The common complaint from the part-time golfer is they wish they could play more. Matt Cleary is among those time-poor swingers and he ponders the opportunities clubs have to tap into shorter forms of the game.
Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, my old man played golf on Saturdays and on Sundays with my brother and me. He worked all week, went to the pub, and took us to cricket and footy before taking off to golf. And that’s just how things rolled. And everyone was cool and the gang.
Today, not so much. In these modern times of magic telephones that so demand our attention we could die jay-walking, six hours out of a weekend to play golf doesn’t wash for many family men and/or women. Thus there’s a decade, even 15 or 20 years when golf loses parents such as myself. Tens of thousands of us. There are statistics. Graphs show dips like a stockmarket crash. And the more children people have, the longer golf loses them, all these fathers and mothers who no longer consume the great game because their partners bemoan the time away from home.
It’s fair enough. My wife works five days a week while I do my best to scratch out a living while carting kids to school and sports – all those sports – and parties, and whatever else.
My week as chauffeur for twin boys (eight) and extra son (seven) includes: Monday – tennis; Tuesday – swimming and soccer; Wednesday – AFL; Friday – rugby; Saturday – rugby and soccer; Sunday – AFL.
That runs six months. Other half of the year the little fellows learn to swim, play touch footy and ride a bike. The nippers – much less bloody cricket – can bloody wait. This will be a summer of doing stuff all, save for Sundays when we may fish for flathead or chase bush turkeys around the local dam. Or play golf, given the chance. Yet it’s like there is no longer time.
And there, folks, is the rub. And I would ask: must golf take so long?
Why aren’t there more nine-hole competitions? Or six-hole ones? Can you run them within existing 18-hole competitions? Why don’t developers build more nine- or 12-hole courses? Why don’t golf clubs and the greater authorities market short-form golf as convenient, cost-effective and fun? Even positive for mental health! Play that card. RUOK? You bet! I’m playing golf!
“Why can’t you go to the golf club on Saturday morning and play nine holes? Why can’t you wander out and tee off the 7th, play 12 holes?” – Mike Clayton, Golf Australia Architecture Editor
Nine-hole memberships are a subject oft-discussed by club general managers and others in the industry. It’s on a club-by-club basis with a range of considerations. Is there a time available to suit this membership? Would clubs lose higher-costing membership to the new category? Will it attract new members? Which nine do you play or do you alternate each week?
Golf club memberships are expensive. And those that hold them don’t relish the idea of other members paying less, even if they were playing less holes and a short-form golfer’s competition fee was proportionately larger. Say, $10 for nine holes as opposed to $15.
Golf club boards – like their memberships – can be resistant to change. They’re largely made up of time-rich types without the inclination to alienate existing members to attract new ones. And didn’t they themselves have to stop playing golf to raise a family?
You wonder why more courses and councils wouldn’t sell off land to developers and use the profit to create really good nine- or 12-hole courses?
Golf Australia Architecture Editor Mike Clayton reckons Australia is full of courses that clubs or developers have done too much with too little.
“There are courses full of holes and the golf is compromised because they were trying to jam 18 holes into a bit of land where it shouldn’t fit,” says Clayton. “North of Sydney is classic for it. There are courses up that way which would have been great 14-hole courses, or 12-hole, or nine-.”
I asked Clayton how many clubs or developers had come to his design company (Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead) and asked for either a new nine-hole course or to shorten and improve their existing one. He said there had been none.
“I don’t know whether people don’t think of it as legitimate, or the operators don’t see them as financially viable to sell green fees and memberships,” he says. “But there are some great nine-hole courses in the world. The Dunes Club in Michigan and Newmarket in England are fantastic.”
Clayton was in a town-hall-style meeting with the membership of Sandringham Golf Club selling the idea of turning their course into a 12-holer plus a six-hole par-3.
“And no-one wanted to know,” he says. “At one of the meetings, one of the members asked me, quite defensively, is there any precedent for 12-hole golf courses? I said, ‘Yeah, at the first Open Championship, Prestwick was a 12 hole course’.”
Clayton asks why if people are worried about how long golf takes, why they wouldn’t play fewer holes. He reckons it’s because Australians are “obsessed” with competition golf over 18 holes.
“Why can’t you go to the golf club on Saturday morning and play nine holes? Why can’t you wander out and tee off the 7th, play 12 holes?” he questions.
Club members complaining about it, would be my tip. Inflexible green fee offerings would be another. No-one thinking outside the square and marketing short-form golf to members, potential members, or the walk-in-off-the-street social round player could be a third reason, among others.
Step up Golf Australia (the administrative body) which has an initiative called “Play 9”, which is a series of nine-hole competitions in which random players from each state are drawn from Golflink and flown to Sydney where they will – get this – compete in the Australian Play 9 final on the Saturday of the Australian Open at The Australian Golf Club.
There’s a couple nights’ accommodation, a gift pack and a ticket into the Champion’s Cocktail Function, courtesy of Golf Australia. A male winner and a female winner will then play in a nine-hole challenge hosted by the R&A at Royal St George’s in England in 2020.
And if your club didn’t get around to that, I would suggest you get onto your club to get around to that.
My club, Long Reef on Sydney’s northern beaches, got into it, and combined it with a “Nine and Dine” promotion which was well supported. The rub, again, is that it wasn’t by me or by parents like me lost to golf because they had to work and/or feed children.
“Maybe people just aren’t into short-form golf. Maybe it’s just entrenched in our brains that golf takes four (and a bit, another story) hours to play. And that’s just it. But it shouldn’t be.”
But hark! There on our golf club’s noticeboard, an A4 bit of paper upon which was written “10 Hole Par comp – $5”. I was in. I wrote down my name in the first slot at 6:30. And, come Saturday was on alone. In 28 spots there was myself and a four-ball at 7:06. And that was it.
So out I went, out with three balls on a one-man Ambrose at a pristine time for golf; all the early light and brilliant twinkling dots of dew, my golf balls making the day’s first pathways on the green. And I wondered: why would people not get amongst this?
Well, for one it was “marketed” with a piece of A4 paper pinned to a noticeboard. And given, as Homer Simpson once said, “they have the internet on computers now”, it would have made sense to inform members that it was on using telephones so smart they’re like an extension of people’s brains and which command every bastard eternally stare into them.
Or maybe people just aren’t into short-form golf. Maybe it’s just entrenched in our brains that golf takes four (and a bit, another story) hours to play. And that’s just it. But it shouldn’t be.
But I played 10 holes in 90 minutes, taking my time and tooling about. I put my clubs in the rack, picked up a coffee at Macca’s on the way home, and was reading the paper at our breakfast table before wifey had even emerged out of bed. She reckons she can tell when I’ve had a poor round, and remarked: “You look happy.” I told her that I was just back from golf. And she said, “Why don’t you play golf early on Saturdays all the time?”
And I said: “Good idea.”