By Barney Adams

Factoring in the population increase, golf in the US has lost over 25% participation since 1990 and during that period over 3800 new courses were built. Kind of cuts to the chase doesn't it, things aren't going so well.

What are the reasons and many are given. At the top of the list is too much time followed by too expensive, not enjoyable, just not in the mainstream of today's culture. I'll buy the first reason and I think a general lack of enjoyment manifests itself as too expensive and influences most of the other reasons. If I don't enjoy something why would I take time and pay money for the experience. In fact under that analysis lays golf's greatest feature, its challenge. The one great shot, performing when you have to, using all your concentration and skill to perform as well as you know you can. That's the great beauty of playing the game and why more haven't left. I don't want to change this, just make it more realistic.

What if there were a proactive approach to the issues of time and enjoyment? What if it was data confirmed, virtually cost free and based on the game played by the greatest players, the PGA Tour? The question is how do we get it implemented, no one organization can do the job alone; it will take a ground swell. Published articles from the golf writers of the world would be a good start.

I recently played a lackluster round of golf on a nicely manicured 6700 yard course. At a trembling 9 handicap it wasn't an unusual performance (83) and among the guys I played with quite acceptable. Mentally replaying the round as we are wont to do it dawned on me that I couldn't reach some of the holes in regulation and on others hit hybrids or fairway woods for my second shots. The course at 6700 was within what I normally play maybe a bit on the long side but not outrageous.

Rather than continue replaying the round I started doing some data research. Since the PGA Tour is the standard for golf excellence I used available data. Officially their driving distance is 287 yards but almost any tour player can drive a ball 300, longer for the studs. Studies show that the average amateur drives between 205 and 230, not the college player or elite amateur, the every-day players, those who by their vast majority support the game. Using 230 because I am male and festooned with ego I calculated a 70 yard gap. On irons the differential is at least 20 yards per club and closer on wedges but when Tour players are hitting high 5 irons 215 over water it's no contest. Adding the two we get 90 yards for two shots, their game vs. ours.

On my 6700 yard course with 10 par fours we have 10X90 or 900 yards. Using the same formula on the par three and par five holes, we easily add another 500 yards and there is an obvious problem. When we play 6700 it's like the Tour playing 8100 and you know what, they wouldn't. Make no mistake, my 1400 yard difference is very generous to the amateur golfer. It's like us vs. an NBA player except we shoot at 12' baskets. Batting against a major league pitcher throwing from 45' or we pitch from second base. It's nuts, we play harder courses (longer) than the Tour on a daily basis, we can investigate how this came about but the bottom line is we have met the enemy and it's the wrong tees. The correct tees deliver faster rounds and more enjoyment.

The solution is NOT a rush to the front tees be they white, red, green or whatever. A rush to the front tees earns immediate resistance from the male ego and with justification, it isn't Tour Length. The solution is to set our existing courses up at real Tour Length which will generally run 6000-6400 yards easily accomplished by golf professionals if supported by their respective clubs. Some holes won't change like great little par four's and par three's. How about a 435 yard par 5!! Ridiculous you say, ok a 230 yard drive leaves 205 except this hole has a creek in front and nasty traps surrounding. It calls for a high, soft 205 yard shot... a classic risk/reward. I'll even give you a 245 yard drive (hard spot in the fairway) now it's a high soft 190. These are the kind of shots Tour players execute on a regular basis. We will never be as good but wouldn't be nice to at least be tempted.

The key to a Tour Length course is to start with a 230 yard drive, second shots generally 150 yards on in and come up with a fun and challenging layout. There should be hard holes, reachable par five's, the whole package. I just watched a Tour event on TV and saw a bunch of short iron second shots. Yes, the leaders were well under par but some of the greatest players in golf were even to over par.

I did the same analysis for women based on LPGA lengths and came up with courses at 4200-4600 yards. Maybe at those distances women golfers wouldn't drop out as they have over the years.

I can give dozens of examples of implementation as can knowledgeable folks in the industry. This is an enormous task, changing the culture of amateur golf; it needs support from every venue.


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