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Some people subscribe to the idea that the very best players in the world understand the game at a higher level than everyone else. An elite player can spot subtleties that can make the difference between winning and coming up short whether it on the course or in an opponent’s swing or putting stroke. The best players also know how to make adjustments, even on the fly to succeed. But there is one thing about golf that is still a mystery, even to someone who knows as much if not more about the game than nearly everyone else. Jack Nicklaus, the man Tiger Woods is looking to equal or surpass with his name on major trophies, has been at the highest peak in competitive golf during his prime and created more courses around the world than anyone else. Yet the Golden Bear doesn’t have an answer why participation levels for recreational play have struggled in recent years. “ We've got to figure out a way to bring people in the game and not lose them,” Nicklaus said on the eve of the Memorial. “ I think that the rules of the game, the equipment of the game, have all added to the non-growth of the game,” he said. “And what I mean by that is that, as the golf ball goes further, as the clubs allow you to hit the ball further, the golf courses become longer. The longer it takes you to play the game, then the less young people are going to play it,” he continued.
Longer courses also represent greater costs, which are passed through to the end user. “Obviously a 7,500-yard golf course costs more to maintain than a 6,200-yard golf course. It is all a vicious circle,” he said. Meanwhile, the difficulty level of the game is another deterrent. “Do we make golf courses too difficult? Probably. I'm very guilty of that myself,” said Nicklaus. “But if you don't do a golf course with a challenge, it is no fun. It's no fun to go do a golf course and somebody walks out and plays it and says, gee, that's a nice golf course,” he countered.
“You have to have a little something, excitement and spirit in the golf course. We're all guilty of that. This is what you are asking, isn't it? How do you keep people in the game? Somewhere along the line, it's got to happen. The Tour has got to sit down with the USGA and R&A and figure out a plan. Every other sport is played in three hours or less. Name your sport that takes any longer than that?”