Golf tries to bring players back on course

Some say the sport of golf has entered its twilight years -- but avid players and association heads nationwide are working hard to bring folks back to the herd.

Kai Ryssdal: The National Golf Foundation has some distressing news for those used to cutting business deals on the back nine. Seems something like five million players have left the sport in the past ten years. Schmoozing somebody on the course is as old a tradition as there in in business.

But Colorado Public Radio's Zachary Barr reports that the slow-moving and, honestly, kinda frustrating sport of golf is making some changes to try and get people back.


Zachary Barr: So, a realtor, insurance agent and mortgage broker meet up before work. They want to get a little exercise, talk business and compete against their pals. And if some networking comes of it, all the better. Their activity? It used to be golf.

Steve Remmert: Golf is frustrating unless you're on the top of your game.
Greg Nabor: I mean, all of us have younger kids, and I think it becomes a time constraint.
Noel Bennett: It's frustrating, and let's face it, somewhat expensive too.

Steve Remmert, Greg Nabor and Noel Bennett -- they've all given up golf. Now they meet twice a week to go cycling. They ride for a couple of hours in the mountains around Boulder. They do it because golf costs too much, it's too difficult and it takes too long to play.

Ed Mate: So, a bike ride early in the morning when you can be back by 8:00 is reasonable.

That assessment isn't from another cycling enthusiast. It's from the executive director of the Colorado Golf Association. Ed Mate says golf's problems go deeper: the sport's key demographic (men who are fathers) just won't leave their families for hours like they used to.

Mate: To take your whole morning or your whole day to go play golf is just laughable. That's a non-starter. That is the biggest challenge, by far.
Barr: What's being done about that?
Mate: Well, not a lot. There's a lot of discussion about reconfiguring golf courses to make four hole loops and three hole loops so you can go out and play, y'know, so you're gone for an hour.

But that idea -- which is happening some -- isn't as simple as it sounds. You see, golf courses are designed for everyone to play nine or 18 holes. Play just three and you cause a traffic jam. And many courses aren't rushing to re-mode just so they can charge less money for fewer holes. So what can golf do?

Golf pro Joe Bailing's at his golf course in Aurora, Colorado. He's standing at the start of the 18th hole.

Bailing: As you can see, we have the black tees, the gold tees and the white tees. There's also a set of ladies that are even more forward than these here.

These different sets of tees are spaced 10 to 20 yards apart, and that's nothing new. But now the big golf associations are imploring people to choose a tee that's closer to the hole. It's called Tee It Forward. It shrinks the course, and makes the game easier and quicker. Joe Bailing thinks it's a great idea. But...

Bailing: I'd say 75 to 80 percent of the people do not listen and just kind of go play where they think they should be playing from.

There's another push called "It's OK" rules. Darrell Crall with the PGA of America says the idea is to make golf less frustrating.

Crall: Bunker shots can be difficult for beginners; and after you try a couple times, you can pick it up and throw it onto the green.

Other efforts lower prices and recruit new players. Crall says all of this is necessary for golf to reverse its decline. So will this lure back golfers who've broken up with the sport? Well, do you remember Noel Bennett, one of guys who dumped golf for cycling? When he heard golf wanted him back, he said:

Bennett: Oh, really? Yeah? Sometimes I do miss it actually, when see people and I drive by and they're out there playing. It looks nice and relaxing. But it's not gonna happen.

I don't know, golf; Noel sounds a little wistful. Maybe you should keep calling.

In Boulder, I'm Zachary Barr for Marketplace.

About the author

Zachary Barr is a reporter at Colorado Public Radio.

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