15-inch-hole events will help golf get out of a hole
Radical innovations are changing the face of the sport as we know it in America
Spain’s Sergio Garcia: and England’s Justin Rose played in a 15-inch-hole event at the Reynolds Plantation resort recently. Photograph: Getty Images
Golf holes the size of pizzas. Soccer balls on the back nine. A mulligan on every hole. These are some of the measures – some would say gimmicks – that golf courses across the United States have experimented with to stop people from quitting the game.
Golf has always revelled in its standards and rich tradition. But increasingly a victim of its own image and hidebound ways, golf has lost five million players in the past decade across America, according to the National Golf Foundation, with 20 per cent of the 25 million golfers apt to quit in the next few years.
People younger than 35 have especially spurned the game, saying it takes too long to play, is too difficult to learn and has too many tiresome rules. Many of golf’s leaders are so convinced the sport is in danger of following the baby boomer generation into the grave that an internal rebellion has led to alternative forms of golf with new equipment, new rules and radical changes to courses. The goal is to alter the game’s reputation in order to recruit lapsed golfers and a younger demographic.
“We’ve got to stop scaring people away from golf by telling them that there is only one way to play the game and it includes these specific guidelines,” said Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, who also owns a large Indiana golf complex.
“We’ve got to offer more forms of golf for people to try. We have to do something to get them into the fold, and then maybe they’ll have this idea it’s supposed to be fun.”
Among the unconventional types of golf is an entry-level version in which the holes are 15 inches wide, about four times the width of a standard hole. A 15-inch-hole event was held at the Reynolds Plantation resort recently. It featured the top professional golfers Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, the defending US Open champion.
“A 15-inch hole could help junior golfers, beginning golfers and older golfers score better, play faster and like golf more,” said Garcia, who shot a 6-under-par 30 for nine holes in the exhibition. Rose said he was planning to use an expanded hole to reintroduce the game to his five-year-old son, who rejected the game recently after he had tired of failing at it.
“Lately, I’ve been having a hard time getting him to pick up a club,” Rose said.
Another alternative is foot golf, in which players kick a soccer ball from the tee to an oversize hole, counting their kicks. Other changes relax the rules and allow do-over shots, or mulligans, once a hole; teeing up the ball for each shot; and throwing a ball out of a sand bunker once or twice a round.