The golf industry, an engine of enviable profits during Tiger's prime, is leaking oil. According to the National Golf Foundation, golf has lost five million players in 10 years, and one-fifth of the existing 25 million golfers are going to quit in the next few years. They'll claim that golf's too expensive, too difficult and too time-consuming.
To stop this linkster leak, industry leaders are forced to think big — as in enlarging the hole diameter to up to 15 inches, the size of a pizza. Whoa!
In late March in Southern California, TaylorMade-adidas Golf sponsored a 15-inch-cup golf tournament at Pauma Valley Country Club. At the event, CEO Mark King said bigger holes can shave 10 shots off your handicap and 30 to 45 minutes from your round (see King's video). He says in five years, 90 percent of U.S. courses will offer 15-inch golf in some form. King is behind HackGolf.org, a web-site to "make golf more fun for everyone" using ideas such as foot golf (kick soccer balls from tee to huge holes) and the 15-inch hole.
What's a three-putt?
In mid-April at the Reynolds Plantation resort in Greensboro, Georgia, a 15-inch-hole event was held featuring Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, who shot a six-under-par 30 for the nine-hole exhibition. And then yesterday, news out of Canada was that a British Columbia course, The Redwoods Golf Course in Langley, is replacing the standard 4.25-inch holes with eight-inch holes every Tuesday, starting two days ago. This is an effort to "make golf cool again," as the CBC News headline put it. Check out this audio report on the eight-inch hole experiment.
This ballyhoo about bigger holes has created a corps of converts infatuated by the undeniable fun of sinking putts and chip-ins they could only dream of draining on a regulation course. Plus, there's no messing around with removing the flagstick, marking balls on the green and anally agonizing over the line of a putt. Just walk up and putt it. What's a three-putt? Eight-footer? Pick it up!
Will the big hole be a big deal? No, but you gotta give golf credit for trying new stuff to bring in new people. And for all we know, the big hole may do for golf what snowboarding did for downhill skiing in pulling in teens.
Maybe, but putting is not what frustrates newbies. Putting is a relief after their tortuous trip down the fairway, which includes chunking, topping, hooking and/or slicing the ball every which way but straight. No, newbies aren't frustrated by putting or even by the time it takes to play; they often just play nine or even six, and they enjoy getting away from the grind. No, the stopper for newbies is paying the big bucks. Golf is too expensive.
The big hole is like the self-correcting golf ball; I tried it and had some fun, and I still carry one in my bag. But I never use it. I'll play a regulation ball and live with the occasional mishit, just for the thrill of hitting a straight ball or even a draw. I may try a big-hole event and probably have some fun. Heck, I selfishly hope the idea takes off — because the standard-cup courses I play will be less crowded.