Maybe you’ve heard the old saying about the frustration of playing a round of golf: “It’s a good walk spoiled.”
And often a four- or five-hour one at that.
But in recent years, a growing niche of fitness-focused enthusiasts have added an element that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus never considered: speed.
Yes, “speed golf” is a hybridization of the game that combines the sum of a player’s stroke count and the elapsed time in minutes it took to run/jog/walk the round. (It should go without saying – but carts are prohibited.) Players are allowed to carry a maximum of seven clubs – but most of the world’s best do it with three or four.
Players sprint after each shot, find their ball, briefly catch their breath, then quickly line up their next shot – all without the methodical pre-shot analysis/practice swings/hovering over the ball, etc., that turn typical golf rounds into day-long affairs.
Last month at the World Speedgolf Championship in Chicago, a Wisconsin man took home the title after he played each of the tourney’s two rounds in 50-odd minutes, while shooting an even-par 72 on the first day and a 77 on the second.
In a September segment ESPN did on the rising popularity of speed golf, one of the participants noted that not only did running/jogging between shots relieve the frustration of a less-than-ideal shot, but that taking less time to prepare for each shot made the game more fun – and less mentally taxing.
Industry experts believe that golf should embrace this segment of the sport. After all, golf’s overall participation rate has declined in the past decade. According to the Wall Street Journal, some 24 million Americans played at least one round of golf in 2015 – down 20 percent from the peak 30 million who played in 2005.
While rehabbing from multiple back surgeries, Tiger Woods noted earlier this year that fewer and fewer new golfers are staying with the sport after initially trying it.
“How do you keep them still interested in it? How do you keep it fun? That’s one of the things we’re running into right now with the game of golf. It’s just stagnant. We have people come into the game but they exit the game. There’s no sustainability,” he told the Wall Street Journal in March.
Woods has become involved with efforts to make the game more “beginner friendly.” He designed a regulation course in Houston that also features a quasi “bunny slope” version of the game: a 10-hole lighted course with holes ranging between 35 and 108 yards long. What’s more, there’s piped-in music and players can play as few or as many holes as they like in whatever order they like.
And even Woods’ regulation course is more forgiving than most: All 18 holes are one grass length and there is no rough, so far fewer balls are lost.
While Woods never mentioned incorporating speed golf into increasing the game’s participation base, it should be noted that one of his collegiate teammates at Stanford – Eri Crum – won the 2014 World Speedgolf Championship.
Garlin Smith is a huge proponent of recreational speed golf and is at the forefront of its growth in Los Angeles. However, as he explained to AmericanGolf.com, “There are several challenges to growing Speedgolf. One is getting golf course operators comfortable with the idea that faster play helps them is many ways, such as allowing more players to get in a round of golf, adding fitness to the game, and potentially getting younger and new players to their courses.”
Woods and other stewards of the sport would be wise to welcome speed golfers into the mainstream fold.
Steve Dorfman writes for The Palm Beach Post. Read more stories about baby boomers and their health at myPalmBeachPost.com/boomerhealth.