Editor's LetterApril 17, 2013

Better Nine Than None

Our new campaign is designed to help you play more golf.

Our new campaign is designed to help you play more golf.

I popped my head into a 100 Greatest

clubhouse to ask the caddiemaster a question. I hadn't actually put my foot on the carpeting, but my head, covered in a hat, was indoors. Ed Slevin, a friend and member of the establishment, barked: "Get your hat off! What--do you live in a barn?!" (Slevin is also a member at Merion, and his son makes an appearance in David Owen's story about the U.S. Open club; the Slevins might be overclubbed, but they're never overruled.

Taking your hat off when indoors is one of the immutable laws of civility. I should know better. My mother also taught me never to eat with my hat on. Even when munching on a hot dog on the 10th tee on a sunny day, I take my hat off for Mom. This is what separates us from the apes or at least uncouth golfers.

In my only encounter with Bobby Locke, the four-time British Open champion, he told me he had promised his father on his deathbed never to play golf without wearing a necktie, and Locke said he'd never broken that promise.

A lot of people, including the next generation, are often repelled by all the rules that golf and clubs (and parents) impose. This push-pull is the reality we face if the game is to thrive in the future. If you have mixed feelings, join the club, but change we must.

Golf Digest conducted a survey this year that shows evolving mores:

• Sneakers (92.3 percent) and flip-flops and sandals (62.7 percent) are now welcomed in most clubhouses.

• Golfers may change shoes in parking lots at 91.5 percent of courses.

• Even denim (51.1 percent), cargo shorts (68.3 percent) and collarless shirts (58.3 percent) are allowed at a majority of courses, and half draw the line at requiring shirttails to be tucked in (49.9 percent).

• Although surely not in the dining room, 85.5 percent allow hats to be worn indoors.

Nine-Hole Courses

Business papers and cellphones are traditionally banned at private clubs, but we have to view things differently in these multi-tasking times, so Contributing Editor Bob Carney offers sensible rules for modern-day electronics and dress in "The New Code".

The biggest cultural challenge to golf today is fitting it in our hectic lives. What other recreation requires a five-to-six-hour chunk of the day? As President Clinton once said in our pages (November 2000), "I like it for the same reason a lot of other busy people don't—I like it because it takes so much time."

Every other recreation, it seems, takes more or less two hours: movies, dinner, cocktail parties, tennis, bowling, going to the gym. If golf were invented today, it would be a nine-hole game. By no means are we questioning 18 holes, but our culture today dictates shorter blocks of free time. I'd rather squeeze in nine holes than none.

"Niners" are wrongly viewed as beginners, "slow" or a less-than-whole golfer at some courses. It's not "half-golf" in our book, and we're joined by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association in celebrating nine holes as a legitimate alternative.

Got time for nine? Let's play more golf this year.