The Honda Classic was exciting but who was watching?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

While most of the world’s elite golfers skipped The Honda Classic, Sungjae Im, Mackenzie Hughes, Tommy Fleetwood and a few others proved that on a tough golf course where almost anything can happen, you don’t need big name players, huge purses and a famous golf course to create an exciting, entertaining golf tournament. Is that enough to capture knowledgeable golf fans or has the “celebrity culture” completely taken over?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Tough question.  My golf-loving friends and I appreciate a good battle down the stretch by anyone, because it requires much more than just ability to execute the right shots under pressure, and each of us, to our own meagre degree, knows what that feels like. But to the casual fan, unless there’s a Tiger Woods or a Rory McIlroy in the mix, or God forbid, an obnoxious horse’s-rear like Bill Murray insulting everyone’s intelligence along the ride, a good event like the Honda just may not appear on their radar.  Too bad.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: The Honda Classic is searching for an identity. They have a great, difficult course that attracts hardcore fans. They have Jack and Barbara which also attracts hardcore fans. They also have a party atmosphere that deters hardcore fans. Unfortunately, their party goers don’t number enough to replace the hardcore watchers as they do in Phoenix. That brings us to the ‘stories’. It’s a terrific story that Sungjae Im won particularly some of the daring shots he hit on the back nine on Sunday. But, from a Canadian point of view, there were 3 putts that were of special note. Of course, Hughes first putt on the 72nd hole which would have tied him for the lead. Next was Hughes’s second putt on the 72nd hole, a lengthy tester that allowed him to finish 2nd and Fleetwood’s first putt which if he sunk it would have given him a T2 instead 3rd. Why does any of this matter? Well, ‘Mac’ Hughes hasn’t played very well, and his exemption will run out if something doesn’t change. Second, alone is worth enough money for him to keep his card beyond this season. If Fleetwood’s putt goes in, he ties with Hughes for 2nd and Hughes doesn’t have enough money for the exemption. And, people think these guys have an easy touch on life.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It’s certainly enough to bring in the knowledgeable golf fans, but that’s not the demographic the PGA Tour is marketing its product to. Knowledgeable golf fans are going to watch tournaments either way. It’s the much larger demographic of casual viewers that needs A-list names and a rotation of the world’s most iconic courses to tune in, although I don’t know about purses. Do people actually care that someone is walking away from a tournament with 2.1 million instead of 1.8. I personally don’t understand the appeal of seeing pros dismantle easy golf courses. I want to see the way they go about tackling the courses that eat my lunch on a regular basis. Perhaps, casual golf fans just have no point of reference and need to have this concept explained to them. It’s like watching the Lakers beat up on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, LeBron is going to put 35+ points and his team will cruise to a victory, but it won’t make for good TV because they won’t be challenged. The adversity is what makes for good television. Doesn’t everyone know that?

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): OK, it was an exciting tournament but only because it was so close at the end and the risk reward 18th provided plenty of drama.  But I admit I only tuned in when I heard that Mackenzie Hughes was in the running late on Sunday.  Otherwise I wasn’t too excited about the tournament, I’m more inclined to watch when the top players are playing, and always when Tiger is playing!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Sorry, but if it was Im and Steele down the stretch and not Hughes and Fleetwood, would have stopped fast forwarding and given it a pass. In fact, it really was Hughes that kept me hitting FF, muting Koch, and trying to figure out if Christie Kerr was filling in for Dottie Pepper or just doing an impersonation. Paying attention to any other windy day in S. Florida with B listers would be like watching the Seniors Tour — sure they can play, but who cares?

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Sunday was Exhibit A – compelling evidence that you don’t need the World Top 10 on a famous course in a major. It was just plain exciting to watch. A lot of that had to do with the golf course – bogeys and doubles were just as likely as birdies and eagles; par actually meant something. Casual fans seem to love the birdie-fests and rarely tune in if Tiger isn’t in the field. Knowledgeable fans know better and are occasionally rewarded with a Honda-like performance.

Ironically, the USGA, Golf Canada and Golf Ontario all had their Annual General Meetings on the weekend, and each produced a litany of commitments to solving all of golf’s problems and growing the game. In your view, what’s the most important thing these associations can do to keep the game strong and viable?

Deeks: I’m so tired of hearing the phrase “growing the game”.  Unless you’re a golf equipment or apparel manufacturer, do you really care about growing the game?  Let’s concentrate on preserving the game for what it represents.  I recognize that “preserving the game” is not exactly a mantra that’s going to excite the masses, but to everything there’s a time to reap and a time to sow.  I don’t think the status quo is so bad, and I applaud efforts in the last decade to attract younger people to the game, and profession.  But let’s not get silly.

Schurman: These are three very different entities primarily because of their financial viability or actual revenue. The USGA has MMM$$$$$. Golf Canada benefits by returns from past successes and GAO is solvent. Their prime value is to organize high profile events for the core golfers and tournament players which they must continue to do. They claim an influence on regular layers by virtue of their handicap system which does benefit another 20-30% of all golfers. They are all lacking in their lack of programs or services of interest to the other 70-80%. In my experience, I have found the market of golfers to be in two distinct groups. One who has heard of these groups and participates in their programs and those who have not heard of them. Group two has little or no desire to pay any more for golf than they currently pay, they think in terms of an average score as opposed to a handicap, they are not competitive and they are quite likely to have little desire to play by the rules. One huge undertaking they could all become involved in is a nation-wide “Bring a Friend to Play Day”. Every golfer could invite a non-golfer to their course for a day. Let them walk around, putt a bit, hit some balls, take a lesson, have lunch. In general, show them what golf is all about. The entire day should be FREE and underwritten by the golf associations, the golf clubs and the manufacturers. The net result could easily be a growth of 5 to 10% annually and it all takes place on one day.

