A story in the New York Times last week has been slowly making the rounds in the blogosphere, and I thought I'd add in my two cents. It concerns how the rate of people playing golf has been dropping steadily since the turn of the century, and efforts on the part of course owners and the like to reverse that tide.
The trend, of course, goes a bit against the grain of The Greatness of the Tiger... but I'm wondering if golf is going to see the same thing with Woods as the NBA did with Jordan, which is to say that the public's fascination with the individual is going to wind up making the sport seem anti-climactic once He is gone.
(The NBA is, pound for pound, the most competitive professional league in the world, with a global talent base, relentless competitiveness, spectacular talents, and yet, the public seems to just be blase about it. Maybe it's just that people don't want to watch hoop in the wake of 24/7/365 football, or the Unlikeable Stars Era did long-term damage that the general public isn't coming back from, but hell... it's not like MLB or NFL have a bunch of people you want to drink beers with. Anyway, golf.)
Here's my individual take on it. For a 3 to 4 year period in the late '90s, I was the target consumer that the golf industry dreams of -- low 30s, a weekend hacker who also got in some rounds for work. I'd play alone or with friends, and got good enough to enjoy myself, but not much more than that.
Once the Shooter Wife produced the Shooter Kid, golf took a back seat... and shortly after that, there was a lot of job movement, because I'm in online advertising and it was the dot-com bust. When you're not entirely sure how certain your paychecks are going to be, greens fees are not high on the priority list against groceries. I had also moved to a part of the world (Northern California) that routinely charged 2x what I was used to paying in other parts of the world.
Eighteen months ago, we moved back to the East Coast and bought our first home. We've since spent our money on home improvements. Between commute and office hours, my Monday to Friday is spent, which means that any time for golf would come on the weekend, and
So I've gone from playing 15 to 20 times a year to not playing at all in the past... five years. And the next time I pick them up is going to be ugly. The dirty little secret of golf is the same as any other recreational sport: if you go away from it long enough, you don't really want to start from near zero to shake all the rust off. It took me years to shave those first 20 to 30 strokes off my game; going out and having them all be back would be like playing a video game without saving your progress.
My clubs are in the garage, in a travel case. I've resisted the urge to sell or give them away, because they don't take up that much room, and who knows -- I might need them someday. Who knows, once the kids are bigger and convinced that time spent with Dad is time spent losing any sense of style.
So it's not a matter of four hours for a round being too much time spent away from my family (heck, I'm a writer -- hours spent away from my family is an occupational hazard), or not wanting to do things outside, which are the two points the golf industry keeps bringing up.
(And I am sure that, like any other addict, I'm one good hit away from being right back in it.)
Oh, and a quick little aside to everyone out there who wants to get their politics in by hating on golf and golfers... yes, yes, by all means, what a horrible thing for people to do, to actually devote some space to a fairly earth-friendly endeavor, to dress in a goofy way, and to take their essentially meaningless pastime seriously. I can see how this causes immense problems in your life, as they go to some place that you never go, and perform some activity that you don't.
Now that you've established your bona fides as a politically aware person, please go back to your television and computer that's almost certainly constructed by Chinese slave labor, and put on the game that's played by people who will make more in a year than most of us will in a lifetime. Oh, and the games and the stadia are also being supported by corporate welfare, and many of the top players have political stances that start at glibertarian or worse, and the owners make them look like tree huggers.
In other words, he who is without sin can go find my ball in the woods. The rest of us will play golf, or increasingly, not. (For now.) Or just go for something that's really more fun, and also just Wrong Wrong Wrong...