This is the time of year you typically see a lot of predictions about what to expect in the coming year – everything from who will win significant sporting events to what the price of gold will do. Some of it is based on solid research but most is part science and part emotion – the head and the heart trying to work together to come up with a consensus pick.
It’s tremendously difficult not to let your personal bias into the process. I recall having dinner with some friends about a year ago and the subject of the impending U.S. elections came up. Some were quite concerned that Donald Trump was leading in the polls at the time. I predicted, with an air of assuredness, that there was no way the Republican Party would ever allow a lunatic like Trump to be their standard bearer. And even if he did win the nomination, there was no way the American people would ever elect him.
Boy, was I wrong!
I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that I was far from alone in making that erroneous assumption but if I’m honest with myself, my prediction was based far more on my emotion than any scientific analysis. I just didn’t want a nut job like that in the White House.
So, no more political predictions for this year. And I’m not going to make any sports predictions right now either, although they should be easier. After all, they’re based on historical results, current performance and the ability to narrow the field down to a couple of contenders. Like the Pats and the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. Or maybe the Packers.
OK, enough of that. Following are 10 things I’d like to see for golf in 2017:
No Harm No Foul
The USGA did a nice little about face late in the Fall and amended the Rule that resulted in Dustin Johnson being penalized for causing his ball to move during the U.S. Open at Oakmont. It was necessary and to their credit, the USGA moved quite swiftly for them in correcting it. Now I’d like to see them institute what amounts to a “no harm, no foul” rule. Like when Anna Nordqvist moved a couple of grains of sand in a bunker during a playoff for the U.S. Women’s Open. Nobody saw it except on high def television. It didn’t improve her lie or change her shot. Yet she was penalized and lost the tournament. The same “no harm, no foul” thinking could be applied to a host of other situations that are currently penalized under the Rules of Golf. If you did it by accident and didn’t gain an advantage, then there should be no penalty.
Paint Em All Red
This is both a rule change and a pace of play thing. The Rules of Golf mandate the use of three colours of stakes to define hazards and the penalties and remedies are different for each. Why should a ball hit out of bounds be any different than a ball hit into a lateral water hazard? Why should a ball lost in the woods be different than a ball lost in water? Let’s paint all the stakes red and forget stroke and distance penalties. While we’re at it, let’s mark all woods, wetlands and overgrown areas as lateral hazards too. Forget provisional balls. Forget returning to the tee. If you can’t play the ball or find it, then simply determine where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, drop within two club lengths and proceed under penalty of one stroke. It’s the way 99% of golfers play anyway and sure speeds up play.
Shorten The PGA Tour Season
New PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has been discussing potential changes to the Tour schedule but when pushed on specifics and timing, he reverts to Junior Tim Finchem mode and suggests it’s all very complex, many stakeholders have to be considered and even if he wanted it to change, it’s way down the road. If the Tour did a survey of golf fans, I suspect they’d be surprised to learn that a majority want a real off-season, most don’t watch the wrap around season and many are put off by the meaningless points system and playoff format. I know I am. So Jay, let’s play from January to Labour Day and turn the rest of the year over to football and the World Series with one Fall weekend reserved for the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup. And Jay – let’s do it now.
Pick A Strategy For The Canadian Open
Everybody knows that Golf Canada has a big decision looming concerning the future of the RBC Canadian Open. With Glen Abbey slated to become an upscale leafy Oakville suburb, Golf Canada needs to either find another “permanent” home for the Open in the GTA or make a decision to move it around the country. If this sounds like a replay of a discussion from another era, it is, except now Glen Abbey isn’t a fall back option. On their website, Golf Canada doesn’t show anything on the schedule past the 2017 Open, which is back at the Abbey. I presume they’re talking to lots of potential host courses but the first decision should be permanent home or rotating venues. I like the rotation option but if Golf Canada goes that route then the host sites have to be identified years in advance so upgrades can be made, parking sites can be secured and promotion can be started to avoid another disaster like Montreal in 2015.
Fewer Teachers, More Coaches
I can’t tell you the number of golfers I know, mostly guys in their 50’s and 60’s, who can’t hit the ball the way they used to and announce that they’ve started a series of lessons, usually driver lessons with one expert, putting lessons with another. Or worse, they’ve bought a DVD off the internet and are teaching themselves. This usually leads to months of frustration and further deterioration in their play. As many readers know, I struggled with my driver for the better part of three years. In an effort to gain more distance, I tried lots of things on my own, none of which worked. In despair, I decided to just go back to the way I used to hit it. But I couldn’t even find that old swing. Nothing felt comfortable. In retrospect, I know if I had a coach, who had videotaped my old swing, it would have been much easier to get it back. And that goes for all aspects of your game. You likely don’t need lessons so much as you need a coach who knows your game and can help you on an ongoing basis.
More Match Play
I’m excited about the upcoming Zurich Invitational on the PGA Tour. The tournament changed its format this year to team match play and players are already pairing up and issuing challenges. It’s going to be a lot of fun and should be instructive to all golfers. Why? People ask me all the time, “How do I get better?” My standard answer is to play more competitive matches. Match play forces you to learn shots that aren’t in your comfort zone. It teaches you how to strategize on the golf course and especially how to put your ego away and just play smart golf. It’s surprising these days how often I play with a group and nobody even cares about keeping score. For many of them it’s just a pleasant way to spend half a day without consequences. But rarely will that make you a better golfer. Learning to grind a bit with something on the line adds a perspective you can’t get from casual play.
