When Richard Hadlee met Donald Bradman, he was in awe of the great man. In his prime, Hadlee was a man Australian cricket fans loved to take the mickey out of, but he was also widely respected for his great ability, work ethic, competitiveness and sportsmanship. The two men, who were both knighted for their services to cricket, discussed the game they loved and Bradman offered one simple piece of advice to Hadlee. Sir Donald told Sir Richard, “We are all custodians of the game.”
There is a great resonance in these few words. If you love the game and benefit from the enjoyment, camaraderie, friendships and (for some) prosperity of playing the game, then with that comes a responsibility to give something back. Others have come before us to create the game we love playing. We are indebted to them and we owe it to future players to continue that legacy and uphold the game and deliver it in good shape to those who follow in our footsteps.
Bradman took up golf seriously in his fifties, became a scratch player and went on to regularly break his age as a member of the Kooyonga Golf Club in Adelaide. He was a very competitive pennant player, renowned for his humility and rarely ever speaking about cricket while on the golf course. Without doubt he would have brought the same attitude of custodianship to the game of golf. From what I have seen and heard from Adam Scott, I should think it is an approach and philosophy that he shares.
In the same spirit (although of arguably slightly diminished ability), I too am a former cricketer who has taken up golf. I have played a lot of sport over a long period and golf is a little kinder on my joints now than some other sports. I have been bitten by the golf bug in a big way and am unashamedly a massive golf tragic. Golf now plays a significant part in my life and, if you are reading this, I’m sure it is the same for you.
I am fortunate that I am able to play a lot of golf and I am now also working in the golf industry. This means I meet and talk with many golfers and lately a hot topic of discussion has been subsidised golf memberships at clubs that, not so long ago, offered memberships that were unaffordable to many. Often I hear the question asked, “Why is that?” or “Are golf clubs really hurting that much?”
The answer, obviously, is yes and the evidence is all around us. Some examples are the increase in group buying discounts for quality golf courses, the disappearance of joining fees and the increased competition among clubs that has seen the rise of discounted memberships and a broader range of membership options. Many clubs are struggling to maintain or grow their memberships as golf battles to attract new players.
The reasons for this are a regular topic of discussion among golfers I know. One theory I have heard is that it is intimidating to join a golf club if you are new to the game. I recently met a couple of young golfers who had decided to take up our great game. Both had invested in a brand-new set of clubs (or cleverly intimated that golf clubs would make a great Christmas gift) and set about hitting the fairways in their local area.
Many social rounds later, both decided that it was time to join their local club, obtain a handicap, meet some likeminded golfers and make use of the practice facilities and the resident PGA Professional. Once they had learned something of golfing their ball, the time then came to play in their first Saturday competition.
Without having played an official competition round before or knowing anyone who could assist with their knowledge of the more obscure rules and golfing etiquette, the two new golfers were left to their own devices for the duration of their round.
“You took a drop in the wrong place, two shot penalty”, “You just stepped on my putting line”, “Hurry up, we are holding up the group behind us”. These were the comments continually directed at them, without any assistance or advice nor effort to make them feel welcome. By the end of their round, any hint of excitement or achievement had been replaced by frustration and despair.
Was this what being a member of a golf club was like? Were all members going to treat them like this? Does the game of golf want us? Are there better ways to spend our time? With these questions running through their minds, the only place those shiny new golf clubs were going to end up was in the garage gathering dust and that was exactly what happened.
I am not for a second suggesting that all golf club members treat new or prospective members in this way. There are hundreds of thousands of super people playing golf in Australia who go out of their way to support their club and the game by generously giving their time and goodwill. Unfortunately, the positive efforts of so many are undermined by the disturbing number of golfers having a negative influence on the game.
Fortunately, with a little guidance, our two new players found their way past their poor first impressions of golf and they are now members of another nearby golf club (and a social golf club) and they are thoroughly enjoying their experience.
I was fortunate to be introduced to the game by someone who educated me on the details of the rules and etiquette of golf. Not everyone starting their life in golf is so lucky. We’ve all experienced what it is like to pick up a golf club and swing it for the first time, which is intimidating enough, but when we add to that the rules and etiquette a new golfer needs to learn, it can become a daunting prospect.
It is a shame that some golfers, for whatever reason, are reluctant to welcome new players. If we take a custodial approach, as golfers, we all share a responsibility to try and grow the game and assist it to prosper. If this means patiently explaining a confusing rule to a new player, or politely helping them understand the value in leaving their golf bag at the exit point of a green or lining up their putt while others are playing their shot, then these are small contributions we can all make.
Golf may offer the greatest challenge of any game to our skill and character and we are all custodians of the game but, as Bradman proves, we can take our responsibility seriously and still have fun with it. That is a significant part of why we play sports – for the enjoyment and camaraderie. I now take great pleasure from introducing new people to our wonderful game. If we all encourage one person to try their hand at golf this year and we make it a positive and welcoming experience, we can help foster the fraternity of golf and make our own small contribution to the good of the game.
(This article was originally published in Inside Golf Magazine, February, 2014)