During last week's PGA Merchandise Show, TaylorMade CEO, Mark King, made a splash with his Apple-like announcement of Hack Golf.
Hack Golf is a simple idea, and online platform, to discuss ways to make the game of golf more fun for people that are taking it up, and simplifying the rules so that the beginner actually enjoys playing the game even when they struggle with it.
The idea immediately made waves in the golf world, with people slamming the idea of an "easier" golf game, something that softens the blow of golf to people trying to get interested in taking up the sport. Don't want to play a 7,000-yard course? We have just the game for you! Sick of missing every two-footer because you still don't get alignment or feel? This alternative to the four-letter word could be more your style!
The idea was met with resistance, just like instant replay was lambasted by critics of certain sports when it was introduced, and how a lot of new ideas are met with the old school golf thinker.
My first reaction was much like that of the people I'm discussing. I was confused and apprehensive and worried about "the integrity of the game," completely missing the idea that if millions of people keep leaving golf because of the time or the difficulty there will eventually not be much of a game left to guard.
King posted a blog on the Hack Golf website, "Hack Golf is a method for inviting more people to contemplate the "fun" problem, and will lead to countless ideas. You can submit yours right here on this website -- just join and start thinking and typing."
The idea has been in King's head for a long time but it is finally a reality with TaylorMade pledging $5 million to a program that is simply a message board to help fans of the game drum up ideas on how to make it better, and easier, and more fun and faster and all the things that we golfers hate. (Side note: I would like the 90 degree rule obliterated if someone could do that for me).
If you're worried about the idea of golf taking a hit with a concept like Hack Golf, just look at some of the things we've changed in the past that improved the game. It's a way to view golf through a completely different set of binoculars, and while you might sit back holding your blades and walking bag cursing this new-age way to ruin golf, it really isn't as bad as you think.
The idea even lands a bit more personal with me. I have two nephews, both great kids, that live all the way across the country from me. Nothing would make me happier than to teach both boys how to play golf so I can have a similar relationship with them to the one I currently have with my my uncle, who's one of my best friends and easily my favorite person to golf with.
Explaining to them in a short amount of time all the rules of golf — with the idea of keeping your left arm straight, not moving your head, lining up your club and your ball and "oh don't forget you can't tee it up in front of the tee markers" — is a lot for a child, especially one born in a generation where reading a two-page article almost seems as complicated as strapping up to hike Everest.
Golf might be cool for kids to watch, but the game is damn hard and my nephews don't have the attention span to go spend countless hours trying to pick up the hardest sport in the world to master. Compare something like golf to soccer and imagine having to explain it to a child. "In this sport all you do is run and try to kick that ball as hard as you can by that net and with this sport *pulls out 400 page rule book* this is all you need to know!"
Hack Golf might not be the perfect solution, and there are things that doesn't exactly get me jumping off my couch to go putt at 15-inch holes, but what a lot of critics are forgetting is this program isn't made for us. This program is made for the millions of golfers that are quitting the game for certain reasons, and it's allowing everyone a chance to play golf without it being so serious.
When I was a high school kid, I took the game incredibly serious. When I played mini tour golf I wouldn't have imagined having a beer with my buddies while I was playing this polished sport. But as the years have passed my approach to the game has lightened up, as it should, because we all should remember that this is a recreation we're choosing to do. If you want to hit a ball at barrel-sized holes, what is so wrong about that? What, like golf doesn't have enough rule bending as it is? When is the last time you played with a 10-handicap that was actually a 10-handicap. The word "sandbagger" is as known to a group of golfers as the word "eagle."
When you go swimming with your child, do you just toss them in the water for the first time and hope they figure it out, or do you put floaties on their arms so they can adjust to the idea of moving around in water? This is the floaties of golf, not a way to cheat the system but a way to ease into it.
I just hope that others can at least open up their minds to the idea that people are leaving the game because of a lot of factors and if we could just make it a tad more fun at the start, we might have a whole new group of fans to take the game on in the future.
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