Editors' BlogOctober 28, 2008

Does it need to be 18?

Reader Joe Burrell of Brighton, Ontario, responds to Golf Digest's "Golf and Money" package in the October issue by resurrecting a question the industry tends to ask itself in difficult times: Does a round of golf need to be 18 holes?

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In your October '08 issue, you published a series of articles under the heading of "Golf and Money". Firstly, let me commend you on the quality of those articles: they were very interesting, informative and "right on" in many respects. However, I would like to weigh in on the discussion, and make the point that I think the two most important factors bearing on the declining numbers of people playing golf are money, and time.

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  1. Golf is too expensive for many younger people. There are not enough opportunities for young people to play golf often enough, for a reasonable sum of money. If we define often enough as merely 2 or 3 times a month, then, many young people cannot afford to spend $200 or $300 per month to play golf. These costs would include green fees, and, in many instances power carts, golf balls, gasoline to drive to the course and other incidentals.

  2. The other factor is the time that it takes out of one's day to play a round of golf, including driving to the course, waiting to tee off, playing a 5 hour round (average for many public courses), having a sandwich afterwards, and then driving home. This just about kills the entire day.

I have a suggestion to make, which addresses both these problems, and, although radical in nature, it would be interesting to see what would happen if a wealthy entrepreneur who loves the game were to implement my ideas, going forward. Let me share my thoughts with you.

Who says that a game of golf has to be 18 holes, anyway? I believe that it was not started as an 18 hole game, but later evolved into that. Why not, going forward, invent a form of golf (let's call it "speed golf") that is played over 14 holes? These would be regulation length par 3's, 4's and 5's, and it should be possible to cut at least an hour off of the time it takes to play a round of golf. Courses could actually be designed as 14 holes, with enough land left to add 4 holes, if the experiment were to fail. The courses would encounter less costs in taxes and maintenance, and the financing costs would be less for the actual building of the course. The other side benefit would therefore be cheaper green fees for the players.

Incidentally, I believe it was Jack Nicklaus, who, some time ago, mused about the concept of converting 18 hole golf courses into three 6-hole units, and making golf a 12 hole game. My suggestion to add a form of golf designed as a 14-hole game isn't sacred to me; Jack's would work equally well.

I know that the golf traditionalists and purists will be appalled at my suggestion, but golf is rapidly becoming a game that only older people and people who are more affluent play. Let's make it easier for young people to come into this wonderful game, and to stay in it for a lifetime.

Great points, Joe, and as a "traditionalist" myself I have no problem with your idea. To say it's time for golf to get creative is an understatement. Personally, I think 9-hole rounds are underrated. (Play 4-hole matches and still have a hole left for a press or "playoff.") Leagues tend to be 9-holes and are loads of fun. At our club, the 11th hole ends at the clubhouse and hundreds of rounds are played in 11 holes. Most of all, why can't courses with 18 offer all of these options, if the layout allows? Want to play six with your kid? No problem. Play the back nine on Sunday morning at the crack of dawn? Sure. I know Bob Baldassari, the innovative golf director at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie is looking to create a "menu" of options that make it easy for golfers of all kinds to say yes to both the time and dollar commitments.

This fall the industry will announce a new player-development initiative. I'm confident that initiatives like the one you recommend will not be far behind.

--Bob Carney

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