Bare Feet, Beer and Heavy Metal Hitters: Golf Relaxes and Cools

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Golf is one of the oldest sports in the world, with valuable traditions honed over the centuries. But increasingly over the last decade, many people have come to view golf as simply obsolete. And not in a good way.

The number of dedicated golfers in the United States has reached nearly 25 million, but the group is aging and more than 1,600 American golf courses closed in the 2010s. In 2004 and over the next 14 years, course attendance declined.

These days, however, a fresh breeze blows through golf’s ramshackle clubhouse. It’s no exaggeration to call this move the new golf. And new golf can save old golf from itself.

It has helped power three consecutive years of attendance growth, which has reshaped the demographics of young golfers who are now twice as likely to be women and four times more likely to be non-white.

new golf led radically revised six- or 12-hole courses It reduces costs, land use and the time required to play a round. It supported a range of off-court experiences, including lively entertainment venues that combined the vibe of a driving range and a sports bar, and attracted an average 31-year-old clientele. It meant golf courses with built-in sound systems. with music and laps where no one keeps score or cares. Most notably, in a sport where 75 percent of rounds are played on public golf courses, old-school protocol is relaxed to encourage a spirit of inclusion.

On a sunny evening this spring in northern Florida, Mike Miles, a 59-year-old former PGA Tour player helping transform a failing traditional golf course into a quirky 12-hole public golf course called The Yards, looked out of his window and realized. A young man barefoot on his first shirt.

“I’m so glad to see him,” said a smiling Miles, to the golfer, who is in his 20s and started a three-hole round known as the beer loop because it starts and ends near the clubhouse bar. “We shouldn’t make golf so serious.”

Top players agree.

“They play golf whatever they want to do, and that’s great,” said Jordan Spieth, 27. won three major championships. “I have friends from high school and college and they don’t keep grades. They’re just going to play music and have a few beers. They love it.”

While such a change was seen as a threat to traditional golf 10 years ago, the sport’s leaders have now embraced relaxation.

“Introducing more golf flavors is taking advantage of evolutionary demands,” said Joe Beditz, longtime president and CEO of the National Golf Foundation. “It fits the dominant culture and is good for the game.”

Ashleigh McLaughlin, a former college golfer, is a manager. Youth on the Course, a program that subsidizes more than a million tours and cuts prices to $5 or less. He said that traditional golf has been expanded, not replaced.

“As in most corners of the world, golf has experienced this kind of awakening in terms of diversity and inclusion,” said McLaughlin, who is Black. “People can play golf the traditional way, but there are other ways to enjoy the game, whether it’s playing barefoot, playing music, or not wearing a polo shirt. There’s no judgment for that on the golf course.”

Like all riots, the sport’s mini-riot had a birthplace: Northern Virginia, where a golf entertainment company called Topgolf made its American debut in 2005. It has since grown to 64 locations, mostly in or near urban areas. With an average of more than 20 million customers a year, Topgolf facilities have the feel of a 1950s-style bowling alley set in a 21st century science fiction movie.

Although a Topgolf complex is multi-level, similar to a routine putting green, it is intended to be a social experience. The goal is a fun competition in any oversized drive-in where a wait staff has to deal with customers catering. Players choose from a full set of clubs to aim at targets at distances ranging from 50 to 250 yards, and sensors read a microchip embedded in each golf ball. Points are awarded based on how close the balls are to the targets and displayed on large touchscreens in each compartment.

The mainstream music is laughter, not the majestic silence in a typical golf tee.

The secret to Topgolf’s rising popularity is the come-as-you-go atmosphere that attracts people who don’t play the traditional game. Industry leaders once dismissed Topgolf as “not real golf”. Now they realize that Topgolf has found a way to capitalize on their hidden interest in the sport. (Television ratings for golf tournaments have been strong for decades, even though the majority of viewers were found not to be playing.)

“Topgolf has taken the friction out of getting into golf and made it easier for people to satisfy their interest in the game without a big investment,” said David Pillsbury, CEO of ClubCorp, which owns or operates more than 200 golf clubs.

Pillsbury and its brethren in the golf community now see every Topgolf as a recruiting outpost, as industry research shows that a significant number of first-time golfers start at a Topgolf or one of its many competitors such as Drive Shack, Big Shots. and indoor simulators. According to the National Golf Foundation, the growing customer base at such sites is approximately 13 million, and 45 percent are women and come from increasingly diverse and urban neighborhoods.

Next year, Topgolf, which recently merged with Callaway for $2 billion, will take a symbolic leap forward by opening its first facility in partnership with the municipal nine-hole golf course west of Los Angeles.

The course in the coastal city of El Segundo, California has been redesigned and floodlights will be added for night games. The property could be a model that proves that a modern golf entertainment venue can turn its customers into green grass players.

The innovative spirit of the El Segundo project reflects the longing for places to play unlike the stereotypical country clubs across the country.

At Quicksands, a par-3 track nestled atop a sand dunes in central Washington, Metallica’s music emanating from widely dispersed speakers hints that a tour won’t follow tradition.

