Is Shortening Golf the Way to Grow the Game?
Everyone has a view on the best path for golf to thrive in future, with the Golfshake Community being no exception. We gathered the opinions and thoughts of 3,500 golfers in the 2019 Golfshake Survey, covering a variety of topics, including identifying the most effective methods of growing the game to benefit us all.
Admittedly, this audience of avid golfers may not be the same as the wider demographic of people that governing bodies are tirelessly pursuing to introduce to the sport, but they nonetheless provide unique insight.
Considering the keenness of the respondents, it's not surprising that only 6% of golfers completing the survey stated that 18 holes of golf was too long, with this number dropping to 5.5% for club golfers and sitting at 6.7% for non-club golfers. Just 4.3% of the under 35 age group stated golf was too long, rising to 5.4% for those 35-54 and 6.3% for the over 55 age group. This data simply highlights what we already know in that once you get the golf bug you are hooked.
Respondents were also asked about which initiatives could help the game, with 53% having a positive view of 'playing ready golf' and 36% having a positive view of 'putting with the flag in' as launched by the R&A and USGA in last year's new Rules of Golf. Both of these changes were added to help move golf forward in modern times and ensure a reasonable pace of play when we all know the issues around time in our lives and the time to play golf.
Given that fact of life, we were quite surprised to see that 38% of respondents felt that introducing shorter formats of the game would have no impact, and 24% stated this in relation to introducing more nine hole courses.
How Well Do you Feel the Following Initiatives Will Help the Game of Golf?
How Can Shorter Forms Of The Game Help Grow Golf
However, despite the above data, in our most recent survey, we asked if the game should be developing more 'starter' courses, of which 78% replied with a very positive yes.
Additionally, we are also seeing a rise in the growth of adventure golf, indoor and outdoor putting facilities, as well as driving ranges being 'gamified' with the installation of TopTracer Range. But are we doing enough to create the pathway and customer journey from these 'entertainment' based golf activities to allow someone to take up golf as a hobby?
Encouraging greater direct participation on the golf course, be that in a shorter form, can only be a good thing and ultimately continue the pathway to play golf in the traditional sense of 18 hole courses and potentially some form of club membership.
The survey provided lots of feedback around this and whilst mixed, with some golfers stating that there were enough courses already, on the whole, the feedback was positive with many golfers relating to their own experiences.
"Golf Access and Golf Sixes go a long way in helping new golfers play shorter formats. I support any such steps."
"This would help give people a taste for golf and would also be beneficial to those who may not have time for a full round."
"The number of Local Authority golf courses are reducing as they are not cost effective even with cheap green fees. I'm not sure par three courses would be any better."
"My first experience of golf was on par 3 pitch and putts. This developed into a desire to play but this entailed many visits to the driving range before I felt comfortable enough to venture out with more experienced golfing pals."
"This is particularly helpful to new golfers with >36 HCP in that they can take their time to develop their games on such courses without holding up play for other seasoned golfers on the main 18 hole course. Equally, such courses could be a godsend for those older members who no longer wish to play 18 holes and/or have >35 HCP who want to play at their own pace and play fewer holes."
"We are closing courses now. Could we covert them into smaller courses."
"You don’t need starter courses, simply look at the layout on your own course and introduce par 3 tees on each hole or create a nine hole routing"
"Lots of the courses that have gone out of business in my region have been the traditional starter courses - municipals, proprietor courses - that feed other clubs. Now they're gone, where are new golfers getting into the game?"
"Goes without saying, the players that are short on time would have a greater selection as well a chance for the new players to have a go without getting tired, we all forget how tiring golf was when we started out."
"My golfing bug was kicked off when I was younger by pitch and putt courses. Unfortunately, I don't know any that are left, which is a shame, but reflects cost of upkeep and house building demands in urban areas."
"More starter tees instead. Encourage beginners to play from the forwards tees (usually the reds) without the stigma of being only for women/seniors."
"Absolutely, starter courses will make the game fun for novices and allow them to develop the skills necessary to play a "proper" course without upsetting the more experienced golfers."
"Seen this for example at Knokke in Belgium. People delighted to be described as rabbits while they play shorter course and earn the right to play main course. They have comps and real interest shown by pros and other members."
"Particularly to encourage younger golfers, beginners, ladies, seniors etc who either find ultra long courses intimidating or simply don’t have the time to play long rounds of golf. I think golf has to have more flexible offerings to survive."
Ultimately, this will inevitably come down to space and availability, with one comment adding: "I live in London, where is the space?" But as noted above, could more be done to save some of the courses that we have seen shutting over recent years, to potentially turn into a reduced golf facility that offers a fresh pathway for new players and delivers another option for these time pressed golfers in search of greater flexibility?
We have seen short formats of the game trialled in recent years - most notably GolfSixes - but having short or adapted courses could be part of the solution as we enter the new decade. Let us know what you think.
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