Anyone remember Golf 20/20? It was an initiative back in 2000 that was endorsed and blessed by then PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. It was intended to grow the game and drive golf’s popularity into the same stratosphere as the NFL and Nascar by 2020. Like it or not but 2020 isn’t that far away anymore! So for those of us that still have a memory, consider these facts. NBC Sports Group reported the final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:15 p.m. ET) earned a 5.21 overnight rating. The telecast was up 206% vs. 2017 (1.70). It also represents the highest-rated telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-’18) and the highest-rated PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excluding majors). Now consider this, in the same broadcast window, the Seahawks versus Cowboys game drew a 15.3 overnight rating. Later that evening, the Lions versus Patriots game drew a 13.6.
Back in 2000, Finchem reported the following: “The fan base continued to grow. Our television ratings are up. We did do some very exciting research at Golf 20/20 this year and are learning more about our fan base. Just to give you one example, we've seen an increase in 400 percent in the size of the Hispanic interest in our fan base over the last three years and the Latino press and media has created a fairly significant boost in Hispanic interest, to go along with the very strong increase in interest of African Americans. All of our key indicators were up in 2000. Our ratings, our on-site attendance, our charity donations, all of these indicators were up, whether Tiger was playing or not, interestingly enough.”
In last Thursday’s issue, Martin Ayers of 6817974761 stated, “They talk about growing the game, what they mean is growing the business. The game is devouring itself.” His words take on greater meaning in the context of the networks/Tour touting the ratings bonanza Tiger Woods represents. History has proven that professional golf has struggled to generated consistent rating improvements that suggest it has delivered on its promise to grow the game’s popularity with non-golfers. Meanwhile, it’s been incredible at driving its sponsorship rates sky high! Isn’t it ironic that Nike Golf decided two years ago to abandon the equipment business purely for financial reasons?
Einstein believed the definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over again expecting or anticipating different results. It’s a paraphrase, yet many would agree it aptly describes golf. Handicaps haven’t changed throughout the years or decades. It’s a fact that many can sadly attest to despite game changing equipment introductions year over year! Yet there is a growing sentiment that golf has a problem with distance. Ah, but that’s a story for another time.
Recreational players aspire to be professionals. They dress like them. Equip their bags as if they were one. Its big business, which generates plenty of revenue back to the industry. Golf is extremely aspirational. But pros are pros for a reason. They can often make the game look easy. We all know it isn’t.
Instruction has made some feeble efforts to try and improve the masses. Once upon a time, ‘How to cure your slice’ was the best selling cover for a leading magazine. Golf.com recently sent an email out with the subject: 11 reasons why you still stink at golf. Maybe you clicked on it, which was the purpose of the exercise after all. Golf remains a hard game. But an alternative source is looking to help those with an open mind and the courage to go down a different path than everyone else. As Donald Trump once said, “What do you have to lose?”
The USGA and The R&A finalized golf’s new Rules this month after an extensive review that included a request for feedback from the global golf community on the proposed changes. Golfers can now access the official 2019 Rules of Golf by visiting RandA.org or usga.org/rules.
The process to modernize the Rules began in 2012 and was initiated to ensure that the Rules are easier to understand and apply for all golfers and to make the game more attractive and accessible for newcomers.
While the majority of proposed Rules remain intact in the final version, several important changes to the initial proposals and further clarification of many Rules were incorporated. The most significant adjustments made following review of the feedback received from golfers around the world include:
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he turns to his mother and asks her, "Madam, how like you this play?" to which she replies, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Queen Gertrude’s response was to the insincere overacting of a character in the play, created by Prince Hamlet to prove his uncle's guilt in the murder of his father, the King of Denmark. This analogy can be used to compare golf’s ongoing love/hate relationship with distance.
Some can’t get enough of it and others believe it will be end of the game, as we once knew it. This bipolar view has been in existence for a long, long time. The ruling bodies of golf, stewards of the game, are tasked with viewing the topic from a 30,000 feet perspective both from the past but also with an eye to the future. It’s a complicated matter. It also invokes plenty of passion.
The R&A and the USGA released its proprietary research regarding distance. Introduced in 2015, the annual report examines driving distance data from seven of the major worldwide professional golf tours, based on nearly 300,000 drives per year. The data from studies of male and female amateur golfers is also included. Previously the information drew very little attention, however leading up to the most recent findings it came into the spotlight by comments made by the CEO of the R&A, Martin Slumbers as well as Jack Nicklaus at the Honda Classic.
The USGA held its annual meeting last month. Mike Davis, CEO, addressed the audience on a variety of topics. Given the recent comments made by Jack Nicklaus, it is interesting to revisit some of what Davis said last month. Nicklaus indicated through his private conversation with Davis that changes could be coming. However, if accurate, this appears to be a shift from Davis’ own words.
While the golf ball gets all the attention in the distance debate, there are other factors that influence it. While it doesn’t get anywhere the same level of attention, it is just as important. Case in point, Jack Nicklaus, who clearly believes changing the golf ball is the way to go, acknowledged the modern driver has also been a game changer.
“When they first came out with the metal drivers, I remember the '86 Masters, I was playing that little one that Bridgestone came out, that was a Jumbo (Ozaki). It was a little tiny head metal driver. It was a good little driver. I tested it against my wooden driver and there was a yard difference,” said Nicklaus.
“So when I got to '86, I used the wood driver. Then they started enlarging the head a little bit and then it started making more sense, because I got a little bit more out of it. But then they got to the mid 90s, that's when they changed the golf ball from the wound to the composite ball, that's when you all of a sudden found out there was a big difference. Because the wood driver didn't hit it anywhere,” Nicklaus said.
“I remember going to open up a lot of golf courses and I would have a wood driver made and I would sign it and put the date on it and give to them, and I hit the opening tee shot. I said, okay, guys now I'm going to show you why we don't use this driver anymore and then I would hit the metal driver and hit it 80 yards past the other one.”
So in an apples to apples test, using the same ball Nicklaus admitted the oversized metal driver significantly influenced the distance the ball travelled! And that is the golf ball’s fault?
As pointed out in the (270) 783-2554, under the BANK THE DRUM SLOWLY heading, some in the golf industry want a back to the future approach to the game. A week later and more evidence is continuing to mount that the ruling bodies of the game have hatched a plan to roll back the distance golf balls travel. “I had dinner with Mike Davis Sunday night, and Mike said, ‘We're getting there. We're going to get there.’ He said, ‘I need your help when we get there,” Jack Nicklaus revealed at the Honda Classic. “I said, ‘That's fine. I'm happy to help you. I've only been yelling at you for 40 years.’ 1977 is the first time I went to the USGA. I said, ‘I assume you're going to study for another ten years or so, though.’ He says, ‘Oh, no, no, no. We're not going to do that. I think we're getting closer to agreements with the R&A and be able to do some things and be able to help.’ I've talked to Mike a lot. Mike's been very optimistic about wanting to get something done but hasn't been able to get there yet.”