At the beginning of 2019, The USGA made some updates to their very outdated rulebook, seemingly to make the game more enjoyable for the average younger fan. Golf is a gentleman’s sport, a way for dudes to be men, get out of the house, away from their wives, and avoid yard work for 4-6 hours. While people of all ages like to play, we all know it’s a sport designed for ‘geysers.’ Golf is similar to beer in that the older you are, the more you like it, which is why any time you walk on a course, the average age is somewhere around 47. Not only that but when the reality of life slaps you in the face, the more you need of both. Golf is a great time and became increasingly popular throughout quarantine, as it was one of the only activities you could do outside. But that doesn’t make it flawless. I love both playing and watching, but as an average golfer who doesn’t have too much invested in the ‘history’ of the sport, I do have a major problem with the modern game.
It’s too long.
When the USGA said they are hoping to attract a newer, younger audience with their rule updates, they did so with the ignorance of a “cool” politician talking about hip-hop, in an attempt to win the younger vote; out of touch and have no clue what’s really going on.
When they made adjustments in order to speed up the game they focused on things we don’t care about and missed the most obvious time saver- Shortening a full round to 14 holes.
If you want to appeal to the coveted 18-34 demo, you need to make the changes those people want to see. Oh, it doesn’t matter who hits the ball first anymore regardless of who’s closer to the pin? Yeah thanks a lot, but everyone in the world (except the pros) was already doing that. You think keeping the pin in for putts is going to help out the younger guys? We don’t care about that at all, nor does it save time, we would putt with or without the pin in regardless. The “rule-change” was put in place for the boomers who threw their back out in ’88 and can’t pick anything up off the ground.
The reality is we’re living in a TikTok world, where attention spans have gone down more than the average golfer’s erection. People want 6-second videos and binge-worthy TV shows without commercials, not 4.5 hours without cell service. Sure, getting outside and being active makes the day less boring, but there’s usually a tipping point that forces the average golfer to mentally check out. Making the round shorter could solve this problem and keep golfers interested in its entirety.
I’m not petitioning to cut the pro’s game down from 18 holes, that should stay. I get the history behind it, it’s more fun to watch and thanks to their unbelievable skill, it feels shorter. There’s a reason why the MLB is 9 Innings and Little League is 6, the kids get bored because they suck. I’ll make 1-2 pars per round if I get lucky by shanking a ball off a tree that happened to find the green. If I could throw darts at the pin, like Dustin Johnson, I would be writing an article on why golf should be longer. But I’m not even close to that. When you surpass the Tour’s average score (67) on the 13th Hole and you’re not on track for your goal of 90, you’re over it.
I don’t think the issue here is the actual number of holes, but I do think shortening them is the best way to fix it. Don’t give me the “If you’re not having fun, just stop playing and leave” bullshit either. I want to finish, that’s why I chose to play. The problem is I obviously make ill-advised bets on myself and think I am going to beat whoever I’m playing with. Of course, I never win, but when you stop playing in the middle of the round, that bet is null and void. I want to go into a round knowing we’re going to finish, so the bet is settled.
Then some idiots may argue, “Why not play 9?!” Great question, except it’s actually a horrible question. Playing 9 holes is too short and never feels real. There is a sweet spot here. If you’ve ever gone to the course with the intention to play 9, you’re either on Medicare or playing with a toddler. It seems disingenuous like you’re a ‘Make-A-Wish’ kid scoring a touchdown at LSU. Sure, you played some golf, but it doesn’t really count. I can’t really put my finger on why you’re lying to yourself, but if you know, you know. The stigma of playing less than 18 holes is what keeps you from feeling like you’re getting a full round in, and with my proposed 14-Hole courses, you get the best of both worlds.
But again, it’s not the number of holes specifically. At the end of the day, it’s a stroke problem. No matter if your index is a -3 or +33, whenever you reach about 75-90 strokes, most people are over it. That’s just how it is. Some guys can last a little longer and finish all 18 with that score, some guys don’t last long enough. I happen to fall in the latter (for more than just golf) and in either scenario, it’s a real problem. It’s not super tiring physically, but mentally it’s a drag. After almost every round this year, I question why I ever play this game.
Although I may not be a stickler for the rules, like getting mad when someone wears tennis shoes on the green, I do understand why people treat the game with such respect. That’s why writing this article is tough for me. I grew up playing sports and golf was always a part of my life in one way or another. My dad, who will probably disown me when he reads this, loves the game as do most others around me. I’ve been a caddy for about 5 years and met many different people at the club, who frankly may get me fired, but I feel it’s necessary.
