Golf is in a bit of trouble. Membership levels have declined. Rounds are down at public courses. People are choosing to do something else with their time.
And it’s silly. Because golf is a great game.
The BMW Championship has come to Indianapolis bringing the 70 best golfers on the planet for a no-cut challenge that results in a top 30 that earns an invitation to the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta where one golfer will win $10 million.
None of us will ever play golf at the level of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, or Dustin Johnson, but we can enjoy what many call “a good walk spoiled”.
I prefer to think of golf as “a dull hike enhanced”.
Here are the top 10 reasons why:
10 – Everyone leaves the course feeling good about one shot and bad about another. Even a terrible golfer is likely to hit one solid shot or drain a tough putt. Scratch golfers are certain to mishit a ball in a way that sends them to the driving range to bang another bucket of balls to correct the cause. Golf encourages us through occasional excellence and haunts us using bouts of incompetence. Golf reflects life in the way perfection is unattainable and grace is fleeting.
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9 – We play the same course as the pros. The 70 best will tour Crooked Stick four times this weekend, and then the course will revert back to a place where well-heeled Hoosiers can enjoy the exact same challenge. If you know a member well enough to earn an invitation to play, you can do it too. Can you hit the same iron shot on 18 that Rory hits this Sunday to win the BMW? You get your chance to find out. Few but the Cubs get to play baseball at Wrigley Field, but we can all play out here.
8 – Great way for girls to earn a scholarship. Girls high school golf is an excellent way to earn a full ride to a good university. It’s not a lock, but a reasonably athletic girl who puts in the time can likely get to a level of play that compels a coach to offer her the opportunity to go to school for the price of playing golf. If not, she learns a great game at which she can fleece muscle bound guys who think a female golfer is easy money.
7 – Handicaps make scoring equal among players of different talent levels. If your last trip to the golf course was an endless tour of sand traps, but your friend is gifted with an ability to hit the ball straight and far, you can still play together and keep it interesting through the use of handicaps. Without getting into math, a bad golfer can be awarded strokes each hole that allow he and a good golfer to play to the same score.
6 – Gambling on golf is simple. Whether you play a $2 nassau or $100 skins game, the methodology of golf gambling is not too complicated unless there are mandatory presses and other gambits that allow the game to get a little more expensive – or profitable. None of it is too daunting regardless.
5 – Can be played while drinking beer. Few games this side of corn hole can be played at the same level after a few beers as it can sober, but golf is one of them. In fact, it has been my experience that my ability can take a minor leap forward after a beer or two. Golf is a game to be enjoyed, and if you enjoy an occasional beer, this can yield a 1+1 = 3 scenario.
4 – Reasonable exercise if you walk. If you ride in a cart, there is virtually no physical benefit to golf, but most golf courses are roughly four miles long, and walking four miles is a nice little hike. There are hills and valleys, so the terrain can be a test. As I wrote earlier, golf can be a dull hike enhanced, and if you need a daily walk to keep your arteries clear, golf can make it less monotonous.
3 – As much fun alone as with friends. There is nothing quieter than a golf course at 6:30 in the morning, or as noisy as a foursome of friends enjoying each other’s company at the same course at Noon. If you like solitude, play alone either early or late. If you want revelry, play in the shank of the day with friends surrounded by others doing the same. Golf accommodates all.
2 – Most can play until death. I saw Bob Hope play golf when he was 85 years old. He didn’t play very well, but he was out there hacking. I’ve played with retirees who were damn good as they hit 70. Athletic prowess may wane as we age, but there isn’t anything wrong with hitting it a little shorter off the tee as we test ourselves on a golf course. That makes golf a great generational test. Grandfathers and grandkids can play this game together. What other outdoor game allows that?
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1 – It’s possible for anyone to hit a perfect shot. A hole in one can be carded by anybody – a first timer or an all-timer. Sure, playing a bunch can increase the odds, but the potential for perfection is there every time we stand over the ball. So does the potential for miserable failure. That what keeps us coming back.
And we should.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.