So it might be the recommendation that using a putter outside of the tee is the best option for Quicksands’ longest holes falling steeply 180 yards from tee to green. all order, Connected to 18-hole Gamble Sands resortcan be passed in 90 minutes with just a few sticks.

A sign next to the entrance sums up the mood: Imagination on screen.

Even Tiger Woods withdrawn from the field with serious injuries In the alternative golf boom, sustained in a car accident in February. He became a co-owner of an expanding, technologically advanced chain of mini golf courses. each of the Woods Popstroke putting coursesIt offers food, craft beer, wine, and ice cream that can be delivered to participants during the game, with multiple holes connecting bunkers and squash. There are currently two venues open in Florida, and this month Woods announced that his company will develop seven more courses, including sites in Texas and Arizona.

If Woods is now the lead in the category of experimentation that overtakes recreational golf, Rob Collins, who was once a relative nobody, may now be the movement’s guru.

Seven years ago, Collins emptied his bank account to build an architecturally distinctive nine-hole course in eastern Tennessee, and it wasn’t anyone’s idea of ​​a golf venue. Collins didn’t have the money to build a clubhouse for his new course. Sweetener Dark. He couldn’t afford the bathroom either. A portable toilet and 20-foot by 10-foot aluminum shed welcomed golfers on opening day 2014.

Things have been slow, but another phenomenon, social media, has helped spread the eccentric appeal of Sweetens Cove, a mix of gameplay and compelling challenges for golfers of all levels. effective golf sites like fried egg and popular Twitter account No Flooring It has received rave reviews for Sweetens Cove’s offbeat charm and minimalist approach.

A cult attraction was born as golfers from all over the world make pilgrimages to rural Tennessee, 30 miles west of Chattanooga. Soon after, Sweetens Cove was ranked among the newest American golf courses.

In March, when Sweetens Cove opened its online booking system for this year, it sold out in 31 minutes on all tee hours from April 1 to October 31, Thursday through Sunday.

“We have become an international golf destination with no food and drink, accommodation or indoor plumbing,” Collins, 46, laughed in May. “Given golf, led by the younger generation, is refocusing. They crave engaging golf and the old assumptions about the location, length and configuration of golf holes are no longer valid.”

Collins and design partner Tad King have become hot products with a number of completed and planned projects.

“In those dark days around 2016, I would never have guessed this would happen,” Collins said. “But here we are.”

Supporting the new golf movement has been an increase in the number of young golfers flocking to reshaped training programs. About 34 percent of young golfers are now girls, compared to just 15 percent in 2000.

Jennifer Bermingham chairs a step-by-step junior academy program called Crush It, which was founded in approximately 120 Club Corp courses from Virginia to California. Although education is for boys and girls, girls are taught in women-only groups in Bermingham.

“Girls love to work together and be friends, and they want to have a social element for play and practice,” said Bermingham, a certified PGA and LPGA instructor. “There are always exceptions, but guys like to compete with each other and they want to see who wins. There is a mentality that is just a little different. ”

New programs like Crush It have bolstered long-standing programs like The First Tee and Girls Golf, a partnership of the LPGA Foundation and the United States Golf Association, which teaches the game to millions of young golfers at more than 2,000 locations.

According to data compiled last year by the National Golf Foundation, more than 25 percent of young golfers were non-white, while 21 years ago only 6 percent of young golfers were white.

Golf’s cultural revolution can be seen in every aspect of the game, perhaps most notably in the relaxation of dress codes. No collared shirts, women’s skirts of a certain length, and backward hats that were once in demand, golf is boring.

The rules are being rewritten nationwide, especially on public courses that make up three-quarters of the sports inventory. Of course, not every country club changed their restrictions, but in most cases only jeans and singlets were banned.

“When you have to tuck your shirt or flip your hat forward, those things have to go away,” said Laura Scrivner, general manager of Capital Canyon Club in Prescott, Arizona, which is run by Troon, a world-class golf management company. “There should be a lighter touch now.”

Scrivner is particularly committed to rethinking golf protocols – he once ran a golf tournament called “Meet, Greet and Cheat” that encouraged players to break every golf rule and didn’t let convention get in the way in the privately held Capital Canyon. .

JP Sipla, a 44-year-old member, is one of those golfers who play their rounds barefoot. He calls himself a golf buff and plays with an enviable seven handicaps, but his first question before joining Capital Canyon was whether he would be forced to wear shoes.

Making sure there were no shoe regulations, he soon found himself in the club’s first tee.

“He might have been someone who made a joke about being barefoot, but he was very carefree,” Sipla said in a phone call. “I’ve been here for about a year. Everyone knows me and they affectionately call me ‘Barefoot’.”

Dave Dove, 89, one of Sipla’s fellow members and introduced to golf by his father in the 1940s, welcomes the change he sees in the game he plays three days a week.

“You don’t want everyone to look and act the same,” Dove said. “Life isn’t like that. The golf course is a big place, there’s enough room for everyone. We’re just there to have a good time.”



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