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THOMPSON: This is not your father's golf

July 05, 2021 - 12:00 PM



Danny Noonan - paying his way to college by caddying at exclusive Bushwood Country Club in the movie “Caddyshack” - would no doubt love what’s happening to golf these days. A game known for strictly enforcing not only play but dress - is getting a makeover, like it or not.

Golf - like polo and sailing - has long been considered a pastime of the well-to-do…a pursuit perhaps a little bit snooty despite it’s more egalitarian nature in recent years. I’ve played golf for nearly a half century. But as a kid I never worked up the courage - much less the money - to even walk the local public golf course…it was the playground of doctors’ and lawyers’ children.

About 25 million Americans and nearly six million Canadians play the game…even though 1,800 golf courses have closed down in the past 11 years alone. So some upstarts - mostly younger less stuffy types - are breathing some fresh air into the sport…and it appears those who never swung a club are giving golf a first look…and those who once gave it up are suddenly taking a second look.

However, it’s not your father’s golf…unless your father resembles Bill Murray’s character, Carl Spackler, also in “Caddyshack.” In the “new” golf, you’re likely to see people in bare feet…playing a variety of beer drinking games…laughing loudly and with favourite tunes blaring not so much in the background. The worst fears of Judge Elihu Smails - Ted Knight’s character - again, in “Caddyshack,” might be coming true…the insolent caddies are taking over.

You can trace its beginnings - the emerging new golf not insolence - to a small, 15-year-old so-called golf entertainment company in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. called Topgolf. Now there are 64 facilities around the U.S….all with driving ranges that look more like video games and the ambience of a bowling alley bar.

At first, traditional golfers and their various organizations might have looked upon the emergence of this quasi-golf cousin not unlike Bushwood’s upper-crust members viewed the great unwashed invading their swimming pool on Caddy Day. But 20 million people a year are showing up at Topgolf locations…playing, well, golf…eating and drinking. The new golf makes the old golf look formal, stuffy, expensive and exclusive…pretty much what it has been for a hundred years or so.

Danny Seifried, a 40-year member of the PGA Tour Canada, and CEO of Kayson Golf, an innovative custom club maker on Vancouver Island, said there is plenty of room for new golf and we should embrace the new upstart.

Danny Seifried, a 40-year member of PGA Tour Canada and CEO of Kayson Golf, is among those investing in changing attitudes about golf.
Danny Seifried, a 40-year member of PGA Tour Canada and CEO of Kayson Golf, is among those investing in changing attitudes about golf.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

“Not unlike ice cream, there’s room for more than just vanilla,” said Seifried. “Golf should be about having fun. But you still need to know how to swing and strike balls properly. I think we can forget the stuffy no-collarless-shirt-type rules and introduce a lot more people to the game.”

Seifried added that even the new golf players need to learn and practice some traditional golf etiquette…like knowing when it’s your turn to hit and not talking during someone’s backswing.

“Otherwise new golf might look like a huge outdoor barroom brawl,” Seifried said with a laugh. “But this sport is big enough to accommodate diversity.”

Topgolf’s driving ranges have two floors and oversized bays to make room for social gatherings. Players need not bring clubs…Topgolf provides all types of clubs…right and left-handed. You no longer have to invest hundreds of dollars in equipment only to discover, “Nah, it’s not my kinda game.”

Players aim at target greens from 50 to 250 yards away using regular golf balls with embedded microchips. Sensors in the target pin markers calculate how close each player’s ball comes to the target. You get points that are displayed on touch-screen monitors in each bay…for the gang to see…and laugh about. Meanwhile, ever-present servers keep the cold beer, wine and food coming. Can you say, “party?”

You can’t make as much noise in the marketplace as Topgolf without attracting competitors…and now companies like Drive Shack, Big Shot and a variety of one-off “golf courses” with three, six or 12 holes - some even with floodlights for nighttime play - are cropping up all over the states and Canada.

There is plenty of room in the new golf market. Tiger Woods, co-owner of Popstroke, has two facilities in Port St. Lucie and Fort Myers, FL, with others opening this year in Sarasota and Orlando. Others are planned for Glendale, CA, Tampa and Delray, FL, Houston, TX, and Scottsdale, AZ in 2022. Tiger’s facilities will offer the public an 18-hole competitive putting course, a full-service restaurant, ice cream parlour and playground among other features.

In Canada, investors are flocking to Danny Seifried’s private three-hole course planned for Vancouver Island that offers a restaurant, entertainment, personal coaching and the chance to tune up your game in an hour or two instead of playing a five-hour round.

About half of the new golf players are female…and there’s more racial diversity than you used to see at traditional golf courses. All in all, it’s a good thing…introducing a wider audience to a great game without breaking the bank.

Of course, there are plenty of naysayers about new golf. But I remember when lots of people said dot coms and the Internet were passing fancies. If I had to bet - and I am a betting man - I’d wager millions more Americans and Canadians will soon get their first look at golf through new golf…and they will love it.

After all, who doesn’t enjoy gathering with friends to play, laugh, eat and drink?

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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