Golf's big chance

Usually getting my daughters, aged 14,13 & 11, interested in playing golf is… well, let’s just say challenging.

For so many reasons….

Lack of diversity for one (‘it’s just for boys Dad’) definitely too many rules, and then there’s the whole clothing conversion. And compared to tennis, ‘it’s just not as much fun Dad’

But, for the past couple of months, even my kids wanted to play.

When golf reopened during the second month of stay-at-home schooling (I use that term advisably), starved of any sort of stimulation, an invitation to play a few holes with the ‘old man’ at our local club was met with surprising enthusiasm. Clubs that were long forgotten Christmas presents suddenly appeared and we’re out on the course. They may even admit to actually enjoying it.

Our course on the outskirts of Naas has seen both a spike in rounds played and new members. Anecdotally, this is happening all over the country and throughout the UK. The NGF reports rounds played up by 20% in the US also.

I’ve found myself setting a reminder on my phone to grab a tee time for next week, where I see either names I haven’t seen before or people who haven’t played for quite some time. By all reports, they’re rediscovering and remembering why they played the game in the first place… it’s immensely enjoyable.

Golf normally get's a bad rap in the media for all its pomp, but now we’re hearing of its virtues. The stories of a game in decline have been replaced with reports of fairways clogged with working-from-home golfers with a little extra time on their hands. Covid has been dreadful, no doubt about it, but it has created a set of circumstances uniquely suited to golf’s resurgence: the need for fresh-air, the need for socially-distant sport, more spare time due to no commute, the need for stay-close-to-home activities, the renewed interest in being active and being outdoors, the mental health benefits of that and just the simple pleasure of socialising with your mates. All provide a healthy distraction, and a reset from ‘covid fatigue’.

Interestingly, golf has been at its best through this period too. The game has gotten quicker, at least in the rounds I’ve been playing. Walking only, no rakes, leave the pin—it’s all trimmed minutes and kept crowded courses moving along. Golf feels more efficient now, streamlined perhaps, and more focused on the game itself—in reality, this new no-frills simplicity is much closer to its Scottish roots than that of the previous golf developers boom.

I don’t mind changing my shoes in the car park ann I’m happy to carry my own bag. 10 minutes at the range before teeing off is more than enough, anymore than that and mental scar tissue starts to build up. Paying prior to arrival is easier,  and I don’t mind walking from my car to the first tee. And my wife really likes me getting home a little earlier—there’s no pressure to mill about the bar post-round which means more time for home. For all the issues associated with the return of professional golf, it’s been remarkably smooth and TV ratings have been up also.

So if the golfers and the viewers are back, what happens when we get back to normality (whenever that is)?

I would propose that it is up to those of us who consider ourselves ‘golfer’s to make sure golf doesn’t miss this opportunity. Let’s not forget what those new golfers came for:

Fun. Mateship. Escape. Exercise. Fresh Air.

Nobody returned to golf in the last three months because they missed driving golf carts.

No one came back for big clubhouses and 5 star dinning.

No one dusted off their clubs for a committee meeting, or to visit 200 acres where every shirt was tucked in.

We are playing golf for the simple pleasure of the game. For the walk, the conversation, that feeling of watching a shot sail right down the middle.

Let’s hope Covid turns out to be a positive force when it comes to our game, reminding us not only of the simple joys, but showing us what was really needed to ‘grow the game’… a fairway in front of us and a fresh Seed in our pocket. 

When the world does get back to some sort of normal, let’s not forget that. Every cloud has a sliver lining, and this looks like being the games big chance to reset.