April 10, 2009

Is golf skippy?

Tiger Woods at the 2007 Masters

It’s Easter weekend and I know I’ll spend at least some of it caught up in the beautiful torture of the Masters at Augusta. Which got me thinking, is golf skippy?

Just for a second though, consider football. Surly and recalcitrant players, managers who refuse to talk to the press, habitual swearing at match officials, cheat-if-you-think-you-can-get-away-with-it, blame-the-referee, I didn’t see it.

Now golf. Steeped in tradition and history and always played under strong values – honesty, integrity, and respect for the rules and other players – golf is about winning the right way, or not at all. The rule book is non-negotiable. Golfers honour rituals and conduct that were nurtured in a different age.

To an outsider like me, golf embodies the spirit of sportsmanship. To a skippy-ist like me, has all that slow had a positive effect on the quick?

Skippiness of a game is a tricky question. It is a game after all, you’re supposed to enjoy it.

It’s also a business. The rules are run by the R&A at St Andrews but the commercial interests are run by the two most powerful professional players’ bodies, the PGA Tour and the European Tour, and outside of playing, there’s an industry of equipment manufacturers and a network of shops, clubs, sponsors, communities and volunteers.

For the sake of argument though, let’s concentrate on the professional game as represented by the PGA and European Tours. Now, is golf skippy?

Skippy customers?

Ever spent less than five minutes talking to a golf nut who gets into his favourite subject? Golfers seem able to recall every shot of every game – played or watched – and to re-experience the thrill and frustration as they do it. Practically everybody who plays golf was first brought to the game by somebody else who already played; the evangelist effect in action.

Skippy staff?

It’s easy to believe, especially during Masters week, that professional players hug their golf bags with excitement every morning. Maybe not, but as a job it has some benefits; it’s a meritocracy, played in beautiful surroundings, and well paid if you’re good enough. Joining the professional tour isn’t easy and the life can be hard – living out of a suit case, no income guarantees – yet every year over 700 players attempt to qualify for the 30 places that come up for grabs on the European Tour. Do they skip to the office every morning? Playing a game they love for a living, most probably do.

Skippy owners?

The PGA and European Tour are players organisations – established for the benefit of the players. The PGA Tour in particular says it’s mission is to:

“expand domestically and internationally [and] to substantially increase player financial benefits while maintaining its commitment to the integrity of the game.”

If that’s their intention, if that is what it means to get whatever they want, in abundance – they’re skippy. Sure, the recession is biting. According to the Telegraph, private membership clubs have begun to find themselves in the rough. Everyone can see sponsorship is fading in every sport, golf included. Player financial benefits are bound to suffer this year too. But grading over the long term – the owners must be skipping. Tiger is back, viewing figures are up again, and players at all levels regularly “call a penalty” on themselves showing the commitment to the integrity of the game is as strong as ever.

So why the difference between golf and other sports?

Photo Credit – pocketwiley via Flickr

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Purpose Skippiness