Not content with being the World Number One and enjoying a highly successful year on the courses around the world, including two majors and being a part of the victorious European Ryder Cup team, Rory McIlroy has spoken of his hopes for ways to be found to attract more youngsters into the game of golf.

He is keenly aware of the typical length of time a full 18-hole round of golf can take and has recognised that many people simply do not have sufficient spare time in their lives to invest several hours (commonly five or six) at a time. His suggestions seem to call for a means to be found to speed up the game, which could then lead to more young players coming into a sport he clearly loves and wants others to have the opportunity to experience.

The statistics do not make good reading as far as the health of the game in future is concerned, as Sport England have identified that when you analyse the 16-25 year age range, the number of people regularly playing golf has nearly halved in the period from 2009-10 to 2012-13. The figures are not quite as startling when you consider all ages from sixteen and above, but even then the findings suggested that whereas in 2009-10 around 860,900 people regularly took to the fairways, the latest figures had declined to around 751,900 last year (based on those playing golf at least once a week, every week, in England).

Talking to BBC Radio 4, McIlroy explained his thoughts by citing that “...everything’s so instant now and everyone doesn’t have as much time as they used to”. He went on to point out that viewing figures seem to be growing but that the opposite is true when you consider people actually participating in the game themselves, as borne out by Sport England’s findings.

He may be golf’s current “poster boy”, but McIlroy’s suggestions may take some time to permeate through the golfing hierarchies, as they typically take a long time to introduce significant changes, as evidenced by how many years it took for the agreement to allow women membership to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, something that was only endorsed in September. He did however have some thoughts that they may want to consider, especially as he did not wish for the traditional tournament-style events to be altered, more for ideas to be tried out at the grass roots level when young people are first exposed to the sport. The concept may have worth, given that once a young person typically has the ‘bug’ to get involved in a sport or pastime, they are often more willing to expand the time and effort they dedicate to it. The hard part is often the initial contact and bringing them into something in the first place. McIlroy himself was seen on television at the tender age of nine as he rather unusually chipped golf balls into a washing machine, so has some experience of things that amused him as a child !

Of course, the time and effort required is but one consideration as to why more young people are not getting involved. Other luminaries of the sport have suggested that the professionals should be given harsher penalties for slow play (that should set the message to all levels) and ways should be found to reduce unnecessary time on the courses for younger players such as by avoiding having excessive rough on them around the country (avoiding less time ‘out of play’) . Shorter courses would also help as would not religiously sticking to eighteen holes (except in true tournament-style competitions), much in the manner of pitch and putt and putting greens still having their place up and down the nation.

The stereotypes that are associated with being a member of a golf club are also typically flagged as a deterrent to taking up the game. In the past, members have been portrayed as being elitest and slightly snobbish, but that image may have now turned full circle as past members suggest they have stopped playing to avoid encountering what they consider the “chav” culture that has crept in.

Cost is frequently put forward as an issue (as in any sport or pastime), with the cost of clubs, bags, and golfing apparel to be considered, but clubs are often keen to encourage new members by finding initiatives to reduce the price paid for the average round, such as making it cheaper later in the day.

Simple ideas to remove an element of unnecessary ‘etiquette’ in the game such as filling in scorecards while moving to the next hole and not always insisting on waiting for all players to have finished their shot, before being ready to drive off at the next hole (assuming all is clear ahead) are other ways to introduce a bit more dynamism to the proceedings.

It seems that golf is in pressing need of following the lead in other sports where there has been a recognition that shorter and abridged forms could make sense. Tennis has long since brought in games on smaller courts, with bigger rackets to encourage Children in through their doors. Snooker has dabbled with a speedier form of the game, where a shot clock is employed, besides experimenting with shorter matches in terms of frames to be played. Cricket still has much interest in the top Test Matches such as the Ashes, but has embraced the shorter forms of ODIs and twenty-twenty to appeal to a slightly different audience.

One waits to see what impression McIlroy’s musings may have on the powers that be in the game of golf.
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