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Will golf be recognizable in 20 years?


A course is a course, of course of course …
Or is it?
According to those madcap bean-counters at the National Golf Foundation, the number of off-course golfers (those going to simulators, driving ranges and entertainment venues such as Topgolf) recently surpassed the number of traditional on-course golfers in the United States.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am neither a traditional golfer nor a high-tech golfer. But I do enjoy playing miniature golf with my wife and son when we’re on vacation. (For the sake of fuller disclosure, the biggest hazard in such scenarios is not water but “got through nine holes quicker than I expected and now we have more time for the outlet malls. Yay.”)
Yes, glitz and convenience have swayed many golfers, both neophyte and seasoned. (“The rise of the strip-mall country club,” someone dubbed the phenomenon.)
But long-term, I wonder just how glitzy and convenient it will be to sidestep hordes of unemployed caddies and greenskeepers, with their “will manicure landscape for half of that hoagie you purchased 10 feet away from the computer-generated Abu Dhabi Golf Club” signs.
I dread the Saudis ever getting involved with the “golf lite” venues, like they have with professional golf. (“We’ll pay you 10 zillion dollars to incorporate some laser tag moves into your backswing.”)
I suspect that my Scots ancestors would be turning over in their graves if they knew about the relaxed dress codes and other compromises creeping into the outdoor sport they invented; but then, they probably never stopped turning over in their graves from a diet of vegetables cooked in sheep intestines.
I am attempting to be a dispassionate observer of the changing scene. Some 20 years ago, a customer declared that if I ever satirized golf again, he would kick my (sit-upon spot). His knees and hips are two decades older and my padding is more ample, so I am sticking my neck out just a little.
I will interject that maybe the wrong aspects of golf are being simulated. Perhaps we should go the virtual route for country-club handshake agreements. (“Let’s not coronate the next mayor, bulldoze a historic neighborhood and finalize the nuclear plant next to the teeter-totter at the playground and say we did.”)
Some industry officials are trying to be realistic, but more pie-in-the-sky analysts are confident that casual players will eventually evolve into dues-paying members of full-scale golf courses.
As one expert remarked, “Any activity that puts a golf club in more people’s hands widens the funnel for new golfers.” (“Joe Blow, you just beat your wife and mother-in-law to a pulp with a 9 iron. What are you going to do next?” “I’m going to Augusta National!”)
Another industry leader opined, “Ultimately, every golfer’s aspiration is to play green-grass golf — or at least buy a breeding pair of those dancing gophers like in ‘Caddyshack.’”
I guess this is like asserting that pumping up the number of junior high hall monitors will produce a steady stream of Supreme Court chief justices. Anybody want to make a friendly wager?
Whether you’re a dedicated purist or a laid-back dabbler, I hope the evolution of golf goes to suit you.
I’ve tried not to shank this essay. I hope you don’t have to grant me a mulligan.
“I saw an ad that mulligans are BOGO at the outlet mall!”

Copyright 2023 Danny Tyree, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.