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Editorial Feature: The Future of Golf
Few people that watched the final day of the 39th Ryder Cup could deny it was one of the most astonishing and captivating moments they had witnessed in sport.
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Editorial Feature: The Future of Golf
Posted by: Nick Bonfield on Fri 12 Oct 2012
Few people that watched the final day of the 39th Ryder Cup could deny it was one of the most astonishing and captivating moments they had witnessed in sport. No one could have predicted the string of events that ultimately led to Europe retaining the trophy they won so memorably at Celtic Manor in 2010. The drama was entirely unparalleled, emotions fluctuated constantly and viewers could only marvel at the golf being played under the most strenuous pressure. Even those without a pre-existing interest in or affinity for the game of golf found themselves completely engrossed in the action. It is easy to see why the Ryder Cup is the third highest viewed sporting event in the world, but as the dust settles on another memorable contest, we are left to lament to the fact that the game of golf will not see such levels of interest for another two years.
Indeed, the authorities’ focus will now return to how best to attract attention to a sport that is arguably as exciting as it has ever been. The sad reality is that part-time golf viewers and casual golf fans, even those who found themselves completely enthralled by what transpired at Medinah, will pay little or no attention to the game until Augusta National’s beautiful azaleas appear on our screens in April.
Strength and depth
It is a real shame. Golf is enjoying a purple patch - in terms of golfers, at least - that shows no signs of subsiding. Rory McIlroy has fulfilled his potential and reached the top of the Official World Golf Ranking; Tiger Woods has returned from the golfing abyss and will surely win his 15th major championship in the near future; young, charismatic golfers from all corners of the world are starting to make an impression on a global level; the game is expanding into pastures new, such as Asia and South America, and every week, on both sides of the Atlantic, enigmatic and idiosyncratic golfers, such as Bubba Watson, are in action.
But the fact remains that golf gets very little coverage in print media and limited prioritisation online. Far too often, stories about golf are neglected or confined to a small section propping up the sports pages. The only time we can expect to see golf on or anywhere near the back page is when the majors roll around, a horribly disproportionate representation when you consider the current strength of British, and indeed global, golf. Pages of coverage will be given to England’s football match with the world’s lowest ranked team, San Marino, a game which, in all probability, will command a huge audience who will yet again be disappointed by a drab performance from a thoroughly uninspiring football team.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big football fan, and fully recognise that football has taken its rightful place as the most popular sport in the country. But how often are the back pages filled with tales of another footballer’s angry outburst, another player vilified for cheating, another player repeating the all-to-easy process of breaking a contract and discarding loyalty in favour of personal remuneration? And yet how often it is publicised that British golfers occupy four of the top five positions in the world golf rankings? How much attention was given to the Luke Donald’s remarkable and unprecedented feat of winning both the PGA and European Tour money lists in the same season?
Example to youngsters
It isn’t just the strength of the current crop that should be fully acknowledged, but the brilliant example the vast majority of golfers set to aspiring sportsmen and women. Most golfers epitomise the good things about sport: hard work, dedication, respect, gumption and sportsmanship, to name but a few. Phil Mickelson, for example, smiled and gave the thumbs up to Justin Rose after the Englishman holed a key putt on Medinah’s 17th green, knowing full well the prospective implications of such a moment. Similarly, Davis Love – who took action throughout the week against boisterous fans not conforming to the etiquette of the game – was nothing but magnanimous despite being on the wrong end of the biggest final-day turn around in Ryder Cup history.
I’m not saying golf should dominate the back pages every day, but merely suggesting, on occasion, a story about British golf’s golden era or a British golfer’s march up the world rankings should take precedent over another footballer protesting about his lowly £100,000-a-week wage. Sadly, golf is struggling for investment at the moment. Only recently, another European Tour event, the Andalucia Masters at the world-renowned Valderrama Golf Club, had to be pulled from the schedule. There is a perception that golf simply isn’t popular, a perception that is somewhat misguided (look at the Ryder Cup, for instance). A lack of media coverage, though, is helping to facilitate such a viewpoint.
I am a realist, and am fully aware golf will never be as popular, nor as consumable, as sports such as football. But the Ryder Cup showed there is an implicit interest there, and now is the time to harness that positive feeling. If golf is given more coverage, it could help to shake off common misconceptions and elevate the sport to the next level. It could also influence people to take up the game and, perhaps more importantly, persuade prospective sponsors that affiliating themselves with a golf tournament or venture is a viable option. The buzz created by the Ryder Cup was so special; let’s hope golf isn’t forced to languish in the sporting depths for another two years.
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