Another reason is drinking. For the average golfer, who isn’t very good but wants to play somewhat seriously, there is no choice but to play 18. You pay full price for a round, knowing you’re only giving your best effort for 75% of it. Then you add in some ‘dad sodas’ and you’ve got a mess. When drinks are involved and scores are high, 18 holes is too long. You want to play a full round hoping for your best score, but you also want to have a good time.
I really do love the game of golf and that’s why I am writing this article/petition. If we stay on this binary path of 9 or 18, I will continue to slowly lose interest and eventually sell my clubs on eBay to some other sucker who has no clue he’s embarking on an extremely expensive hobby that only ends in disappointment. We need to move away from the antiquated way of thinking and into a new world, where we introduce the 3rd option. It’s similar to my Subway Sandwich recommendation. I’ve always said that Subway needs to have a 9” option. From a corporate marketing perspective, they probably do this on purpose, but 6” is too short (for sandwiches, that is) and a footlong is too much, so meet me in the middle. Let’s hit that sweet spot and I’ll be coming to Subway more often. The same thing applies to golf.
If you’re reading this at your country club, seething with anger, thinking I’m an entitled millennial who wants the world to bend to me and I need to suck it up, you’re half right. I do want the world to listen to my ideas, because to me they make sense, not because I think I deserve it. I’ve never been one to just do things for the reasoning of “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Updating how we do things keeps society progressing and although golf is an old game, it’s time.
To help you understand where I’m coming from, I want to pull a Magic School Bus for a second and take a trip to the inside of my brain as I go through a full round of golf at a random NJ public course.
Before the round, I’m feeling good, excited for the day. It’s normally a beautiful day, and thanks to the end of the last round, I’m excited to go low. As we wait for the starter to give us the go, I’m anxious because I don’t want to overthink and at the moment, I am confident in my ability to hit the ball well, score well and win the bets. This morning I watched “the golf” as my dad calls it whenever he asks me to change the channel and all I could think was, “Dude. It’s not that hard, I can do that.”
I’m excited to drink but since I want to play well (and I’m probably on a diet) I tell myself I’ll have 4 throughout the 4-hour endeavor. As well see this changes quickly.
Scoring wise I start off ok. I’ll go something like a Double Bogey, and 2 Bogeys. I’m annoyed but I can live with it. When you’re a +15 handicap (only because I forget to add my bad scores) you shoot for “Bogey Golf” or a 5 on every hole. If you can do either of those, you’re looking at a 90. At this point, we’re +1 on that 90 goal with plenty of golf left.
This is the best stretch of golf I’ll play all day. I’m warmed up, got the nerves out and I’m settled in. Since I’m only +1 on the “Bogey Golf” scale, I’m still mentally invested and want to play my best. I’m confident, not drunk, and ready for anything. It’s also time to crack open the first beer.
Typically, I’ll shoot something like a Par and 2 Bogeys, which actually gets me back on track for even as I chase the coveted 90. I’m feeling good and excited.
The 3 Bogeys keeps me on track for what I’m trying to do today. I’m feeling good about my round so far, but as we move on throughout the round, the drinks start to flow more frequently. As we all know the more your drink, the faster you drink. That makes sense if you think about it. What started out as a 4 beer limit has already got you questioning if that’s possible as you crack your 4th Miller Lite on the 9th tee box.
I’ll typically make something like 2 Bogeys and a Double, although the Double was just a bad break so my confidence stays even as I’m flying high from my hot start. Mentally, I’m still there. I’m having fun and feeling good about the rest of the round and ask myself why I don’t play more often. “I should invest in some new gear,” I think to myself as I start to hit the ball how I want. Some would say I’m probably getting a little too cocky as I finish each drive with the “twirl” and tee pick up before the ball lands, but who cares? I deserve it.
The beginning of the end. I had a decent front, with my score coming in somewhere around 46/47. I’m content, telling myself if I shoot a 40 on the back (something I’ve never done before) I can walk out of here breaking 90. And this is where all hell breaks loose. Whether I’m winning or losing in the match with my friend, as we head into the back all I can think about is breaking 90. Trying to play the best I ever have consumes my brain and I put way too much pressure on myself.
