tennis ball at a garage door with the only rule being; don’t do it when Mom’s lying down after a bad day at work.
Perhaps I’m reliving my own childhood when I think of these things because I don’t see quite so many kids playing the activities I describe, but why does everything have to be so difficult when it comes to golf? Why are the rules and standards imposed by the inner sanctum relevant to caddie golfers?
Why don’t we dig a hole in the park beside the swing set and place an empty dog food tin in it ,then another beside the lamp post and another by the slide and then back to the sand box? Every once in a while, you can go to the course and play 18 holes of real golf until you get ‘bitten by the bug,” become a golfer, learn all about the rules, dress codes and standards and start having less fun.