On Hackgolf and How to Make Golf More Fun
Jan. 22, 2014
TaylorMade announced it will fund up to $5 million in experimentation and innovation in golf over the next five years.
In a little more than a decade, golf participation has slipped from 30 million to 25 million, a precipitous 16.7% decline. The National Golf Foundation estimates that the core golfer (someone who plays at least eight rounds a year) has fallen off by as much as 25%.
So TaylorMade has launched Hackgolf, an “open-innovation initiative aimed at crowdsourcing the future of the game.” It has created the website hackgolf.org, where comments and ideas to make the game more fun are currently being solicited.
TalyorMade also announced the launch of two initiatives at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando:
The first – and the centerpiece of initial efforts to grow the game – is a 15-inch cup. The normal cup is 4.25 inches in diameter, so the 15-inch version tends to look like a wash tub to most players.
“It saves time, it saves strokes,” King said. “It makes golf more fun for a lot of people.”
In an informal tournament at Pine Needles Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., King said players averaged 11 strokes lower than their normal average scores. In addition, the average playing time for foursomes – holing out every putt – was three hours and 10 minutes.
Would you play golf with a 15-inch cup? Or choose to play at a bigger hole? You would theoretically have two holes on every green — a regular size and this new larger size.
The second program uses a new ball and new clubs invented by TaylorMade engineers. The ball is oversized, and so are the clubheads (the set includes only four clubs, one of them a putter).
“It’s easier to hit the ball. It’s a great way to get started in the game,” King said. “The ball goes about two-thirds the distance of a normal ball.”
Players with the bigger set of golf equipment would use the 15-inch holes.
Here is the whole presentation at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando:
The impetus for this movement is “that the game lacks innovation.” And according to the National Golf Foundation, we are losing players because “they are not having fun.”
So how do we make golf fun for more people? These are the ideas that hackgolf.org is asking for through its initial brainstorm.
Other alternative golf spinoffs include FootGolf, a sport that is flourishing at Haggin Oaks in Sacramento. FootGolf was featured in NCGA Golf magazine this fall:
Haggin Oaks became the first facility to open a FootGolf course in Northern California this July, complete with an opening-day bash that filled the course with 144 FootGolfers.
The following has been faithful ever since.
“As far as FootGolf catching on here, we’re way past that,” said Mike Woods, the director of golf at Haggin Oaks. “We’re starting to invest in remodeling some of the holes, and buying tee blocks and new flags. We are already mentally way down the road that this thing is successful.”
FootGolf is successful where golf isn’t. Its most popular demographic is teenagers and players in their 20s. It takes less than two hours for a foursome to play 18 holes. It attracts a much larger percentage of Latinos.
FootGolf is roping in a new crowd (60% of FootGolfers at Haggin Oaks have never played golf), and it is retaining that crowd (50% return to Haggin Oaks to play FootGolf again). That crowd is also renting carts (35%) and buying food and drinks (35%).
There is also Speedgolf, which just held its second World Championship at Bandon Dunes in October. The sport will be featured in the Winter issue of NCGA Golf, which mails next week.
Without inventing a new sport, here are some of my ideas to create a fun environment, while providing different experiences on the same golf course:
1. At Bandon Preserve – the 13-hole par 3 course built through gorgeous sand dunes – you can pick what tee to play on every hole. The holes range from 65 to 150 yards. It’s a blast. Make each hole as short or as long as you want, or find the undiscovered angle that redesigns the hole altogether. Why can’t we customize big courses too? This would be especially fun playing a game in a group, whether it be match play, wolf, or whatever. When Alister MacKenzie designed courses, he would build alternate tees to change the way the hole played. We’ve gotten away from that. Most courses have four and five sets of tees. Let’s use them all, especially if it is your home course. Give yourself different playing experiences. You might find some great hidden holes from the forward tees.
2. We need to move around tees more. Create more drivable par 4s, short par 3s, reachable par 5s. Short can be fun. Holes are more interesting when you have to make decisions, whether it’s how aggressive to be off the tee, when to go for it, or wondering if you should go flag hunting because you have a short club in your hands. Don’t you get tired of hitting 200-yard shots into too many par 3s? Wedges are fun. Let us hit them more often.
I’d argue that the first hole at Spyglass is more interesting from the white tees at 529 than the blues at 595. At 529, you have a decision to make, both with the line and club you hit off the tee, and whether to go for it on the second shot. There’s risk-reward. From 600 yards? There is no decision. See you on the third shot at the end of the fairway.
3. Create a set of match play tees. Risk-reward on every hole. Use all five sets of tee boxes. Show that championship golf can be played from short yardages, because they present superior options and intrigue. Want us to Play It Forward? Well, too many of us want to play like the pros. Show us pros or high-level amateurs playing at 6,500 yards, while having to decide how aggressive to be. Then we will think playing forward is cool. Then we will step away from the Tiger Tees.
And don’t we want to embrace faster methods of play than stroke play? Match play is the culture and norm in Scotland. We need to get comfortable with straying from stroke play. It promotes a more enjoyable experience, and it makes it a lot easier to stomach that 9 you made on the second hole.
4. A fantastic feature at Pine Valley is its 10-hole Short Course, which replicates eight holes on the big course by recreating par 3s and approach shots into par 4s and 5s. (Above is its rendition of the famous 10th hole, as well as the pot bunker not-so-affectionately called the “Devils a-hole.”)
With that in mind, let’s make it so every hole can play as a par 3 on our big courses. All you need is a plate marking your favorite or coolest spot for an approach. It might not be practical to just play 18 par 3s with the walking distances between these new holes (and you would be flying around the course a lot faster than the rest of play), but it would make twilight golf a lot more fun. Only have Time for Nine? Not anymore. Tee off on the front nine, and you can play the big course, plus 9 par 3s with a second ball. It’s a great way to squeeze in more golf.
Also, how many times have we wished we could hit our drives in the correct spot, so we could hit into a cool green? This would allow us to enjoy the course the way it was designed, as well as the creative ways we end up navigating it.
5. This might look a little funny, but how fun would it be if you could pick the hole location? Let’s say we have three flags on each green – a red for easy placements, a white for medium, and a blue for tough. You get to choose what kind of course you want to play. Want to play all easy holes to see how low you can go? Fire away at the red flags. Want the toughest course possible? Good luck chasing the blue flags all day. Playing a match? Winner gets to decide the next hole location. Just another way to customize your experience.
You could also work in a Stableford scoring, where you are rewarded for making it into the hardest hole.
Bottom line? Golf needs to be more fun. The purists can still play their way. But we need some sandlot golf games, too.