It’s an almost never ending quest among industry types to look to other sports for ways to ‘fix’ golf.
20/20 cricket is often cited as the model to unlock an apparently large untapped audience that’s just waiting for golf to morph into something that isn’t golf before jumping on board.
But what the ‘golf takes too long and is too hard’ brigade almost never do is wonder out loud what other sports might learn from ‘us’.
As a 600-year-old game which is played globally and counts amongst its millions of devotees a core so passionate that life without the game is unthinkable, surely golf has something to offer in this space?
The recent Olympics provided an interesting comparison and highlighted what it is that makes golf unique among almost all athletic endeavours and certainly all stick and ball games.
It’s the course. Or more precisely, the variables the golf course brings into play and the decisions those variables demand of the player.
In the track the boundaries are set. Start at point A and whoever arrives at Point B first is the winner. They even have lanes.
"The recent Olympics provided an interesting comparison and highlighted what it is that makes golf unique among almost all athletic endeavours and certainly all stick and ball games." - Rod Morri.
The field events are equally rigid. The athlete who throws furthest or jumps highest or longest is the winner.
(The marathon is the exception in this and a quick Google search reveals course design is indeed a topic of discussion in that sport.)
Would these sports be more interesting if there was an element of variability to them? Perhaps. But the point of them is, in fact, to remove as many variables as possible and identify the best at executing the particular action.
It would actually be quite simple to create a golf competition that mirrored these principles, should one want to.
Long drive is already a close approximation with its defined hitting grid and uncomplicated formula of longest (within the lines) wins.
It’s simple and it involves a golf club and golf ball but it isn’t golf; and every golfer knows it.
Long drive requires no decision making or imagination, merely execution. And while interesting in its own way, the proof of its appeal is in the pudding, so to speak.
It has never captured the imagination of millions of fans or players because, at its core, it is not much different to javelin or shot put or high jump.
There are some Olympic disciplines where competitors have the freedom to execute their own moves but these sports (gymnastics, diving, surfing etc) rely on judges to decide the outcome.
Golf is the only sport where the players have the freedom to choose how they go about the task but the result is decided by a definitive outcome: the score.
In golf, execution is an important skill but it is not the ONLY – nor always the most important – skill.
Golfers must make decisions on every shot because no two shots are the same and no two golfers are the same.
Two different golfers may opt for two different paths to the hole from precisely the same position and their results might be exactly the same (or completely different).
And this is why the answer to the original question – can other sports learn something from golf – is no.
Golf is, and always has been, unique. No other game or sport pits the player against both the field of play and the other competitors the way golf does.
And it is why golf remains the most compelling – and the best – of them all.