April 20, 2008

If you're not avid, you're in the way

An article in The New York Times earlier this year stated that from 2000 to 2006 the number of "core golfers" in the United States fell from 17.7 million to 15 million, a decline of 15 percent. This trend, identified by the National Golf Foundation, sounds dire, but here's something more disturbing: The NGF defines a "core golfer" as someone who plays eight times a year.

Eight times a year! What's "core" about teeing it up once every six weeks? I know guys who don't play golf who play more than that.

In fact, I see six or seven of them every year at my club's member-guest, where they make up most of the F Flight.

An NGF official told me that most of the decline can be attributed to golfers "on the cusp," ones who used to play eight to 12 rounds a year but now play seven or fewer and, therefore, have been reclassified as "occasional" golfers. By "occasional," I assume, he actually meant "irrelevant" or "in the way." At any rate, the Times article suggested several explanations, among them "the economy" and "a surfeit of etiquette rules -- such as not letting people use their cell phones for the four hours it typically takes to play a round."

Eight times a year! What's 'core' about teeing it up once every six weeks?'

If that's the case, good riddance. Nobody who would willingly make a mortgage payment in preference to buying a new driver deserves to think of himself as a golfer, and cell phones have no place in golf, except, possibly, for summoning the beer cart.

There has been a lot of talk about growing the game, but maybe what we really need to do is shrink it. People who can't accept golf for what it is should find something else to do with their eight precious afternoons a year (while nevertheless continuing to renew their subscriptions).

Or maybe what we need is a new definition of "core golfer." To get the discussion started, here are a few possible criteria: play 54 holes in one day at least once a year; own (and use) a rainsuit; buy something advertised in a Golf Channel infomercial; discover at least one tee in your pocket every time you go through airport security; ignore all meaningless statistics, and focus on the things that truly matter, such as why are you reading this instead of sneaking out to play?