Golf doesn't have to be fun to fall in love with the game
My love for you is unconditional. I will love you when you are really bad. I will love you when you go all wrap-around on me. I will love you when you are at it again on yet another of your 72-hole strokeplay benders.
When you are being really naughty, and a bit sexist, when people are angry with you, and we are all disappointed with you, I might love you more than ever.
I will love you when you are locked in a secure asylum for quicker formats.
Like a parent to a child, I love you because you are mine and you are you.
It is Wednesday, the morning after the Hero Challenge the night before at the British Masters. I am drunk and frisky on content. By which I mean words and pictures.
It is growing the game time! Isn’t it exhilarating? Isn’t it great that golf is getting cool? Isn’t it great to see the game being presented in such an entertaining way? It’s got to get the youngsters excited and – wait for the QI alarm – it is like golf’s answer to T20 cricket.
I am not silly enough to start tippy-tapping my keyboard to the tune of ‘what cricket could learn from golf’, but, lest we forget, I do want it to be acknowledged here that cricket is already aping golf in its revolutionary move to four-day Test matches presumably designed to drive away viewers and participants in the same way that golfs weekly dirge does.
Anyway, copying never got anyone anywhere.
Colin Hunt was the Fast Show’s take on the annoying office joker who spends his days repeating jokes he has heard on TV the night before. Colin considers himself a wit and an entertainer but the only person who finds his relentless stream of unconscious inanity is his rather limp colleague Doreen. Colin met his match in fellow office joker Keith. After trying to ‘out-banter’ each other, Keith departed to Colin’s immortal words: ‘Lord, spare us from office jokers’.
Please, Lord, spare us from golfing jokers.
I like to see my heroes – and the professional protagonists on offer at Canary Wharf are undoubtedly heroes – challenged by a blowing links, or a tight lie, or a tricky up and down, or closing out a tournament that means something. I am not especially concerned with their ability to hit a meaningless wedge, or a routine chip into a floating barge on the Thames to some horror film suspense music.
Any attempt to cover up what is actually happening with the kind of window dressing that adorned the East London pitch and putt is always likely to be very quickly exposed as such.
Golf is a game played in silence, involving maximum concentration. It moves slowly, its individual parts are not spectator-friendly, the entry level of understanding and enjoyment of the sport is extremely high, its subtle challenges take years to appreciate. And, to paraphrase the scene in Trainspotting when a group of heroin addicts drag themselves into the countryside to try and pretend there is more to life: “All the fireworks in the world won’t make any f***ing difference.”
I blame content. We crave it and 24-hour dedicated channels serve it. We can’t just have the actual sport, we have to have ‘content’ around it. There must and shall be content to enhance ‘the fan experience’.
These days, fewer and fewer sporting moments are permitted not to be a ‘fan experience’ as though enjoying them purely sportingly, and for their own sake, would be a waste of time or a lesser occasion or, heaven forbid, a missed opportunity to ‘grow the game’.
It is quite unlikely that the Hero Challenge live broadcast on Sky to its audience of dedicated golf channel subscribers is likely to grow the game to new viewers or players.
Perhaps the European Tour has a number of non-golfers among its Twitter followers who are now dashing to the driving range hoping to find packed grandstands, Kirsty Gallagher, and a Catherine Wheel.
Watching a group of shivering middle-aged men strain every sinew to try to have the banter – the game is lost when we start needing to use this word – makes me feel like I have walked in on my parents dancing drunkenly at a party. I am freaked out and they are embarrassed and unfortunately this is the truth of it.
This is not making golf cool, this is making golf look desperate, and like a collection of wacky uncles sashaying on to the dance floor as the opening bars of ‘Money of Nothing’ kicks in whilst everyone else rolls their eyes.
I am just not really sure who it is for. It’s not for me – and not for you either if you are being honest.
We need to ‘grow the game’ but not like this. This will just leave everyone feeling a bit queasy, and in my case back to watching my beloved Grimsby Town get beaten.
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This article was written in 2017 and updated by Alex Perry for 2018.