I didn’t break 80 until I was 54 years old. I know how old I was because I saved the card. I’d been playing golf on and off for around 40 years, so my first score in the 70’s was a really big deal.
Up to then my best round was a not entirely legal 82. When I was 16 years old I played with a good friend on a country club course that was closed on Mondays. He was a member and they’d let me play with him on Mondays for free as long as we were willing to dodge the maintenance projects. One day they had sanded the greens and they were nearly unputtable, so we gave ourselves two putts once we got within about 20 feet, leading to my 82. My lowest honest score before my first 70’s round was 83, and I had several of those.
For most of my golfing life, I was delighted to make the turn in under 45 strokes. That let me feel the 80’s were in reach. Now I’m disappointed if I make the turn in over 40 because it means I have to work hard for my 70’s round.
But am I having more fun playing golf? Maybe, but it’s not due to the scores. In fact, my expectations for good scores sometimes get in the way of having fun. I’m playing more regularly with a group of guys I really enjoy. I like shooting better scores and I feel really good after a near par round. But I can have a lot of fun while I’m shooting a bad score, if I’ll let myself.
I guess that’s part of what’s been bothering me about the recent focus on trying to make the game easier so more people would play. I wonder how many people quit playing because the game is hard. Maybe some do, but I kept banging away for 40 years, playing poorly and loving the game. Part of what kept me going was knowing this hard game could be played well, or at least a lot better.
I’m willing to bet that more people stop playing because of their social experiences on the course than because of their playing ability. Golf is advertised as a game for life, a game for the whole family. Images of kids, moms, and dads strolling the fairways together are an advertising staple.
But what happens when that family really hits the tee? What happens when an old guy and his wife come to the course for a day of fun? Half the time they get a gratuitous lecture from a starter about keeping up the pace of play. They hear grumbling from other groups waiting to tee off. They get a marshal on their tail out on the course, even when they are keeping up the pace nicely. They get singled out as the reason for slow play, even when they are stuck in the middle of a logjam caused by a group of delusional hotshots playing the tips and stalking the greens like they were on tour.
Just like I’m sure you have, I’ve been stuck behind the family while the kid whiffs ten times. I’ve watched and waited while the old and the young (and middle aged) top, foozle, and bunt the ball down the fairway. I’ve topped, foozled, and bunted myself. But most of the toppers, foozlers, and families have let me play through. Fewer delusional hotshots have let me play through.
Of course we should all use the tees appropriate to our game. After all, the PGA, LPGA, and Champions tours don’t use the same tees. We all need to have at least semi-realistic ideas about our game and abilities. Go ahead and use a big hole for a special event sometime, as long as your greenskeeper can put things back together without damage. And if you’re slowing the course down, let folks play through.
But to really have more people playing golf? Let them have fun doing it. Golf isn’t a forced march over 18 holes. It’s a game.