This month Glyn Pritchard looks at the five things that make him grumpy about golf and how they could be improved.
When kicking around ideas for this column with Andy the editor, he suggested, ‘Why don’t you write about the five things that make you grumpy about golf’ so I decided to go for it. But don’t get me wrong – I love golf, I think it’s the best game in the world. So here goes and in the spirit of constructive criticism, I’ve tried to suggest ways these issues can be improved:
I think the problem stems from the fact that most people now get their cues on how to play golf from watching pro-tour players on television. They see Phil Mickelson stalk a putt from every possible angle, confer long and hard with Bones his caddie, do a plumb line observation, back-off and readdress the ball, in a ritual that can last five minutes. But for Phil that putt may be worth $250,000, Fedex Cup points and his standing in the world rankings. For the average weekend golfer a round of drinks is the most that will be at stake. Often lining up the ball, deciding pace and hitting it is all that’s required, and this applies to all shots.
Pro-tour players take time because they have to focus their concentration, but that’s because they have mastered the physical technicalities of the swing so the mental game is a key area that they can really improve on. The reverse is true of the average club amateur and no amount of mental focus is going to help them make a better shot. This extends to the pre-shot routine which has now reached ludicrous lengths with twitches, swooshes, full practice swings, stepping away and starting again. We have to get back to walking up and hitting the ball.
Rules and etiquette
For similar reasons many players have a dismal understanding of the rules and etiquette of the game. This slows play and also frustrates other players. When golf was a game for the privileged only, knowledge of the rules and etiquette was passed on from parent to child. Now we expect people to just pick it up, but often they don’t. I play quite a lot of golf and even low handicappers can be uncertain about the distinction between yellow staked and red staked hazards. High handicappers will lose a ball and say, “I’ll just drop one here for a shot” and then someone (me!) has to explain about stroke and distance and what’s permissible in a social game and what the process would be in competition.
In Sweden you have to get certified to play golf. Starters pay around £150 to take a Grönt Kort (Green Card) course which not only includes practical lessons but also theory classes with both a written exam and a round of golf required to pass. This would not work in the UK and would just place a significant barrier to entry into the game. But clubs should hold induction courses for new players covering rules and etiquette and can I make a special plea to tell new players to shout “fore” when their ball is heading for others on the course.
Dress codes are redundant now and should be dropped, apart from going bare chested or wearing beach clothes. They create an unnecessary barrier to entry to the game.
There’s nothing wrong in wearing football or rugby shirts, jeans and cargo pants. Rude slogans on tee-shirts can obviously be forbidden but the rest of the strictures are pointless and are a hangover from an age where most men went through military service and picked up these sartorial rules. The same applies to golf shoes. Many golf shoes are now indistinguishable from trainers (deliberately so by manufacturers), so trainers, deck shoes and other footwear may as well be allowed.
Equipment replacement cycles
Golf clubs are not FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and manufacturers are digging their own grave with ever decreasing product replacement cycles. They say that they have to produce new equipment to stimulate sales, but it’s a race that cannot be won. Every new launch comes with a knockout science story, but the public are not stupid. Few players can afford the best part of £1,000 to replace their clubs every nine months, or even their driver. Basing product investment and sales projections on sensible replacement cycles of over two years will benefit customers, retailers and the even the manufacturers themselves.
The golf course building boom of the early nineties saw the construction of courses with huge American style sand traps instead of the traditional British pot bunkers with a riveted face. Big sand traps made impressive designs and, when new, looked fantastic from the tees. But they are impossible to maintain in the British climate. Very often the sand gets blown away and washed to the bottom, so that it is practically impossible to play a proper sand shot from the slopping areas.
I have played two championship courses recently where many of the sand traps were GUR, even though the weather was normal for an English summer. One of the courses has an extensive and costly bunker refurbishment programme, including a monster trap billed as the longest bunker in Europe – except that it is now GUR for most of its length. As The Open Championship at Troon showed, bunkers do not have to be huge to create a challenge.