Golf Fans Meeting a Hero
While the game of golf is probably more popular now than it has ever been, the sport still suffers from the perception of being elitist.
When Tiger Woods is on the prowl, casual fans tune in. On the other hand, ask most people what they think of the game and you would probably get an answer that matches somewhere between the rigidity of the tradition at Augusta and the snootiness of the Bushwood Country Club parodied in Caddyshack.
The reality is, of course, different. It is a game played by millions of all shapes and sizes. Programs such as First Tee try to take the game into the inner cities to be learned and enjoyed by those who need an extra hand in growing up.
Still, unless you play the game, golf is not the easiest sport to turn on and understand the first few times you watch. In today’s fast-paced world, four-hour rounds and trying to follow a little white ball against a jittery sky can seem tedious. It is the only major sport where the lowest score wins. It also has no real dominant stars that finish near the top every single week.
We all know that golf is a great game and a genuine sport. Here are five ways the pro tours can make it easier for the casual fans to understand and watch more often.
While the PGA is better about giving more access to featured groups and certain holes on a given week for the main tour, it needs to add that for the Champions and Nationwide Tours.
Being able to see how loose the over-50 players can be on the course would reveal the fun side of the game, and watching the determination of the golf stars of tomorrow on less challenging courses can make the game feel closer to what viewers might see on their own courses.
You wouldn't even have to add commentators to Nationwide events not currently televised. Just let the natural sound roll through and give the viewer the sense of what it is like to actually be at an event.
This year, the LPGA has started putting players' Twitter handles on the back of caddie uniforms. The PGA Tour should do the same.
In subscribing to these feeds, you start to see players as people and not just robotic athletes.
Putting golfers out there so all fans can enjoy what they do is a plus, no matter the tour.
The tours should give away prizes weekly on Facebook, whether it is a trip to a tournament, a series of playing lessons or even just a sleeve of balls. Make the average fan feel like they are part of the experience even if they are half a world away.
The biggest obstacle in trying to get people to watch golf is getting them to understand it. The best way to understand it is to encourage them actually play.
By giving a few kids the opportunity to be kids on a course, they can see that golf is really not all that hard to learn and enjoy.
I don't mean highly intense junior golf. Instead, make a deal with a local municipal course in the fall and do par-three tournaments on three or four weekends between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
Give kids the opportunity to swing some clubs and learn the rules. Some basic lessons on chipping and putting with the emphasis on having a good time and running around will give the sport a generation of new fans and maybe a few that actually want to play.
Like with the kids, just make it as easy as you can to get people on the course.
Whether the tours and a partner start buying municipal courses or have a deal in place to have a $5 round with a cart, just getting those interested out and actually playing golf will yield more fans.
The perception that golf is just a rich person’s game needs to change. By virtually giving away a round of golf, more people could become regular and good players, and follow the game on television.
If the game can be made easier to understand, then more people will follow without having to change the actual game.
While Golf Channel has been absolutely wonderful for the growth of the game worldwide, casual fans aren't flipping over on a Tuesday to see what is going on.
The tours need to use their other television partners to promote the players.
Like what NBC has done with their NHL 36 specials—following around hockey players for a day-and-a-half—something similar needs to be done with golfers.
A couple days following around Bubba Watson, Fred Couples or Christina Kim would just be fantastic.
The average sports fan would get to see them as people and realize that golfers are every bit the athletes hockey or football players are.
The demands are quite different, but changing the perception of how hard can it be to hit a little white ball needs to be changed.
People will watch.