I couldn’t help but think about my own journey (and lessons learned) with golf, the rumors of the new generation’s issues, and my own experiences with our youth as I read today’s most emailed article in the NYTimes.
The article identifies that “people under 35 have especially spurned the game, saying it takes too long to play, is too difficult to learn and has too many tiresome rules.” And Ted Bishop, President of PGA of America claims that “we’ve got to stop scaring people away from golf by telling them that there is only one way to play the game and it includes these specific guidelines”.
I am not writing here to argue that I disagree with the data collected or the possible approaches for attracting golfers to the sport. Indeed, golf appears to be losing players. And indeed, changes to the sport might attract more players.
But the article ignores the underlying issues. What is it about golf? And what is it about new generations that might be different than past generations? It is more interesting to me to consider that there appear to be some fundamental differences or evolutionary changes that are causing this “spurn”.
1. Spurning of patience.
Golf is a sport that requires an immense amount of patience. Patience to play a game that can last four or more hours. Patience to spend years on a sport where you may not get noticeably better for very long periods of time. (The list of aspects-of-golf-that-require-patience could go on for a while). In a world where every single detail of our lives is being enhanced with technology to make things happen faster for us and require less effort from us, patience is on an a steep negative slope across the generations. I recall almost mythical-seeming stories of people memorizing long texts as part of youthful training, something that only some monks are seen as having the patience for these days.
To spurn golf is to spurn patience; and to spurn patience is to miss out on all the good things that come to those who have the virtue of calm patience. If anything, I hope we can find ways to reverse this trend and help people learn to love the goodness of patience. And with it, love the very active effort required of self control to retain true happiness while practicing patience.
2. Spurning of rules and traditions.
Golf is a sport that has rigid, difficult rules. Rules that most golfers take very seriously, regardless of their level of play. To be clear, in my experience, the golfers who truly enjoy the game all take the rules seriously. Golf also has protocols and etiquettes that require constantly being in the now to avoid even just accidentally breaking good form. Following the rules can be difficult. Following the rules rigidly means your score will invariably be lower than if you don’t. We live in a world where the establishment of government, authority, and organization of people in general is questioned — even vilified — on a regular basis. We see this with the complete lack of reverence for our own (current/recent) presidents in the USA, the rampant overthrow of governments around the world, the complete reversal of laws across our land (many times for the better, but still [perhaps unintentionally] undermining the current laws in the process), the consistent push for justifying selfishness in our increasingly competitive capitalism, an apparent reduction in religious beliefs/traditions/establishments, and many more characteristics of today’s society that point directly to the blatant spurning of rules and traditions.
To spurn golf is to spurn rules and tradition; and to spurn rules and traditions is to miss out on all the lessons to be learned from the wise generations before us that likely had real reasons to establish them. If anything, I hope we can embrace history more over time as I have been taught that most, if not all, of our mistakes are only made due to the history we have forgotten…or consciously chosen to ignore.
3. Spurning of focus and consistency.
Golf is a sport that requires focus and consistency. Focus and consistency enough to hit not one good shot out of three or five or twenty, but to hit 3-5 good shots together in a row. And then to do that again, and again. And to do it all while following the rules. It is not enough to be “on your game” and “doing the right things” MOST of the time, but it is required you be on your game and doing the right things ALL of the time in order to score well…and win. This is hard to do. Nobody said it wasn’t. But we have a society today where focus and consistency are rapidly becoming a very rare talent. Golf is not the only sport that requires an intense focus and unrelenting consistency (tennis comes to mind as well), but it is one that highlights failures in them with a big red Sharpie and three underlines. It is also one where that focus and consistency is a very personal journey. In other sports, you just need to be more focused and consistent than your opponent to get the win and feel pretty good about yourself. A golfer is always competing with being better and becoming better than the past version of himself/herself. You are pushed to be more focused and more consistent than the last time you played. You are pushed to become better and better. With technology today, our daily lives are riddled with distractions. Information, requests, dilemmas that are “pushed” to us constantly (via mobile devices) anytime and anyplace. Priorities and focus change on a dime, all the time.
To spurn golf is to spurn focus and consistency; and to spurn focus and consistency is to miss out on expecting ourselves to avoid all our distractions and to stop expecting ourselves to execute on tasks in a way that makes us better and better at them over time. If anything, I hope we can find creative ways to challenge ourselves to become a more focused and more consistent society. A society where you know you can count on each other to be there and deliver what/when you say you will, not 90% of the time, but 100% of the time.
4. Spurning of failure.
Golf is a sport that requires an amazing amount of failure before you can achieve success. It is said that one learns nothing from success, only from failure. There is truth to this. To be clear, even in success, lessons are only learned when compared the relative definition of failure. We all hear about today’s society believing we all, and especially our youth, need to experience [often times misguided] successes. If this notion continues on the rampage it is on, golf will die an even faster death than the NYTimes article describes. A golfer must revel in failure. A golfer learns — carefully…and slowly…from every failure. Every failed round. Every failed hole. Every failed shot. Every failed swing. Every failed aspect of every failed swing. It is not enough for a golfer to simply ignore and forget the failure. For if a golfer was to adopt this practice, he would indeed never ever succeed. A golfer needs to embrace failure. With a calm, practical, and methodical mind. And then he needs to know when to ignore and forget it. At the right time. With the right mind. We like to simply outright ignore failure today. Or even reject it. We like to “move on” and not let anything get in our way — not even rules. We like to “change the game” in order to succeed rather than improving ourselves to rise to the challenge. To avoid making ourselves more focused and more consistent. Why not fail a little more? Why not learn from those failures? And become better because of them?
To spurn golf is to spurn failure; and to spurn failure is to stop living, happily.
It’s very hard to enjoy something you may — you likely will — never become an expert (or as good as you hope) no matter how much time spend on it. But you must practice enjoying it, as such is the best outlook in life’s journey. In summary, I will just leave you with this thought: spurning the most challenging parts of the game of golf is akin to spurning the most wonderful parts of the game of life.
We can still fix this. And we will. Whether there are changes to golf or not is irrelevant. We must be good parents, teachers, and leaders to instill important life skills and values in our rapidly-changing world.
Note: This was a quick stream of consciousness that I hope inspires some further thought in you and me. There are many more things I could have — and would have — written here as I recognize this is just a small slice of the argument. But it is Easter and I’m off to spend some more time with family. Enjoy the wonderful day.