Foot Golf Is Fun But Not The Answer
On a recent trip to Phoenix, I stayed at the beautiful Wigwam Resort, which has three courses. On one of the courses, they were introducing foot golf and our group of golf writers were the guinea pigs. We played in fivesomes, casually sauntering the fairways, beer in hand and routinely kicked coloured soccer balls to their eventual destination in oversized holes. It was a hoot and I’d happily do it again. However, and I think we were all in agreement about this, there’s no way in the world that foot golf helps grow the game of real golf. It’s a different sport altogether and while it may generate some revenue for facilities that have availability on their tee sheet, it’s no different than Top Golf or any of the other entertainment options that have sprung up as part of various “grow the game initiatives. Definitely fun on their own but not remotely close to attracting new people who are prepared to spend lots of time and money learning the most frustrating sport in the world. One final note on foot golf. As casually as we played, the high school kids that played the following day, who ran whooping and hollering at full speed to every ball, might have had some pace of play issues if stuck behind a less spirited group of golf writers. But I’m sure they’ll work that out.
Watching Golf Should Be An Escape
I know it’s symptomatic of the times and to some extent it’s a reflection of cultural shifts in the United States but I’m sick and tired of religion, patriotism and the worshiping of everything military intruding on my Sunday afternoon golf telecast. A recent visit to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix and time spent with a couple of fighter pilots who had been in combat recently in Iraq and Afghanistan left me with a new found respect for the risks they take and the job they do. I get it. I really do. But on Sunday afternoon I don’t need to be reminded in sanctimonious tones by David Feherty how grateful I should be. The God Squad is another matter entirely but it’s always puzzled me why their god would select them over other religious players to win in any given week. Regardless, I don’t want to hear from them. I’m probably going to hell now.
Slow The Greens Down
Golf is a hard game but we don’t need to make it unnecessarily harder by letting superintendents prove how close they can groom their course to PGA Tour standards. I recently played a course I absolutely loved but found it impossible to enjoy completely because the sloping greens were running over 12 on the Stimpmeter. I’m a pretty good putter but sooner or later you just get tired of three putting because the super cranks the greens up to warp speed. For most play, a speed of 9-10 is more than sufficient. The most fun I think I’ve ever had putting was at the University of Michigan golf course last summer , an Alister Mackenzie design where the greens cant and roll from one level to another, with false fronts and contours and plateaus. You really had to think about where you wanted to land your ball, then figure out the putt. Those greens were running at 9.5 the day we played and they were challenging enough. Putting should be fun, not impossible.
Time For Golf Canada To Reach Out
In addition to their decision on the RBC Canadian Open, Golf Canada has to find a replacement for Scott Simmons, who is leaving his position as Executive Director and CEO next month. After he announced his decision to leave, the reaction to his record and time in office ranged from ‘Scott’s a nice guy and didn’t burn the place down’ to ‘a remarkable legacy with positive ramifications for the future of golf in Canada for years to come.’
It’s tough to quantify ten years of work. There were positive moves for the Association and a few disasters. There’s a tendency to view Golf Canada from a business perspective and watch the bottom line. Some years, financial results weren’t good as Golf Canada lost money and had to count on the Glen Abbey investment money for support. There were disastrous membership models tried and rejected at great cost with little to show and over all, membership declined under Simmons watch.
But there were successes too. Simmons built strong relationships with all of golf’s stakeholders in Canada, something his predecessor did not. He secured viable sponsorship for both the men’s and women’s opens and established a solid rapport with the professional tours. Programs such as Golf in Schools and the Team Canada development squads are already bearing fruit at both the amateur and professional levels.
During Simmons tenure, the conversion of the RCGA to Golf Canada also occurred, with a new governance model and a new operational style. Lots of people would like to see the RCGA come back but I’m not sure it’s possible or even advisable.
However, from the perspective of golfers across the country who never play in a national championship and don’t keep a handicap, Golf Canada doesn’t mean much. It’s like a quasi government institution. Quick, can you tell me the name of the Deputy Director of the Department of Highways? Neither can I. Nor can I tell you what he does or what his department’s mandate is. And I don’t spend any time at all thinking about it either.
Golf Canada has just over 300,000 members across Canada. That’s about 7% of all golfers in the country. Those members predominantly belong to private clubs or play golf at an elite level – club, provincial or national competitions. My question is, and you’ve heard me ask it before, how do you connect with the other 93% out there who don’t know, don’t think about and don’t care about Golf Canada?
There’s a tremendous opportunity here. Most problems are solved by having more money available to fix them. And a lot of new members means a lot more money.
Before they hire a new CEO, Golf Canada needs to re-define themselves in a way that let’s golfers see them not as some faceless bureaucracy but rather as an organization that makes them relatable to several million golfers in Canada that they’re not currently reaching. Most people want to belong to something and as golfers, an association that’s doing something for them is a natural.
The next CEO, whoever he or she is, should keep that in mind.
As always, thanks for reading!
One final note: our friend and regular reader Dave Frantz has to take a year off golf to deal with some medical issues. He’s a member at Devil’s Pulpit and is looking to lease his membership for a year. If you’re interested, please contact Dave directly for the details. He can be reached at Dave Frantz / (905) 880-8561 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover photo: Courtesy of University of Michigan Golf Course