Is golf dying? And is this the way to save it?

Does golf need a radical overhaul?

This isn't necessarily a new question, but it's one being debated more -- and more seriously -- coming off the recent PGA Merchandise Show.

Adding fuel to the fire is a group of well-known, influential, and highly skilled players whose recently launched idea is likely making the blue coats at the USGA turn green.

Some think it could save golf from dying a slow death.

One thing's for sure --  you'll probably think it's one of the best or worst ideas you've ever heard of.

First, most everyone agrees that golf is hurting. The number of players, rounds, and courses is declining.

At the core of the debate is whether the game of golf is just too darn hard, at least for the casual player.

One factor at play is that golf courses have become so much tougher over time.

Our most recent building boom was somewhat of an arms race to see who could build the biggest, baddest and longest layouts – a problem further complicated by many players who insist on playing from tee boxes too long for their game.

I couldn’t help but notice during last weekend’s Match Play Championship event that the pros were routinely hitting wedges through 8 irons on their approach shots.  Too often I see amateurs holding 4 irons and hybrids, even after “ripping” a drive.

As discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a group of Silicon valley executives have even gone as far as to propose an alternative set of rules called Flogton ("not golf" spelled backwards) where players could match rules that suit their skill levels.

For example, taking one mulligan per hole and getting free relief from trees and other obstacles.  (Little did I know, I have friends who have been playing Flogton for years!)  Among the proponents are longtime Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, John Donahoe, the CEO of eBay, and Bill Campbell, chairman and former CEO of Intuit…all low handicappers.

I even found a product at the PGA Show looking to ride this trend.  And while I support the effort, it definitely deserves at least an honorable mention in my unofficial list of goofiest golf items of all time (joining such doozies as Windage, a spray bottle that emits a puff of powder so you can judge the direction of the wind – this comes in very handy if you ever play on a course without grass).

The name of this year’s brainchild is Kangarila. To play it, you use only six clubs and play with special Kangarila balls.  The balls have special markings, and whichever section comes to rest facing up determines which club you need to use to hit your next shot.  For example, a wood, long iron, wedge, or “player’s choice."  Kind of like golf meets Magic 8-ball.

Frankly, I have had some memorable times playing 3-club matches, so to some extent, I applaud the inventors of Kangarila.  However, if you want to play like this, wouldn’t it be much easier (and cheaper) to simply mark up a ball with a Sharpie?

What do you think?  Does golf need to be easier to survive?  If so, is the answer a separate set of rules (and perhaps equipment) for pros and amateurs? Are ideas like Flogton and Kangarila the best -- or worst -- ideas you've ever heard of? Please share your comments below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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Commented on

I don't agree thT golf is too difficult. I think basketball is too hard for some, football if course. and I could go on. But I definitely don't think golf is too hard. I have witnessed many younger and older players who can hit a golf ball but have trouble with a baseball game or football. So enough about it being too difficult.

The problem is the accessibility and yes, the cost. These are the areas we have to work on for beginning golfers. As they age and become employed the cost is reasonable at some golf courses but not all--but that's life. I believe I have the key to saving golf!

Commented on

The traditional game is definitely on the skids, losing millions of followers. With fewer avid golfers to support golf, a millenial generation not playing at all and more golf related business closing, look for a big changes coming to the overall format.

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This year, I am quitting golf, after 20+ years of playing the game, citing:

1. Cost of green fees & additional expenses.
2. Difficulty of the game (most years my average score was 102).
3. Golf snobbery and elitist attitudes. (I'm not going to waste my $50 to be around these people).
4. Lack of partners (When I first started in 1994, I had no problem finding golf partners, nowadays, nobody really golfs anymore).

Commented on

Golf is supposed to take a long time to play, be expensive and really difficult to learn and frustrating at best...that was the allure of the game in our fathers & grandfathers era. Not today...the world has moved on & changed thanks to the computer age and the economy! Today's world demands quick, affordable, economic, enjoyment, convenience, satisfaction, efficiency, enviro-responsibility, which the old golf game can't provide and needs evolve & adapt to the modern culture, just like any other thriving industry. Change is the only constant.

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So I have read a lot of the comments in here and I cant believe what some of you people have had to say .... change the amount of holes .... change the rules.... limited flight balls ect. WTF are you kidding??

