Pretty much exactly a year ago, The Times sports pages ran a story under the headline ‘A good watch spoiled: golf is dullest sport’. Of the 17 sports listed, 70% of the surveyed group had said they found golf boring to view. The NFL was second worst at 59% and that’s an American sport! Athletics did best, with only 28% of respondents feeling that was boring. Yes, athletics – of which the veteran American golf writer, Dan Jenkins, wrote: “The only thing more boring than track is field.” Only 11% of those surveyed thought golf was exciting.
A month later Oliver Brown, writing in the Daily Telegraph, remarked upon the fact that J.B. Holmes had taken four minutes before hitting his second shot to the par-five 18th hole at Torrey Pines. “Roger Bannister ran a mile in less time,” Brown noted. He also noted that after all the faffing around Holmes had laid up anyway, and that his threeball had taken over six hours to play their round. And, as you’ll well know, they hit the ball considerably less frequently than most of us. Brown concluded his piece by saying: “You can forgive fans if they look elsewhere to avoid any more of this snail-paced torment” – pretty much backing up the findings of the aforementioned survey.
Away from watching the professional game on television, golf has not had an easy time of it. Last May, Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, announced that his organisation would invest £80 million into women’s golf over the next 10 years. “Doing nothing is not an option,” he said. “The majority of clubs are struggling because their product is aimed at a target market which is shrinking. At best we are flat and that has to change. When you look at raw statistics, it is women who bring children to play, not men.”
If the young ones don’t play, the game’s long-term future looks bleak. During the week of the last Ryder Cup in Paris, Pete Cowen, the eminent golf coach, told the Daily Telegraph: “When I speak to young people they say golf is too slow and too expensive. We need to do whatever it takes. Let the kids wear trainers, let them play computer games in the clubhouse. We get them in but we lose them at 14. They see the hurdles and find something else to do.”
Also last September, the World Golf Foundation (WGF) published a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine which, inter alia, encouraged the building of fewer holes – i.e. suggesting we need to get away from the notion that anything less than 18 holes isn’t a ‘proper’ round of golf. But there was more. “Playing golf is associated with mental well-being benefits which can include improved self-esteem, self-worth, self-efficacy and social connections. The best available evidence suggests playing golf regularly is associated with increased longevity.” A corresponding leader in The Times was rather more enthusiastic about the sport than its story at the beginning of the year. “Of all Britain’s national sports, golf is unrivalled in its advantages to players,” it said. It is surely one of the more enjoyable ways to get to your daily 10,000 steps on your smart-phone app.
That was the year that was. Let’s see if we can do a bit better in 2019.
You can follow me on Twitter @robrtgreen and also read my other blog at f-factors.com – plus there’s more golf blogging from me in the 19th hole section on the Golf Today website