The Future Of Golf For RL Magazine


This week Dick’s Sporting Goods, a major golf retailer, announced it is bailing out of the sport since nobody except me seems to want to take it up anymore.

My latest piece for Ralph Lauren Magazine, which posted this morning, was given the ominous title “The Future Of Golf.” In it I explore the sky-is-falling bad news, as well as some of the more outlandish ideas on how to make the sport appealing to younger demographics, including Ripped Links, which plans to combine golf with an X-Games atmosphere.

I’m sure you know by now that nothing’s ever been made more popular by becoming more traditional and gentlemanly. The RL ad below is from 1990, and it’s hard to imagine one so Duke-of-Windsorish running today. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

ralph lauren 1990

29 Comments on "The Future Of Golf For RL Magazine"

  1. Ten years ago I prescribed myself golf as a calmative. It’s yet to take effect.

  2. What’s mind-boggling to me is that golf even has a present, and a past. Seriously, who would ever want to do THAT?

  3. Anything that does not pander directly to the recently more affluent masses in a loud (in both senses) way, is bound to remain a niche interest. Gold requires consistent practice to learn/improve and is a lovely, quiet sport with an interesting history and tradition (and I’m not a golfer myself). Small wonder it has fewer people taking it up than might once have been the case in our crass, disposable, instant gratification culture.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von B.

  4. @cameron

    I went four decades feeling the same way, then on a lark I took a few whacks and the first time the ball got in the air it awakened some primal hunter-gatherer reptiliian part of the brain.

  5. Argh! “Golf”. . . (smacks head) not “Gold.” Some kind of humorous typing mistake there given the subject under discussion.

  6. Has the idea of putting obstacles on the course ever been suggested? You know, something that would stand between the player and the hole like a windmill or perhaps a laughing clown face? That could make the game more fun. Just spitballin’.

  7. The 1990 RL ad is beautiful.

  8. @Christian

    You should try soothing your irritated medulla oblongata – next time you feel the urge to thwack balls, go to a nice bar and order a martini, or a negroni, or something like that.

  9. The “sport” of golf sucks, so no loss there. Best for fatties, oldies, and the unathletic.

    Unrelated, are you really so desperate to monetize this blog that you’ve resorted to MacKeeper popups? This is the second time that’s happened to me here.

  10. @nfnoa

    You’re certainly entitled to the opinion that golf sucks, though I find your characterization of fatties, oldies and the unathletic to be inaccurate.

    The blog is well monetized, so no desperation on that front. I checked the site on several browsers to see if we’ve got some kind of virus, but I didn’t see any MacKeeper popups.

  11. A.E.W. Mason | August 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm |

    I’ve tried over the years to play, but I’m just not good at it. Hence I finally said goodbye because it was just too frustrating. But it is a beautiful game in many ways and lends itself to a kind of serene pageantry. I have enormous respect for the rigor it takes to be good at it.

    The one and only time in my life I ever heard my father use a four-letter word was in reciting a golf joke. I think it was something like, “When the game was invented the committee to come up with a name for the sport had narrowed it down to two options: “Golf,” or, alternatively, “Oh Shit!” Not really funny.

  12. The RippedLinks site is pretty explicit: the problem with golf is that it is a boring *spectator* sport. Sports are more and more, like many other aspects of contemporary American life, something that should be left to the professionals, enjoyed vicariously from the couch, for the benefit of advertising sponsors.

  13. @AEW

    I’m always setting new standards in the rapid-fire cursing department. My mouth is like a profanity-spewing semi-automatic assault rifle — pointed directly at myself.

  14. Christian:

    Did the people at Dick’s provide any insight as to what sport/segment is growing?

  15. Perhaps golf’s leaders and patrons should realize that the sport over-expanded and is contracting to a more sustainable level. (ditto tennis; fair warning to squash and skiing).

    Changing the sport to try to draw someone, anyone in just seems desperate and pathetic.

  16. Comment leaver J. Kraus sent me an article I think from Business Week about Dick’s. I think it said they were focusing on basic team sports; no mention of individual ones, as I recall.

    A Google News search should supply the answer.


    Yes, most agree that too many courses were built (especially sadistically long and difficult ones), but that’s independent of the huge drop in participation, including a 30% drop over the past 10 years among those aged 18-35.

  17. Why leave the comfort of your home, travel to the course and have to walk around in all winds and weathers? Just play golf on your X Box!

  18. I, actually, have just started golfing, and my view is the same as the ad from 1990. I love the tradition and gentlemanly view of golf that still seems present at my local golf course.


  19. @Woofie

    Why have sex when you can watch it on your computer!

  20. I believe golf is just too genteel for today’s bro and dude population. I hereby humbly propose Xtreme Golf (XG) as a possible solution. The golf “pros” in XG would have distinctly created ersatz “personalities” like in wrestling, complete with both “good” and “bad” characters that the audiences could root for or against. They would of course sport shaved heads, mohawks, faux-hawks, dreadlocks, tattoos, piercings and other contemporary accoutrements.

