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The future of golf ‘ain’t what it used to be’


         One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes goes, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” If we peer into golf’s crystal ball, we find Yogi may be right. As the golfing world was then fully aware of the Tiger Woods phenomenon in January, 2000, the editors of Golf Digest published their rather bold feature story about “The Future of Golf.” Here’s what the golf futurists predicted.

       One of the truly fascinating statements that showed up in the Golf Digest futurist piece was about golf equipment. The late Frank Thomas, who was the longtime USGA technical director (and a TV analyist) stated flatly: “Equipment will not change measurably in performance, no matter what marketers claim.” Wow! That’s like the U.S. Patent office officially proclaiming at the turn of the 20th century (1900) that “everything that can be invented has been invented;” and that was prior to household telephones, mass ownership of automobiles and universal electric wiring.

Fortunately Mr. Thomas was way off the mark, as even the occasional golfer can attest, outfitted with the latest titanium clubs, balls and rangefinders. Without clever inventors, some of us aging avid golfers wouldn’t hit it out of our shadow. The pros now bomb drives 300 to 350 yards, and hit 5 irons 260. (Hence, the USGA’s Distance Insights investigation.) The equipment we play today is the best ever, and the stuff will just keep getting better. The men and women pros will just keep getting better, and the golf courses will just keep getting longer.

            As to golf courses, designer Dr. Michael Hurdzan noted his view of the future back in 2000: “The American golf course will retain its image of a lush, green oasis, but will use significantly less water, fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels. These changes will not be so much government mandated as driven by the competition of our free enterprise and American value systems.” I’m not an expert, but I have played plenty of golf and plenty of golf courses, both private and munis, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the North to the South, as well as Hawaii. Regrettably, I have not seen the “lush green” oasis Hurdzan thought would happen. In the 20-plus years since 9/11, our economy has not been booming and money has been tight. So are the lies, both from fairways and the bunkers. We better get used to it because the lush green carpets for us to play on every day are still a long way off, and only seen on television.

Then there’s the matter of money. Here’s what former USGA chief (and TV analyst) Frank Hannigan asserted about professional golf: “The money has gotten too big.” Gee Frank, ya’ think? That was 22 years ago, before the $15 million FedEx 2021 winning check, before fantasy sports betting for golf appeared, and long before the Saudi-funded LIV tour was paying has-been players tens of millions just to sign up.

Offering his predictions about the general golfing population back in the year 2000 was Joe Louis Barrow, son of the famed boxing champion Joe Louis, and former CEO of The First Tee. Barrow’s vision 22 years ago was that “golf will not be for those rich with time, but for those who care to take a walk in the park for an hour or three.” He must have been thinking that most golf facilities are planning to hire Army drill sergeants for “player ambassadors” to speed play. I like what Barrow added: “The (future) game will be more about family than individuals.” Hope so Joe.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.