Golf’s renaissance is in full swing. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is refusing to look at the evidence at hand.
As part of our feature on golf’s lessons and next steps after COVID-19 [see page 44 of Australian Golf Digest’s December edition], we conducted dozens of phone calls with experts from all corners of the industry. What we learnt was the clubhouse chatter is true: golf is booming. For how long, though, depends on us.
Overflowing tee-time bookings, record equipment sales leading into Christmas, driving ranges recording uncharted usage, mini-golf getting its own prime-time television show with Channel 7’s “Holey Moley” set to debut in 2021… it all speaks volumes for golf’s unprecedented demand right now.
In short, people are falling in love with golf again. It’s a notion that’s hardly newsworthy to those who live and breathe the sport. In fact, it may even come across a little insulting or obtuse. But this isn’t about us – the converted. For those that haven’t been able to see golf’s true appeal (Clover Moore, we’re looking at you!), the pandemic has provided a timely realisation of the fun and frivolity that can be had in the safest of environments. Trust me, in the space of 24 hours last month I couldn’t get a tee-time at my local club and couldn’t book my son’s birthday party at my local mini-golf facility. “We’re so sorry, we’re fully booked that weekend. It’s been a crazy few months.”
While golf factions continue to argue about the golf ball flying too far, whether you should be allowed to wear black socks on a golf course [see page 24] or if golf takes too long to play [page 110], real momentum is being made to identify what newcomers actually want. It’s why Callaway recently merged with Topgolf – the gamified driving-range experience that showcases golf in a sports bar and restaurant environment – in a move the company’s chief executive Chip Brewer hailed as the best thing that has happened to golf since Tiger Woods.
“Topgolf is transforming the game. And it’s going to be the biggest source of growth for our industry. It’s accessible fun. It fits with the times,” Brewer said in an interview with Golf.com.
That gamification concept has extended to Toptracer Range, which is quickly infiltrating Australian driving ranges at the speed of Bryson DeChambeau’s swing. Like candy to a kid, this form of golf is too tempting not to try, and too addictive not to return. Why? Because of the environment it’s presented in – it screams “fun”.
While hardcore golfers will always love carrying 14 clubs, counting every shot and adhering to stringent rules over 18 holes – as they should – not everybody’s idea of fun is created equal, particularly on a golf course.
Turn to page 28 and you’ll discover how New Zealand trick-shot artist Tania Tare caught the bug by something as simple as watching a famous Tiger Woods Nike commercial – you know the one, where he juggles the ball with an iron before flicking it in the air and smashing it out of sight.
“I started playing golf by copying that trick shot,” the social media star recalls. “It took something out of the norm of traditional golf to make me interested.”
And therein lies the secret: something out of the norm.
Tare was immediately drawn to a skill that lit a fire within her, and over time learnt the true art of its many other offerings, to a point where she’s now a pro who loves to uphold its many traditions, all while continuing to show others just how fun it can be through trick shots.
Tare is living proof that, while it’s important we continue to uphold the many traditions of our wonderful game, it’s by no means the answer to ensuring its long-term future. Like the millions of coffee addicts who got started by drinking mochas or caramel lattes (guilty!), we must ease this newfound crowd into our world, not turn them away with an experience that risks being too imposing. Be nice, too [page 146]. Can you honestly say golf isn’t as addictive as caffeine if played in friendly and caring company? Didn’t think so.
And before you whinge about how expensive your annual fees are becoming, think how much you could be saving if your club had more people using its facilities and paying for the privilege. The truth is no one in golf should ever be paying for the “privilege”. We’re not royalty or a frequent flyer program. Golfers should be paying for the pleasure. If we can get that part right, joining a club will seem like an investment for life.
As Golf Digest’s equipment guru Mike Stachura once said of golf being fun: “Fun? Fun is snickerdoodles and hopscotch. Fun is not golf. Golf is torture and agony surrounded by fleeting blips of moderate satisfaction and bemusing blind luck. At its best, it is the sensation that you are bleeding from the mouth like Lee Marvin at the end of ‘The Dirty Dozen’, bruised but not broken, as you walk to the 18th green. The evil beauty of this game, its perilous joy, lies in staring down the constant fear of failure and achieving something that passes ever so briefly as success. Wanting to subject yourself to that sort of psycho-trauma every day for all the tomorrows you have left – that’s what’s fun about golf.”
Yep, short courses on the Melbourne Sandbelt, forward tees, simul-blasting, trick shots, 18-somes at Barnbougle, high-tech target ranges, happy hours, birthday parties – golf in Australia is finally changing to meet a new generation of players. Not a moment too soon.