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Is golf really broken?

Is golf really broken?

You can’t move for a headline telling you the sport is at a tipping point. But are we really getting fed up with golf? The NCG Golf Podcast team have their say

 

Jon Rahm’s left the PGA Tour with a sack full of cash. Who knows if the framework agreement is going to stand?

The golf ball roll back seems to be dividing opinion just as sharply, while plenty of golfers appear unhappy with the changes coming to the World Handicap System.

Is it, as some commentators and social media punters have pointed out, enough to make you weep? Is the strife enveloping the professional and amateur game dampening your love of golf?

On The NCG Golf Podcast this week, Tom Irwin and Steve Carroll asked if golf really is broken? Or does it make no difference to those of us who simply go out and have a knock with friends…

‘Is the average golfer that interested in tour golf?’

I spend a lot of time in clubhouses, says Steve Carroll. I have been members of lots of clubs. I can tell you that in a lot of the clubhouses I go into the golf isn’t even on. The football is.

I don’t see people spending large amounts of time debating the ins and outs of LIV or the ins and outs of the PGA Tour. They don’t really talk about tour golf at all.

Occasionally, because of what I do for a living, someone might ask me a question or say, ‘what do you think about LIV?’ But it’s rare, and I suspect it’s just because they know I work in the industry.

There is a lot of written about ‘has golf turned bad?’ and it clicks well and it gets people within that echo chamber agreeing and endorsing it.

But I don’t think the wider golfing public, the people who play golf on a Saturday or a Sunday, are really that interested or that bothered about what happens on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour. Just look at the audience figures.

In England there are around 800,000 golf club members. They’re the most committed golfers in the country, right? They are the ones spending thousands of pounds to play their hobby. So these are the people who are most engaged with golf.

Are 800,000 people in England watching PGA Tour and DP World Tour events? Is golf getting that kind of TV audience outside of the majors?

No, and that’s because the two things are different and people treat them differently. There’s no rabble rousing in the clubhouse about LIV, or PIF, and the PGA Tour.

Despite what people will tell you about other aspects of club golf, I’ve never heard too many people wandering around the clubhouse complaining about roll back or WHS either.

Maybe I’m deaf. Or many people just turn up, play golf, enjoy it, and go.

golf courses reopening

‘Golf is a participation sport more than anything’

Golf is a participation sport more than anything, says Tom Irwin. When you get this handwringing online saying golf is broken and millions of people are going to be turned off from golf because of what’s happening and the amount of money that Jon Rahm has been paid, I just don’t think it’s true.

If you look at the numbers of people who play versus people who watch golf, versus other sports, then the comparison is stark.

Take the US as an example. 25 million people play golf in America. The Honda Classic attracts about 2.3 million viewers. That’s broadly 10 per cent of participants have tuned in to watch the Honda Classic.

If you compare that with the NFL, 17.5 million people watch the NFL on a weekend. That’s an awful lot of people versus the numbers who play tackle football, which is about 5 million. Around four times more people watch than play American Football and, in golf, around 10 times more people play than watch.

We’re just not a sport that’s viewed hugely by its participants and we’re talking about a very small amount of the interest in the game being from watching rather than playing.

That’s the way I have consumed my golf – by doing it rather than watching it. I watch a similar amount of DP World Tour golf as I do championship football. I watch if someone I know is in contention, and I have it on in the background, but I wouldn’t sit there and watch it all day.

With the PGA Tour, I’m interested in some of the higher profile events and looking out for major form in the run-up to the Masters. Apart from that, I’m not sure I’d sit down and tune in apart from that it’s on at a convenient time.

That convenient time part is huge for golf. It’s my strongest argument with LIV – that nothing changes until there is space to watch it.

I’m not going to avoid watching LIV. I’m not in the habit of watching it and it doesn’t fit into my schedule. I have to go out of my way to fit LIV into my schedule if I want to watch it, and I don’t think that’s going to happen for a lot of people.

Listen to The NCG Golf Podcast

On The NCG Golf Podcast, Tom Irwin and Steve Carroll discussed Jon Rahm’s move to LIV Golf, whether the fledgling tour will ever get the attention it craves, and what the future holds.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the banners in this piece, or by visiting here.

Is your love for the sport being weakened by tour shenanigans?  Are you less likely to play because of the huge sums of cash in the game? Let me know with a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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