    Before each XG match, a color commentator would interview players, each of whom would loudly trash-talk and threaten their opponents. Prior to a swing, instead of respectful silence, both competitors and the galley would be encouraged to make as much noise as possible, including the use of vuvuzelas and thundersticks.

    Electric golf carts would be replaced by carts powered by Harley-Davidson engines with no mufflers.

    To increase drama, when two or more balls are on the green, a player, if he feels that it is to his advantage, could choose to knock his opponents’ ball away from the cup rather than advance his own ball. If he could accomplish both goals with a tricky billiard-like shot, so much the better!

    Similar to ring girls in boxing, each tee would feature a bikini-clad “Tee-Girl” with breast and buttock implants and garish tattoos. Her job would be to theatrically bend over on camera and place each player’s ball on his tee.

    Finally, to inject new excitement into the term “hazard,” all sand traps would be guarded by chained pit bulls. Caddies would carry hunks of meat that they would be permitted to use to try and distract the dog, though such use would incur their player a one-stoke penalty.

  21. Looping back, fastest growing sport in the USA? High School Lacrosse…

  22. I love golf courses. I love golf paraphernalia (how many putters?). But after a few holes I often wonder why I put myself through it.

    Of late I’ve taken to Japanese golf. A quick half hour at the driving range, to see if it is humanly possible to hit 40 balls straight(ish).

  23. An article by Peter Andrews in the July 1994 edition of Golf Digest begins:

    “Golf is a mistake. You must understand this basic fact if you are ever going to come to terms with it. By rights, golf should have remained a solitary Scottish occupation like tossing the caber, which is something only a Scot would be foolish enough to do. Golf is not really a game at all, but a perverse obsession designed to inflict pain on its practitioners that has somehow slipped past the borders of its national origin and is now played by people who do not realize the true essence of the endeavor.”

    and ends:

    ” If the game must be played at all, it has to be played in pain as the Scots intended. Golf is an iodine game. Like children with a mangled toe, we plead for the Mercurochrome because it doesn’t hurt so much. But our parents always went for the iodine bottle. They said the stinging was good for us. It showed they were getting out the poisons.”

  24. I remember the days when both pro and amateur golfers were some of the best dressed men. Today’s golfers are nothing more than two-legged billboards for golf merchandisers!

  25. In the 1990s ad, three patterns (and two that are quite bold) are beautifully combined. Ralph knows how to do clothes well – that was not an easy hat trick.

  26. I’ve enjoyed golf for close to fifty years, walking, carrying vintage or somewhat modern clubs in a small Sunday bag. I’ve bought golf equipment through the years, but no where near the extent that companies like Dicks and the OEM expect “Golfers” to buy. So guys like myself help to put the companies in the red.

    Dicks typifies the American business scene. Open a huge bunch of stores in a short period of time, stock them with every conceivable item, and expect the public to sustain them. The CEO’s, key employees, and major shareholders make a fortune for a time. Then, in a market that cannot provide unlimited expansion, cutbacks, store closing, layoffs occur. Then bankruptcy.

    The big shots walk away, get funding from banks to open Mega Golf or Mega something. Make a ton of money, walk away again.

    Sad state of American business. If Dick had to use “his” money to expand, the store still would be a “Mom and Pop” store somewhere in a Pittsburgh suburb.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth.

  27. Richard Meyer | August 24, 2014 at 11:12 am |

    My God, the model didn’t have “designer stubble”1 Now even BB models do.

  28. Golf is part of my cultural heritage. Both of my grandfathers played (one as a young man in the 1930s/40s, the other later in life in the 1970s/80s). My brother and his friends have played for a couple of decades (they are now in their early 40s). I’m flirting with the idea of taking up the game. That so many people, rather than simply choose not to play, actively loathe golf and its players is part of the appeal. Cf. nfnoa, above.

  29. I’m in my late 20’s and have played what I will call golf (mostly pitch and putt or shorter par 3 courses) on borrowed clubs for the past 13 years. I’m pretty awful but have had a blast every time I’ve gone.

    Golf isn’t prohibitively expensive, but many people think that it is. I played at friends clubs most of the time I golfed and always figured that I liked it but would never get into it due to cost. The other day I played 18 at the muni by my parents for $5 and they also let us bring our own cooler. I plan on taking lessons very soon. If people knew that they could get into the game for less than $20 each time they went and could drink on the cheap each time they did it, golf would be doing much better.

    I also think that what I see as a push to market golf as more individual sport than social is really detrimental with my demographic. In this day and age, if you didn’t start playing the a sport at 2 years old you will never be competitive. I may be wrong but my sense is that, for the majority of players. golf is more of a social sport than an individual sport. I would also guess that for many, its more about having fun with your friends than being better than them. I’ve just always seen it as a great way to hang out with buddies and get the benefit of being outdoors.

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