Upon hearing the news of the USGA/R&A ruling on grooves, our friend and equipment guru Frank Thomas chimed: "It's the first step toward bifurcation." That is, in Thomas' view, the re-written regulation signals a time when recreation golfers will play under different equipment rules than professionals or high-level amateurs. And to Frank that's a good thing. Amateurs need all the breaks they can get, he believes, and the game, capital G, needs to make it more fun for weekenders who'll never threaten the scoring record at Goat Hills, much less Oakland Hills. (He makes the case in his new book, "Just Hit It." Tougher courses, faster greens, lusher rough have tended to make the game tougher and more time-consuming. More reason to quit or cut back.
It got me to thinking about two letters we received recently. One said, in effect, what's all this about "growing the game? Why do I want more people out there playing?" And at the other end of the spectrum the second said: "You folks worry about the tournament golf and all the rules that go with it. Just give me an experience of a couple of hours that I can do with my family."
That, to me, is the real bifurcation in the game. Serious golfer versus the guy or gal who's just playing for kicks. Walk a few holes, hit a few shots, don't worry about score.
When golf's industry leaders met this week, it was issue No. 1: How do we bring people to (or back to) the game? How do we convince the folks that think the game's too hard or too time-consuming to take another look? How do we suggest--heaven forbid--that maybe counting every shot and keeping stats and maintaining a handicap isn't the end all and be all. Maybe, for some people, having fun is.
The discussions will result in a new industry program by year's end. But in the meantime, we're hearing some fascinating ideas on how to bring new people into the game.
Here's one: It's called Power Play Golf. It's a nine-hole game with points awarded for shooting at greens with two flags: one white (easy) and one black (hard). A player gets bonus points for taking on the hard pins. In Great Britain, where it was born last year, it's quite competitive and played by new golfers and accomplished ones alike at some 2500 clubs. But it can be the perfect way for new players to get into the game, too. And it's always nine holes.
I hate to say it, having contributed to it in so many words over the years, but perhaps we inside the game have become too taken with score, too wedded to 18 holes, too worried about our handicaps to realize we're keeping people away. And maybe, just maybe, we might have more fun if we played a few more of those "casual" rounds from time to time. Whatever kind of grooves we've got.