18 Mar 2021 | Clubs & Facilities |

HAYES: How golf can make its mark

by Mark Hayes

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Golf can be tough for beginners, but it doesn't have to be.

There’s a streak of fatalist in me, for sure.

But I also believe there are plenty of often simple things we can do better that are in our control, so I can’t commit to being a fully fledged member of the Fate Party.

And one of those is golf, particularly for newcomers.

I was contemplating writing a story based loosely on all the good things that are happening around golf at the moment, but was unsure what path to take.

And that’s when fate intervened.

I’d recently been to the Sandy Golf Links to check out the newly remodelled layout that I’ve heard people raving about.

One of the things that struck me when I walked towards the first tee was the two sets of markers – and neither of them red, white or blue.

Orange and purple were the order of the day, which initially conjured a perception of gimmickry – but only until I went back inside the shed masquerading as a pro shop and picked up the course cards.

I’d heard co-designer Geoff Ogilvy speak about how the course had been shaped to give all players a taste of “Sandbelt golf”, but not in a challenging way that would deter patronage enjoyment.

That it would – generally – be “wide off the tee”, reward good shots around the green and promote fun. The course guidelines even encourage players to throw the ball from bunkers if they’re too daunting!

So back to the markers …

The purple and orange do not represent a gender, as has been the historical case around the golfing world. They represent a starting point on each hole for those who hit the ball different distances. The shorter orange ones give handy head starts and create a course that plays at approximately 4200m, a solid 2.5km shorter than Royal Melbourne – in men’s tournament mode – just over the fence.

Flash forward to this week and, as I’d been contemplating precisely why I kept those cards, I read Adam Scott’s transcript from his press conference before the Honda Classic on the PGA Tour.

He spoke of “fun” repeatedly as a mechanism for him to withstand the doubtless wicked challenge that the water-riddled PGA National would throw at the world’s best players.

“It is a different kind of fun, but it's that fun challenge, so I might try and think about that the next 24, 48 hours and have some fun come Thursday,” Scott mused.

And then fate hit top gear.

I immediately stumbled on to a tweet proferred by WPGA Tour boss Karen Lunn, a champion player in her own right and staunch campaigner for equality in golf.

She gave her support for the theory espoused by Beth Ann Nicholls in her article on the Golfweek website that essentially said women’s golf was being badly held back by course set-ups that were, fundamentally, too long.

Just one week earlier, Lunn appeared on our Inside The Ropes podcast and spoke of the challenges involved in setting up the Bonnie Doon course in Sydney for the recent TPS event run jointly by her tour and the PGA of Australia.

This, admittedly, remains a relatively new area for an events team that is arguably the world’s best, particularly given the forward-thinking nature of many “co-ed” tournaments in Australia. But it was, Lunn said, an area that needed ongoing thought to ensure true, skills-based equity at future TPS tournaments.

Nicholls’ well-researched article went on to speak not only of the elite end of the women’s golfing pool, but all the way to shallow end where beginners routinely play needlessly long, arduous and discouraging rounds because they’d been hamstrung by the dreaded “red markers” of yesteryear.

And if you think back to the last time you tried to introduce a newcomer to the game, you’ll know this is true.

Many can make meaningful connections with frying-pan faced drivers, some can relatively quickly use the loft of wedges to ensure they get that exhilarating feeling of watching that little ball sail towards the horizon, even if only 25m at a time.

But can you even vaguely recall watching a newcomer reach for a 4-iron and have it soar majestically at that magical 25-degree launch angle in a couple of blows?

No, I’m pretty sure you can’t. Almost certain, in fact.

Yet, remarkably, when these newcomers somehow gain the inner confidence required to break down the barriers and go to a course for their first “real hit”, they’re the shots traditional set-ups ask them to play.

Instead of making par-4s 150m for a beginner who can hit a driver and then a 9-iron somewhere near the green, we send them 350m back and then watch them cringe as they run out of lead in their scoring pencil after five holes.

Ask yourself: Where’s the fun in that? What’s more likely to make that person want to come back and play again? And why haven’t we thought of all this long, long ago?

Steve Brodie, the outstanding PGA professional at my home club Curlewis, has spoken with me of his ideal scenario several times.

He thinks we should have a series of tees from the back plates (the “Tiger tees”) right through to those for beginners. Tee markers are enough; you don’t need elaborately mown “boxes” at each point. Brodie’s belief applies as much to improving juniors as it does to raw beginners. The principle, he says, is to get all players used to scoring how the world’s best do it, with paand birdies.

As players graduate from the front, let’s say pink, markers, they move back to yellow and so on, all the way back to blue and black – without actually feeling black and blue to start with.

Aside from the obvious benefits of encouraging fun through better scores, guess what else it would do, immediately and without any doubt? Make play faster! Which means more groups on course, which means more money for clubs and more players in clubhouses where more ripping yarns about great scores will be told.

And what’s more, provided those various tee markers have been formally “rated” as part of the World Handicapping System, they’ll actually enable all players on the course to be in the same competition on that given day.

But competitions are the least of our concerns.

As has been the thrust of recent developments, it’s far more imperative that we continue to find ways to open up our sport to the next generation – regardless of their age, gender or ability.

Ahhh, fate.

I knew I picked up those cards for a reason.

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