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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Local Golf
September 24, 2017

By Tom Abts

The first column I wrote for the VICTORIA GAZETTE back in the '90's was about Scottish shepherds. I wanted to make the point that golf was not a game of rich snobs, but rather a game that originated with Scottish shepherds looking for a way to pass the time while tending to their herds.

The game was founded on simplicity - hit a rock with a stick to an agreed upon target in fewer hits than the other shepherds, and the winner got a swig of the losers' whisky.

Golf has evolved from those beginnings, but the essence has never changed. And the essence is the strength of the game. In fact, I would say, the essence is always the strength of anything. Too often in our attempts to improve things, we miss the very reason we liked them in the first place.

As you all know, there is much wailing about the demise of golf. They say the game is going to die unless it is "fixed" to become relevant to young people. I would argue (and have) that golf needs to go back to its roots to be more relevant to young people. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the game of golf. However, over time golf has been attacked by many forces trying to manipulate golf to fit their needs.

The most obvious outside force was the power of country clubs. Country clubs tried to hijack the game of golf. Don't get me wrong - country clubs had and have every right to exist, and to have golf played at their clubs. But, they do not own the game of golf. Does anybody own golf? Do the USGA and the R&A own golf? This gets tricky. I believe that the USGA and the R&A love golf and have noble intentions. Yet, those organizations are dominated by country club members, and their power over golf can become more self-serving than they realize.

I am very much not a "one size fits all" type of guy. And I'm very much a basic essence guy. These two ideas can come into conflict - which I think is healthy - and can lead to creative resolutions.

First off, professional golf is very different from recreational amateur golf. I believe the USGA is in a no-win situation trying to impose the same rules and standards on both types of golf. Major league baseball and amateur softball are a similar example. Trying to make those two games the same would ruin each one. Metal softball bats would make every ballpark and record obsolete. Metal drivers have ruined the PGA TOUR and their opportunity to play on the old, classic courses. But, recreational softball would be way less fun using heavy, wooden bats. Recreational golfers should be able to use metal drivers.

Major League Baseball has a timeless element that is very appealing. And MLB is very healthy. Recreational softball leagues all across the country are full and have waiting lists. The USGA should be aware of this. If they really love golf, they need to recognize the reality of the difference between high level tournament golf and recreational golf. This also applies to high level amateur tournament golf. The U.S. Amateur Tournament has nothing in common with recreational golf.

There is a need for a variety of golf courses. We need 9 hole courses. We need inexpensive courses. We need incredible destination golf courses. And, we need country clubs. But every course should not lose the basic essence of golf that those Scottish shepherds had.

And, golf courses should never lose the basic essence of hospitality. Whether a little Par 3 course or an elite resort course, good hospitality should always be a part of the experience. Too often course operators become overwhelmed with the details of running the business and stop focusing on hospitality. Many fine golf courses have few golfers because of the unfriendly atmosphere created by management. They forgot the essence of why people want to play golf. Golfers want to play a fun game outdoors and be treated with warmth and respect. Though this is not rocket-science, it very often gets overlooked or taken for granted. Hospitality needs to be continually the top priority of a golf course.

Goofy gimmicks are not needed to help golf. Getting back to the essence of the game and of hospitality are what is needed to help every golf course prosper. If every golf course is healthy and thriving, the game of golf will be healthy and thriving.

I thank God every day for those Scottish shepherds who hit a rock with a stick.

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