What better way to spend the Labour Day weekend than with an old buddy playing at a golf course that hasn’t made anybody’s rankings to my knowledge, but who cares? For all we knew, it could be the last long weekend that we could play and way too much time was spent behind the computer this summer.
Prestige wasn’t the motivation for playing this particular course and, truth be known, that’s the way it is for most people I know, whose sole purpose out there is to have fun and not worry about impressing anybody by plunking down $150 or $200 for a green fee.
After forking over $50 (including cart), we were on our way and while the golf course itself was fun and in decent shape, an old problem reared its ugly head when, early in the round, we started waiting between five and 10 minutes on each tee and often stalled on the fairway waiting for the group ahead to clear the green.
The first reaction is to blame the group immediately ahead of you, but at various vantage points, we could see that they were facing the same situation with the group ahead of them. The only representative of the golf course I saw was the cart girl, but nobody was around to ensure an acceptable pace of play.
Where it began to break down is still a mystery that will never be solved, but the waits seemed that much longer due to the wind blowing in mighty gusts that actually had us layering up in early September with rain gear that, on this day, was being used for warmth.
By the end of it all, we were rushing to get to other commitments, so I can’t recall the actual time it took to play, but I’m estimating somewhere between five-and-a-half to six hours on a course that should have taken four-and-a-half at the very most.
As we progressed through this endurance test, I couldn’t help wondering if there was a relatively new golfer out there and what his or her reaction was to waiting in these conditions. Would such an experience turn that person right off the game or at least dampen his/her enthusiasm for it?
Similar stories of slow play have been told over and over. There are almost as many of those tales as statements from golf associations and other representatives of the game that recognize that we have to do something about it.
The trouble is that for as long as we’ve recognized the problem, we still haven’t done anything about it of any significance. That doesn’t just apply to the problem of slow play, but a variety of other issues that have the potential to stunt the growth of the game at a time when we desperately need an uptick.
The weird nature of golf is that we look to national and provincial associations to grow the game, but Golf Canada can run its Golf in Schools and CN Future Links programs and the National Golf Course Owners Association can hold its Take A Kid To The Course Week, but is there a place for juniors to play when they’re outside those programs?
Five years ago, the National Allied Golf Association brought together people for a gabfest in Toronto and came up with the Play Golf initiative that has since fizzled.
Time after time, what was the Royal Canadian Golf Association has brought out participation studies that point out that affordability and slow play are huge reasons why participation has stalled, yet here we sit talking about the same things years later.
Condemn the associations for that if you like, and you may not be wrong, but many of us would also be hypocritical if we’re fueling any problem that is stalling the growth of the game. It could be that some people who got into the game expecting to make a quick buck, then didn’t, really don’t care about it.
Hopefully, there aren’t a lot of those around.
As much as we like to point fingers at provincial and national associations, and many associations like to beat their chests about how important they are (that’s marketing folks), the seed for change is planted at the grassroots, that being golf courses, not offices with lots of grip-and-grin trophy shots on the walls.
I couldn’t blame the host of my Labour Day round for trying to get as many people as possible out there with the summer winding down and a long winter ahead. It’s just good business to score when the situation allows, so it made short-term sense.
This is the dilemma. We all know what wins when it comes down to bottom line versus growing the game, but until we make the investment of effort to change golf’s long-standing problems, the people at the grassroots, like the associations, have nobody to blame but themselves.