As the U.S. Open golf tournament starts today in Pinehurst, North Carolina, the event’s organizers kick off a campaign aimed at golfers, encouraging them to play shorter games: 9 holes, instead of 18.
Golf has been losing players by the hundreds of thousands, partly because it takes so long to play — up to five hours for 18 holes.
“If you go to a movie it takes two hours, if you go to dinner it takes two hours,” says Hunki Yun, of the U.S. Golf Association. “So, a five-hour round of golf is not necessarily compatible with today’s lifestyles.”
David Hueber takes some responsibility for the problem. As head of the National Golf Foundation in the 1980s, he helped launch a strategy to open more courses. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we developed a product our customers — that is, golfers — didn’t want to buy.”
The new courses were designed by marquee architects to be hard, meaning they took a long time to play.
They were also designed to be big — partly to satisfy the real-estate developers who funded them. The bigger the course, the more houses the developer could sell overlooking it. “Take a typical hole,” says Hueber. “If you add 50 yards to it, with home-sites on both sides, you’re going to pick up four home sites. You know, that could be a million dollars.”
Multiply that by 18, and a half-mile’s walk has been added to every game.