More emphasis should be put on the ‘experience’ and the exercise associated with the game, and not the final score.
When it comes to the adult sector of golf, the game needs to attract two groups – those who have never golfed and those who have tried the sport and moved onto to other ventures, like cycling.
But as American adults have moved away from golf, they’ve become a people who love to track, document and brag about their recreation and exercise achievements. One might think, then, that golf would be an ideal sport for the times. Is there any other physical endeavor, besides hide and seek, that requires more counting than golf?
Golf, though, fails the test because, for many, it’s not the score that people want to tally, but the fat and calories burned and the heart rate – which explains why cycling is trending.
Holy road rash Batman! Cycling? How did I miss this?
Articles detailing the fad are found in Entrepreneur, The Telegraph, CNNMoney, The Economist, http://BBC.com and, most recently, Business Insider, which ran a piece last February. Writer Daniel McMahon, writing for Business Insider, talked with Max Levchin, the man who co-founded PayPal, sold Slide to Google for $228 million and is now heading Affirm and Glow. “So you have this current generation of young executives, and they’re not particularly interested in walking around slowly. They want to do something physical, especially outdoors,” Levchin said. “They are very quantified, because that’s definitely a thing now: It’s not so much fitness as they are interested in fitness that they can measure. … The quantified self stuff has perforated the popular conscience.”
Quantified “self stuff?”
It turns out the quantifiers not only have to keep track of their time and their distance, but they also have to fastidiously post it on social media, as if somehow doing so legitimizes their existence and their efforts.
Levchin’s analysis of the switch from golf to bikes appears to be rooted in a desire to be hip, but there are other factors.
“Sure, cycling is expensive. You can easily spend $20,000 on a bike … but it’s easier for me to justify than spending $20,000 on a set of golf clubs I’ll never use.”
Levchin’s comparison unwittingly highlights the misperception of how expensive golf equipment has become. Bikes can easily reach an absurd price level, but the next time I see a set of golf clubs that costs $20,000, and wasn’t owned by John F. Kennedy or some other historical figure, will be the first.
Those high-end bikes, called “road jewelry,” are status symbols the way belonging to a golf club can be a status symbol.
Levchin and the like have embraced the new status symbol and it’s unlikely they will be coming back to golf anytime soon, even though golf costs less than biking.
So how does golf attract adults who’d rather be on a bike then on the course?
In this fitness-crazed world, the health benefits of golf need to be shown clearly as a way to entice potential golfers. These potential players need to be told that golf burns calories, that it’s about walking and not riding, and that throwing clubs, stomping and swearing can help one lose those unwanted pounds.
For beginners, it needs to be trumpeted that the worse you are at golf, the more you walk; someone who shoots a 63 for nine has most likely burned far more calories than someone who has carded a 36. Also, the worse you are, the more likely you are to visit interesting places like woods and bogs and a farm field, along with the occasional fairway and green. (Feel free to pause at this moment and recite a golf-farm joke to the person sitting next to you at the break-room table.)
According to http://Shapefit.com, these are the amount of calories burned over a two-hour period playing golf (roughly a nine-hole round) while walking and carrying clubs. The numbers are based on the weight of the golfer, not including clubs, and the terrain being flat. A 130-pound person burns 650 calories, someone at 155 pounds uses up 774 calories, and a person who weighs in at 190 pounds drops 949 calories. If those same golfers pulled their clubs, the calories burned are 590, 704 and 862, respectively.
Put into perspective, if people of those weights engaged in “light bicycling” for two hours (without crashing) they would use up 708, 844 and 1,036 calories.
The calories lost when engaging in moderate weightlifting, carpentry, ultimate Frisbee and marching band while playing an instrument are all less than walking and carrying clubs, according to http://Shapefit.com.
The trick is to get the modern man and woman who focus on quantifying their health onto the golf course as a way to exercise and also to commiserate with friends, but – and this is important – with the understanding that they don’t need to keep score.
The fact remains that par is irrelevant; it’s a made-up number that, for most golfers, has no bearing on their game. To get people to enjoy golf, it’s a number that makes them feel inadequate – and it can be done away with.
Take this comment in a BBC article profiling those who have switched from clubs to pedals.
“I got disillusioned with golf,” Adrian Markham said in the piece. “I was putting in lots of time at the driving range, playing competitions, reading psychology books and getting so little reward. Because it became all about the score, I wasn’t enjoying the game itself. Golf is so difficult, so it’s difficult to enjoy it.”
For Markham, golf became about numbers on a card, and therein lies the problem. The obsession with par has hurt the game by driving away golfers or prospective golfers for whom that digit never will be achieved.
“Don’t worry about par. The practice of printing par figures is literally a mental hazard,” said the esteemed Bobby Jones. Yes, that Bobby Jones, who is famous because of the numbers he wrote on a scorecard.
He’s right. We need to get back to the joy of just doing, of just knocking the ball around the course, playing not against par or Colonel Bogey, just golfers versus themselves or versus the course and Mother Nature, but not against some mythical number.
For those who insist on writing down numbers, they need to understand that today’s 46 is better than yesterday’s 47 but worse than last week’s 42, and par for the course should be thrown out the window unless they’re approaching a scratch handicap.
Golfers’ obsession with par can be directly traced to those who golf for money, which is odd since it is they, more than any others, who should know the lowest total wins, no matter what par might be.
The big question is, can grownups be taught to put down the scorecard and store the pencil? Can golf appeal to the Zen side of people, maybe to those who have too many numbers in their lives and are sick of counting, who don’t care how many steps they took today – those who are looking to relax with or without competing?
I think so, but a change in thinking at golf courses has to happen. How about if leagues inject some fun into the matches and move away from traditional scoring? Forget about match play and medal play, and instead use various forms of shambles and scrambles. How about a league with three-person teams that only plays alternate shot matches?
I think it can be done if more emphasis is put on the “experience” and the exercise associated with the game we love, and not the final score.
Let’s leave par to those for whom it is a legitimate goal, and leave the biking to the slaves of hipness. Let’s get back to fun golf so adults, at least for nine or 18 holes, can again feel like kids.
COVER PHOTO: LL28/SIGNATURE/ISTOCK