Kaplan: Make it more appealing to the younger generations. Remove all of the stuffy aspects of golf: the restrictive dress code, the pompous clubhouse decorum, the never-ending rule book, the archaic check-in systems in the pro shop, the reserved parking for the club captains, pros and execs (Screw that nonsense. Go find an empty spot like everyone else), men’s and women’s days that close off the golf course for people who just want to play 18 with their friends, and the mandatory food and beverage minimums. Here’s an idea: if there is not enough interest to support your fledgling bistro, shut it down; don’t make me subsidize it!) A few more things that courses should consider implementing: weekly course-wide competitions even if there is no tournament, long-drives, closest to the pins, a putting competition on the practice green, the round of the week adjusted for handicap, highest score on a hole for the week, etc. THE WINNERS OF THESE MINI COMPETITIONS SHOULD GET THOSE PARKING SPOTS FOR THE WEEK AND IT SHOULD KEEP ROTATING SO EVERYONE GETS A CHANCE. And mobile pro shop check ins, better online booking systems, themed afternoons (think: Musical Mondays or Tank Top Tuesdays), glow in the dark nights, golf scooters and other fun alternatives to power and push carts. I’ve got many more ideas, but I think these would be a good start.

Rule: The most important issue is to engage the younger generations in the game, and I don’t have the answer for that obviously!  I like the creative ways that Keith Pelley and the Euro Tour is trying to make the game more interesting and hip and young.  Their social media videos are engaging a younger crowd and hopefully attracting more kids to the game.  It’s tough to compete against all of the other digital distractions kids have these days, especially when it’s tough for them to concentrate for more than 10 minutes on one activity, let alone 4 hours.  So, 6- and 9-hole rounds and even tournaments may have to become more prevalent.

Quinn: Parents and grandparents have to be encouraged — some incentivized, sadly — to take their children to the range, the pitch and putts, and to the course. All the lifers I know learned the game — and as importantly, the game’s etiquette — from the adults in their families. It is a generational game, like an heirloom to be protected and passed on. The young players I know get that. Pretty simple, like most things that last.

Mumford: The best things the associations can do is to support more competition at all levels. Competing is the best way to make players better. And the better they get, the more engaged they become. Why don’t we have leagues for team golf? What about kids leagues like minor hockey? Why aren’t there more provincial and national competitions beyond the elite level. There will always be plenty of people that view golf as a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. But ultimately, the essence of golf is a competitive sport. Studies indicate core golfers play more rounds and spend more money. Real growth will only come if we can foster more competition at all ages and all levels and build up the core, not nibble around the edges with people that aren’t sure they want to play.

You have one question you can ask any current player on Tour. Who is it and what’s the question?

Deeks: I guess the statute of limitations applies to asking Tiger about his transgressions of over a decade ago, so maybe I’d just want to ask Rory what his ultimate over-riding goal in golf is.  I know, it’s kind of a sucky question.  Twenty-six years ago, while interviewing Nick Price who was Number One in the OWGR at the time, I asked him how he would want to be remembered at the end of his career. Best answer I’ve ever had in over 45 years of journalism… he said, “Simple.  As a good father to my children.”

Schurman: My question would be to Bernard Langer……….could I caddy for you for the next 6 months so I can see first-hand how you do your job?

Kaplan: I’d ask Patrick Reed what he genuinely thinks fans and players think of him. I wouldn’t let him get away with an “I don’t care” or an “I don’t pay attention to all the noise”. I want his genuine thoughts on how he thinks he is perceived.

Rule: So many players, so many questions.  How do I pick just one?  My first thought is asking Muni He “Are you free for a drink”, but I’m positive I won’t like the response.  So maybe I’d ask Tiger what other players he would play with and where he would play the round if he only had one round to play. Curious to hear who he respects and idolizes.

Quinn: Almost all the questions I have for the current Tour players have been asked; not all answered fully and/or honestly, of course. But Koepka has proven to be open and honest. I’d ask him what he’d say to Reed — face to face — and what he’d tell Reed about the honest assessment of his character by the guys on Tour. Aside from slow play, Reed’s the only other subject that everyone outside the ropes is unanimously pissed about.

Mumford: I suppose the really obvious questions are out of bounds. Like, “Hey Patrick, do you cheat at everything or just golf?” Or to the players that played with Trump, “Is he as clueless in person as he appears on TV or did you have to sign an NDA or take a loyalty oath that prevents you from answering?” My curiosity with players’ personal lives, clean or messy, doesn’t run very deep. I am however, intrigued by Bernhard Langer’s continued excellence into his 60’s, so I might ask him, “Hey Bernhard, do you run off solar batteries or do you have to be plugged in at night?”

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

2 thoughts on “The Honda Classic was exciting but who was watching?

  1. Peter, as for Bernhard Langer’s continued excellence, it can all be “putt” down to one thing … Vorsprung durch der Besenstiel

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