People are not playing golf as much as they used to. Young people are not taking it up like they once were. This means golf courses are getting far less revenue. It costs a lot to properly maintain and operate a golf course.
As a result, some troubled courses are trying to increase the appeal of the game with gimmicks, in hopes of attracting more people to the links. I’m a lousy golfer. I used to be better, but I don’t play enough to stay good. However, I do have a respect for the game. The rules are strict, and though each course has its unique qualities, the rules apply to all.
I ran into my first encounter with this distortion of the game recently at an older, nine-hole course I’ve played several times before. It’s located in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, just below Pusch Ridge, in Oro Valley, Arizona. The views are magnificent.
When my friend and I arrived at the parking lot and were unloading our clubs, an attendant came up to us and said, “There have been some changes you should know about. There are now two holes on each green. The regular hole has a red flag, and the larger hole, for hackers, has a white flag.”
“Just how big is this added hole for hackers?” I asked.
He said it was about 15 inches across. In disbelief, I replied, “Huh?” and started seeing strange comparisons run through my mind. “This is crazy,” I thought. “It’s like making the pockets on a pool table the size of a salad bowl. Or, widening the goal posts to half the width of the football field, or installing basketball hoops as big as trampolines.”
My friend and I managed to complete the round without the septic tank cover sized holes getting in the way, almost. My friend chipped out of a sand trap and heard a hollow clunk. Yep, down the sewer – where some golf courses may find themselves if they don’t get more people playing. One thing they could do is focus more on keeping the courses in better condition. While playing that day we saw no groundskeepers, no sprinklers going, and thistles growing around the edge of some of the greens. And, it appeared we were the only players on the course.
Golf is in trouble. The courses that survive will be those who take good care of the course, keeping it well-groomed, attractive, interesting, and affordable. What other gimmicks might be next at the struggling courses? Perhaps on some holes, there could be a windmill turning that you have to shoot through, or an over-sized concrete duck that you must putt around.
And, why not make the hole five feet across? A hole in one always makes a golfer want to come back.
Follow up: In early summer 2016, the golf course removed the big holes, did a lot of improvements on the course and is again a respectable place to lose golf balls.