I look at it like this ... people here are complaining that the prices of clubs are too expensive and that they can not play well because they cant afford the latest and greatest clubs. lol I was once told that it is the Indian not the arrow and with that being said. You don't have to have the best clubs on the market to have a great time or even shoot a decent score. Golf is a sport that could be considered a journey. It tests your patients, your resolve, your character, and determination. This is not a sport that you master over night and it takes time and dedication to get better.

For all the people complaining that the courses should be designed for people that are not the best golfers and that the rounds are too expensive. Try golfing at a course that is easier for the amateur player with cheaper greens fees. Trust me there are a lot of courses out there that are built for less skilled players. Also maybe try going to a driving range and learning how to swing a club and get in a little practice before heading blindly out to a course. Check out some how to youtube videos. When you first started driving did some one just give you a licence and a car and say good luck .... no you take the time to learn first before heading out to the nearest highway.

Maybe instead of trying to change this great game to make it easier for people who are too lazy to take the time to learn how play or even attempt to learn basic etiquette on the course. These people should dedicate their time to something cheaper and and easier to master. I hear paper and pencils are pretty inexpressive now days take up tic tac toe. It doesn't take all day to play and you will still have time to go out and make comments on subjects like this that you have no idea what your talking about !!!

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I agree. if you cant be bothered to learn the game and go to a driving range then play cards. No sport is played well without practice and hard work. My grandsons practice daily for football, baseball, soccer, you name it.

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What golf really needs are well designed courses. Most difficult courses are too long with no options. The lowest form of golf design is substituting length for difficulty. It's the easiest thing in the world to build a tee and walk 400 yards (usually uphill) and say there's a tough hole! The other problem is forced carries and greens that reject shots. People work all week then go out to have FUN! It's no fun standing on a tee knowing it's going to take your career drive and a career second shot just to get on the green. Every course I play has at least two holes like this. The tee it forward campaign is a joke as most local pros still put the regular tee too far back. And if you read an article online by Lee Trevino he states that most golfers will not move up to the forward tees anyway as it's a macho thing with them. I also get a kick out of putting hazards right off the end of the tee boxes, wonder who is punished by those hazards. I just don't think golf is run by people who understand (or care) about the average golfer. Until this changes this game is in trouble.

Commented on

Toooooo many golf courses,toooooo much ego and
expectation of ones self, fairly expensive and time consuming,lessons are even more time and money.
Best for the average golfer to be satisfied with a 15-25
Handicap. Remember : the better u get the more upset
one will likely be with poor shots and poor rounds. It is a game conducive to unsatisfying moments or annoying
moments. I am the happiest +20 golfer you encounter on a golf course because I keep my expectations low and just try to enjoy the scenery and nice folks one meets.

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I believe where you need to start is addressing the junior golf issues as many kids these days are not given fair rates and or feel like the game is much too difficult. Golf courses need to include kids 1-14 for free when an adult round is purchased. Also each course should create a score based off of skill levels. When my oldest boy started, we made pars based on the rating and length of each hole. This allowed him to feel good about making a 6 (it was a birdie!!). Once he was able to get the joy of the game he wanted to go back everyday! Today he is 12 and is a 5 handicap playing from the men's tees. It's all about following the rules, but making the game evenly matched so that everyone feels success. Handicaps work once you have learned the game but learning the game can be very discouraging. Tee it from the right tee, play the rules, keep pace, be realistic as to what score you should take on any hole..... 700 yard par 5........... how about par 7 or 8.

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I think is dying more today because people who love golf do not want to watch it on TV any more,they are tired of seeing two minutes of golf and ten minutes of adds,years ago it was a pleasure to watch golf,,not any more,now you get tired watching the adds,

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I live in a golf community where unlimited golf is included in our monthly HOA dues so cost has not been an issue for us. I have lived here for 13 years and played golf only a handful of times. The rabid attitudes of the serious golfers made it more pleasant to stay home. Now, just recently, a new group has started up who have decided it would be fun to play, get this, FOR FUN! Members have to be 70+ years old, keeping score is considered a personal decision (nobody cares what you got). If you want to pick your ball up and throw it out of the sand trap, do so. If the rules of golf conflict with the rules of having fun, having fun wins. The group is encouraged to gather at the 19th hole for even more fun. Over 50 people signed up the first day which goes to show there is a need for this kind of "golf," We pay the same dues as anyone else and if our game doesn't include keeping score, why should anyone care?

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Is golf dying? And is this the way to save it?
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