When I was playing baseball growing up someone once told me to never think “Don’t strike out” because your brain doesn’t hear the word “don’t.” When I was a kid, I actually believed that my brain didn’t comprehend the word, even though my brain literally just made me think that. Anyway, I would almost always strikeout. I’ve realized this still applies to golf. I put so much pressure on myself at this point that every time I stand over the ball, the last thought in my head was “Don’t ___.” And what do you think happens? I almost always do whatever I just said don’t do. In the water, trap, too short, too long, whatever it is, I just did that and come dangerously close to chucking my club in the woods.
This is where the wheels start to fall off, breaking 90 is out the window and I can feel the money slowly being dripped from my bank account as I typically will make something like 2 Triples and a Double.
Three holes in a row of bad golf will break a man. Not only did I let myself down, but reminiscing about my athletic high school days makes me feel like a disappointment to my family. What do disappointments lead to? Drinking, and drinking heavily.
Although I tried to cut off the alcohol after the front to focus on my 40, that ship has now become The Titanic and has not only set sail but completely sunk. It’s all over. Breaking 90, my bet, having a good time, it’s all out the window. I’m frustrated, annoyed, pissed off, and nothing matters. But whatever, this game is stupid anyway.
I cope by drinking heavily and my play shows it. I have a similar stretch to holes 10-12 and go 2 Triples and a Double, totally giving up on the day and start to complain about everything. I look for my ball and choose to walk instead of taking the cart, muttering to myself how stupid this is, why I spent the money on new balls, and of course most importantly, why is it so God damn long.
If it ended at 14 I would have played better and had more fun, but nope! Thanks to Ben Hogan or whoever invented golf, I still have an hour left of misery.
Now we’re in the final stretch. It’s almost over and I’ve sort of gotten over my last ‘three-hole stretch’ blow up telling myself to just get bombed the rest of the way and enjoy the day. A combination of alcohol and submerged rage almost always leads to that maniacal shock laugh that scares the rest of my foursome. I’ll hit a bad ball and chuckle in disgust, but since I’ve told myself to enjoy it, I throw out a joke about how bad I am, releasing my partners’ fearful tension.
I’ve probably crossed the 95 mark (which is always my true goal knowing that my aim to shoot a 90 is impossible), so the rest of this round is a complete joke. I act like I was never serious about it anyway so it looks like I didn’t try, hoping people won’t think I completely suck. I start fucking around, driving the cart recklessly, and taking risky shots I would have never dreamed of trying just 2 hours ago. I’ll hit two balls from time to time just for fun and even bat around the idea of playing an entire hole with my putter.
Are the 18 holes still worth it, golf purists?
The sick, twisted part of the game, is how I play on the 18th. As I step up to the final hole, the day is essentially over. I couldn’t care less about what happens and just want to be on my couch watching football, talking to those around me about how stupid golf is. Because I don’t care, I play without any self-induced pressure. I just hit the ball with my natural athletic ability, normally leading to a clean hole, hitting and scoring well.
This is dangerous because now I’m back on the golf train, I’m hooked. My final hole Par tricks my mind into saying “Huh, you’re not that bad actually. You can do this and break 90 if you just took the whole round seriously.” But I never learn. I fall for it every time, thinking I can beat my previous round, as evident in my nonchalant Par on last weeks’ 18th hole.
I decide to book another round and without fail, repeat all of the above like it’s a time loop.
Do you get it, now? Does that help answer the question of why I think the USGA should allow for golf to create 14 Hole courses? I only have so many strokes of decent play in me and the longer it takes, the worse I play. If I go into a round knowing I’m only playing 14, my entire mindset changes. I’m more mentally locked in, while also knowing this fun game won’t take up my entire afternoon. In my head, this will free me to play well for an entire round, although I may just be lying to myself as I typically do.
If your argument to keep it at 18 is because it takes longer and therefore more time away from your nagging wife, then I recommend you spend more time at the (now) 15th Hole and enjoy extra beers with the boys. Don’t force others to play 18 because you want to avoid painting the bathroom. Everyone is drained after 14 holes, whether they want to admit it or not. Due to some made-up “golf hardo” bravado, we all lie to each other that we want to keep playing. “18 Holes is how it’s been played since the game was invented in 1764, we must play 18 or it isn’t golf.” Yeah, that’s why it’s necessary to play 18? They also wore powdered wigs on the course in 1764, so either show up to our next round in stockings and a white, curly wig or let’s just admit that a 14 hole round is the perfect sweet spot. It’s the answer to many problems and what golf needs to keep the game long enough to matter, attract the youth, score better, and of course, have more fun.