Decade Of Change: Golf's Future Relies On Global Expansion (And Less White People)

No. 1: The creation of an elite, global professional circuit

The World Golf Championships are now entering their second decade of existence, and golf still lacks a truly global series.  Until the HSBC Champions event in China was bestowed the title of a World Golf Championship in 2009, all but one WGC was being played in the United States.  That was an insult to the original vision of the WGCs, which was supposed to be a global series presenting the best players in the world.  Only part of that vision has been realized to date.

Greg Norman had it right: golf needs to have a way of presenting its elite talent on a regular basis.  The events that best do that are more or less informally defined.  The problem is that they are scattered across tours, geography, and governing bodies.  Golf needs to come together to formally define the dozen or fifteen events that are golf's most prestigious.  While this will clearly define a tier below the majors, it will also define a tier of events deemed unworthy of the game's best.  That is an understood reality in the game today, so formalizing it should not be a shock to anyone.  Having a series of events that fans know will feature only the best in the world can do nothing but good for the game.  It brings the top players to different places in the world and will help grow the sport's popularity in places where the only thing that brings a great player today is a seven figure appearance fee.

No. 2: The continued displacement of the WASP in golf

The 2000s were a fantastic decade for the growth of golf around the world.  A mixed-race guy dominated the sport in a way perhaps never seen.  The first Asian male won a major championship.  Asian women dominated golf so much that it prompted race-baiting commentary of how they were ruining the game.  An Argentine called The Duck won two majors, all the while chain smoking his way down the fairway.

Having fewer white people as the face of the game helped the sport.  White Americans who watch the sport on TV might disagree, but they are not facing the reality that golf is a global game.  Courses are closing in America as fewer people are playing the sport.  Meanwhile, Russia, China, India, and South America are the golfing frontiers.  If golf is to grow for the benefit of everyone, the white guy has to take a back seat for a little while.

And for God's sake, can the PGA Tour have more than one African-American guy on Tour at a time?  Thank God that the lone part-African-American guy is the best athlete in the world.

No. 3: A formal rollback of the golf ball

The USGA and R&A introduced rules that kicked in at the start of 2010 concerned the specifications of golf club grooves.  The idea was to place a greater emphasis on hitting the fairway from the tee.  Many analysts, including myself, thought it was a back door way to roll back how far the golf ball can actually fly.  In a recent interview with Global Golf Post, R&A Secretary Peter Dawson denied that was part of the intent of the new groove specs.

Well, it should be.  The length that the golf ball flies did incredible damage to many of the hallowed courses in the game.  Augusta National was bastardized in response to technology and is only now beginning to return to its former self.  The world famous Road Hole at St. Andrew's will be lengthened some 35 yards for the '10 Open Championship in an act of blasphemy.  Merion will host the 2013 US Open perhaps for the final time because of how technology can be used to overpower a cathedral of golf strategy.

The R&A and USGA need to not sit idly by while the distance of the golf ball ruins many of the courses that players have loved for decades, if not centuries.  The grooves ruling was a good start, but equipment manufacturers will find a way to engineer golf balls that beat the new specs and still allow the ball to fly ungodly distances.  Creating a formal rollback from the current standard will put equipment manufacturers in small enough of a box to prohibit this kind of bulldozing of history from happening.

Rees Jones may have a little less work to do, but that's a sacrifice that I'm willing to make.

No. 4: Have more golf tournaments with different formats

In the early dawn of professional golf, tournaments were presented in a variety of formats.  Some had two man teams.  Some had four man teams.  Some were match play, including a major championship.  Stroke play - how the overwhelming majority of events are presented today - was not the only option on the table.

The 2000s saw the death of the International in Colorado, a tournament played using the Modified Stableford scoring system.  I loved that tournament precisely because it was so different.  It made players think slightly differently, and the outcome was more exciting golf.  The death of the International was the official dawn of the age of only stroke play.

Golf needs to restore tournaments with a variety of different formats.  How cool would it be if there was more match play on Tour?  February Madness does not have to be a novelty.

It would be amazing to watch a $10,000 Nassau instead of my measly $1 Nassau when I play.

Part of the problem with golf is that it is always the same thing.  It's not nearly as repetitive as always turning left, but it does get kind of boring.  Jazzing up how professional golf is played on a weekly basis is in order, especially since the golf season now never seems to end.

No. 5: Better golf announcers

Baseball has been partially defined by the amazing men that have been delivering play by play over the air on radio and TV.  The greats describe the game so well that it enhances the experience.  Right now, golf really does not have that.

Jim Nantz is a nice man, but he is too lame when he broadcasts golf.  Dan Hicks is pretty good, but Johnny Miller negates him and makes me watch golf on NBC on mute.  Kelly Tilghman is universally panned for her work on Golf Channel.  Can our sport not get together and identify some people who can do for golf in this generation what the likes of Jack Whittaker did in the last generation?

Golf has a lot of down time between shots.  There is a large mental side to the sport where there is little action to observe.  Yes, visual presentation matters, but golf on TV desperately needs announcers and analysts that make the game come alive to hardcore and casual fans alike.

The sport has a few, like David Feherty and Nick Faldo (sometimes).  But the diaspora of golf telecasts makes it tough for every tournament to have consistently good announcing.  In kind of the same way that Fox completely botched announcing the BCS for the last four years, golf has had the same kind of turmoil on a weekly basis.

Maybe the way to go is simply have the BBC's Peter Alliss go into a studio and record every sound in the English language.  That way, when he passes on we will be able to replicate his quips using modern technology.

No. 6: A way to speed up golf on all levels

There is nothing worse than a six hour round of golf.  It's slow, at least two hours too long, and makes me drink way too much beer to have a good time.  I'm trying to watch my weight.

Part of the reason that amateurs play so slowly is because of guys like Sergio Garcia and Ben Crane and Tiger Woods that take 11 minutes to figure out what club to hit.  Golf needs to be faster at a professional level to encourage weekend hackers to speed it up also.

One of the major reasons that normal people stop playing golf is because it takes so long.  If the pro tours could figure out how to speed up the game for everyone involved, the after effects would help the sport on a number of levels.

That's not to say that players can't or shouldn't take their time when a million dollars is on the line.  It's just that not every shot has the million riding on it.  Speed it up, tour pros, so that I can get home faster and complain about you on the Internet.

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