Are we giving way to the casual golfer?

By Paul Gueorgieff
Editor, Golfer Pacific NZ
Following is an argument I have been thinking about for a couple of years.
Initially it was just an argument, for the sake of debate.
I liked the principle of the argument but thought it would never happen because it was far too radical.
But it has got to the stage where I think it is worth a throw of the dice.
Many clubs are struggling for membership numbers. It seems everyone has an opinion to why this is so.
The game takes too long, say many.
There needs to be shorter forms of the game, say many.
The game has too many rules, say many.
Clubs need to relax dress standards, say many.
I say rubbish to all those statements.
The game has long taken a little more than four hours to play, for a group of four players. I know that occasionally a round can take five hours and that is too long.
I blame the professional golfers for that. They are the worst offenders for slow play.
We see them on the television and unfortunately some of us copy them.
So do we need a shorter form of the game? As long as the pros play 18 holes we will always want to the play the game the big boys do. In other words, the answer to a shorter form of the game is no.
Are there too many rules? The answer, again, is no. Every game must have rules and no matter what the game is, when a rule doesn’t go in our favour we feel aggrieved. Quite frankly, most of us are too lazy to learn the rules.
We should allow golfers to play in singlets and thongs. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I don’t want it at my golf club.
I was recently looking at the website of an American golf club which hosts one of the best amateur tournaments in the United States.
One of the conditions of being able to play at the course was that the bill of a cap must be worn towards the front. I don’t have a problem with that, whatsoever. It’s called standards.
A friend of mine had a round of golf at one of the top courses in Wellington. After the game he joined his group for a drink in the clubhouse.
He ordered a bottle of beer and the bar lady placed a glass on the counter in preparation to pour the contents of the bottle into the glass.
My friend interrupted the bar lady to say: “It’s okay, the bottle will be fine, thanks.’’
The bar lady responded: “Sorry, but we serve our drinks in a glass.’’
My friend was initially taken aback but subsequently appreciated the club had standards. If you go to any decent bar in town, the drinks are always served in a glass. They have standards.
So why are clubs struggling for members? I say it is, in part, because we allow green fee players to play almost any time they want.
It is the members that keep the club afloat, they are the reason why the club can afford to keep the course in pristine condition, they are the reason the club exists. But because the financial state of many clubs is in a parlous state we encourage non-members to play almost any day, any time. We are desperate for their money.
As a consequence casual players know full well they can play for just a fraction of the membership fee. There is no need to become a member despite the fact that the main reason the golf course exists is because of the members — the ones who fork out an annual subscription.
I once played at a public course — it had no members — in Australia and it was a disgrace. The fairways were full of divots, virtually none of the bunkers had been raked and on one of the short par threes, the green was littered with pitch marks. You could hardly putt on the green because it was that bumpy from the pitch marks. It was a course I would never return to.
So what’s my argument that’s too radical?
I believe green fee players should have limited access to a members’ club. It could be to the extent that the only green fee players allowed are those invited by a member. In such a case the member would be required to pay the green fee and it would up to the member to whether or not he recouped the fee from the visiting player.
This is radical thinking, I know.  But something has to change. Why have club members when any Tom, Dick or Harry can also play virtually any time, any day?