In a press conference leading up to the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club back in early June, host and course designer Jack Nicklaus talked about the game.
“The game of golf is too slow, it’s too expensive, and it’s too difficult,” Nicklaus said. “Those are the three elements that I see are problems for golf.”
The statement is a bit perplexing. The game is slow for many reasons, one of which is that jamming together tee times to make more money creates inevitable traffic jams. It’s also slow because too many high handicappers think they are Jack Nicklaus standing over their shots to win a PGA Tour event.
The difficulty issue is laughable coming from Nicklaus. I recently talked to a well-traveled golfer who had played Muirfield and described it as one of the hardest layouts he has ever teed up.
“I wouldn’t want to play it every day,” he said.
Ever see an aerial of the place? I get claustrophobic when watching the tournament on TV and they have shots from behind tees looking down the tree-choked fairways.
There is a justified reputation of Nicklaus designs that they are difficult. I interviewed him a number of years ago, and he admitted it was true that many of his early designs favored high fades (for a right-hander) into greens. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a high fade in my golf shot repertoire. It was a trend that Nicklaus said was pointed out to him after he was well into his architecture career.
Nicklaus is also a conspirator in the recently opened Trump Ferry Point municipal golf course in New York City, which he designed. Fees are $215 for non-resident weekend tee times. Resident juniors get no break on weekends and holidays and need to shell out $169 to play. Thanks for helping keep costs down, Jack.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the United States Golf Association (USGA) has taken a positive step in an effort to increase play. July 29 is the second-annual PLAY9 Day, which the organization says will “recognize and celebrate the many virtues of the nine-hole round,” according to its website.
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis is quoted as saying “PLAY9 Day addresses the time barrier to the game that some face … We anticipate a steady uptick from last year’s program, affirming the merits of playing golf when time does not permit an 18-hole round.”
I’m all for this idea. I adore nine-hole golf courses, and am one of the many who grew up playing the game on a public nine-hole layout. Some of my favorite layouts have but nine holes.
The USGA reports success from the first PLAY9 Day.
“In 2014, the USGA’s Golf Handicap and Information Network recorded a 13 percent increase from 2013 in nine-hole rounds posted in the two months after the program’s launch.”
There deserves to be some back-patting for that accomplishment.
PGA Tour player and fan favorite Ricky Fowler is involved with a 30-second commercial (available for viewing at the USGA PLAY9 webpage).
There is nothing on the site about courses being too difficult, because they aren’t. In fact, the USGA asserts playing nine holes on any layout helps ease newcomers into the game.
“It can be less intimidating to newcomers as they learn the rules, etiquette and fundamentals of the game,” reads the website.
I like when Nicklaus talks about his on-course experience and winning tournaments, but he sounds out of touch with what’s going in golf when he says courses need to be made easier.
If he wants to help grow the game, he could come to Hartford, Connecticut, and redesign the 100-plus-year-old Goodwin Park Golf Course for $0. He could reduce the hefty site-visit fees and put his heart and soul into a minimalistic renovation that won’t have a high construction cost while still producing an entertaining and challenging course.
At the reopening of Goodwin, Nicklaus can tell stories about Arnie and Trevino and Trump’s ego to the huge crowd. Nicklaus could tee it up, too. He won’t have to go all 18. Just play nine.