They know the writing is on the wall. It may take a long time to dry, but the ink is indelible and the weight of the words heavy with undeniable fact.
The traditional game of golf, with its balls, clubs, baggage, and inconvenient truths fits the 21st century like a square peg in a round hole. And they know it.
I have been convinced of this for some time- so much so that I wrote a book to explain why the very things that are dooming the original version of golf are having an inverse effect on disc golf, helping to fuel the newer sport’s explosive growth.
My news feed today featured a story from Golf Digest titled “10 Golf Traditions that Need to Change Now.” Most of the specific items listed don’t have much of a parallel in the disc golf world, but that’s not the point. As the author points out in the first paragraph, “Some are minor inconveniences, others prolong (ball golf’s) already time-consuming sport and a few certainly don’t help (them) refute the argument that (ball golf) can, at times, be a little … stuffy.”
That one sentence mentions one major and practical reason that the median age of a regularly-playing ball golfer is now 68 (rounds take too much time), and another that is more related to a cultural shift that favors casual over ceremonial in all things.
I found it funny, though, that the first item on the list – the fact that a ball golfer who sinks a hole-in-one is obligated to buy everyone drinks – is something that is exactly the opposite in disc golf. The player who aces in disc golf usually walks away richer for their effort, but certainly no poorer.
Some of the others include the fact that changing into your golf shoes in the parking lot is frowned upon (don’t do that or Spalding Wentworth III may report you), courses being cart only and not allowing walking (a rule that would fit right in in the movie Wall-E), and waiting for whoever “has honors” (in disc golf we just say whoever is “out”) to play. That one makes sense for safety reasons, but the author is probably so obsessed with the 4 hours it takes to play a round in the busy 21st century that they forgot all about why that particular “tradition” came to be.
If you think I haven’t connected the dots strongly enough to back my claim that golf’s power brokers know their sport is irreversibly appealing to fewer and fewer people as the years go by, I have more.
My second book, The Disc Golf Revolution, was published in 2018. In it, I quoted from a New York Times article written way back in 2008 titled “More Americans are Giving Up Golf.” My favorite quote from that one was a golf club owner saying “When the ship is sinking it’s time to get creative.” I also cited another 2008 story in Golf Digest about golf and the environment. The findings of a comprehensive study made it clear that a good deal of golfers and a large majority of non-golfers considered golf courses’ need for water and pesticides to be irresponsible and obviously wrong- and that was 14 years ago!
Yes indeed, they know.
In the business world, there is a term called pivoting. It’s usually used to explain how a business will see an obvious trend that threatens its existence and change its products or service to embrace the trend. Disc golf courses popping up on existing (and inevitably foundering) golf courses with increasing frequency is one obvious example, but to me, it isn’t the most telling. In those cases, it’s about an existing golf course trying to keep its gates open.
I look instead to the emergence of TopGolf in the past decade. If you’re not familiar, Top Golf is “played” at a driving range. The player never moves from their stall, attempting to hit various targets and accrue points. Think golf-meets-Skee-Ball. For the power brokers, Top Golf solves the issues of time, environmental impact, stuffiness, and to a degree, cost.
Know what else addresses all those issues? Disc golf! And you still get to actually play the game of golf in all of its enthralling, maddening glory!
Ball golf will hang on in some form for decades longer because billion-dollar industries on the slow road to obsolescence can be like beheaded chickens that inexplicably keep running around and running around until finally, they stop.
The writing is on the wall, and they know it.