Golf's Image

April 27, 2009

When first Jerry Tarde, in his Golf Digest Editor's Letter, and then Ron Sirak, in Golf World's Bunker section, wrote about burnishing the tarnished image of golf, you responded. Most of your emails and letters were supportive. But this one, from a course manager in Arizona, had some bite.

Dear Editor, I read with amusement the commentary titled "Reclaiming the image of golf" (bunker 4/20/09). For the past several years, the golf industry has promoted an elitist image: Top 100 courses costing hundreds of dollars to play, glowing descriptions of these courses in the Golf Digest/Golf Magazine pages, $600.00 drivers, iron sets costing upwards of $ 1,000.00, golf balls in the $ 50.00 per dozen range, average golf courses charging outrages fees for mediocre conditions based on geographic location alone. What did they expect the public to think? Perusing you magazine (of which I am a subscriber, so I am not slamming you) I find ads not only for the aforementioned golf clubs and resorts, but also for Rolex, Tag Heuer and Infiniti. All remarkable products to be sure , but waaaay beyond my means!>__>

When was the last time anyone in the golf media wrote about or reviewed any golf course under $ 30.00? They won't, because anything that inexpensive must be too cheap. I run a small 9-hole golf Course in Tempe AZ ( one block south of the vaunted "Golf Mecca" Scottsdale) with a high end green fee (middle of winter) of $20.00 with a cart. My greens are as good, if not better, than any area course charging 5 to times as much, so there good golf courses out there (of which we are only one) that do appeal to the masses, and deserve more attention from those in charge of promoting the game of golf. __

Thank you,

Michael Caraway General Manager Rio Salado Golf Club Tempe, AZ

We're guilty as charged, Michael. We've promoted golf as the sport of CEOs and, well, rich folks. That image (and the reality of golf's demographics) has generated great investment and corporate involvement in the game, sometimes in a kind of "can you top this" extravagance, especially in course design and construction. Unfortunately, this high-end image has overshadowed golf's more egalitarian face, a face, to be fair, we have also promoted. Examples: The U.S. Open Challenge, the Search for America's Worst Avid Golfer, best public course lists, the Frugal Golfer, and Places to Play, our list of top public courses as rated by golfers themselves. (Read Ron Sirak's essay today on golf's blue-collar roots.) You're right, though, the emphasis has been on the sizzle. A lot of us learned the game on the kind of course you manage. In our effort to refurbish the image of the sport, maybe we ought to revisit our roots.

A New Jersey traditionalist offered a different take on golf's image problem. He says, put back the *walk *in a good walk spoiled.

__Dear Editor,>

The way to reclaim the image of golf is to ban golf carts. One of the principle reasons for their required use is to give a facility the appearance of affluence and luxury rather than what ragged groups of golfers trudging all over the place would impart. That way of thinking doesn't go well anymore.__

William R. Gedgard Cherry Hill NJ

William, as a former caddy who likes to walk and take a caddy, I empathize. But I've also got to admit that carts attract and retain many golfers who otherwise would not play. And, yes, that changes golf's image, not necessarily for the better. Studies of the next generation of retirees suggest that, unlike their predecessors, they are looking for activities that keep them fit. (So their taking up golf as a retirement sport is no longer a given). Golf has the potential to do that, but not when everyone must take a cart all the time. Indeed, any game with a six-mile walk embedded in it is the perfect retirement sport, provided you walk. But golfers should have a choice and be encouraged to share "driving" duties when they do take a cart so that some walking is involved. Carts that carry four bags, sometimes driven by a caddy also help. Having options is key.

These letters raise two critical issues for golf's future: affordability and fitness. To appeal to both young golfers and more "youthful" retirees, the sport will have to offer both. That's not a bad thing.

Thanks for writing.

--Bob Carney