Global game responds to cries of 'Fore' with new gimmicks

Sat May 10, 2014 3:23pm EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

PONTE VEDRA BEACH Florida (Reuters) - Tiger Woods is the world's top-earning athlete and tournaments still lure blue-chip sponsors and huge TV rights but golf is losing millions of players, prompting desperate ideas to stem the tide.

In almost every part of the globe the number of players participating in the game has slumped alarmingly in the last 10 years, mainly due to the amount of time required to play a round in the high-speed digital age where attention spans appear limited.

According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), the sport has lost five million players in the United States in the past decade and 20 percent of the 25 million golfers now active in the country are likely to quit in the next few years.

Golf, though, is responding to its own warning cries of 'Fore' by thinking outside of the time-honored traditions of the game that was invented in Scotland in the late 15th century as it faces arguably its biggest struggle for survival in the 21st.

Among the innovations: soccer balls instead of a dimpled Titleist or Callaway; golf holes with a 15-inch diameter that look more like a bucket than the traditional cup; the ability for players to clock in and out of rounds and thereby pay for as long as they are on the course.

These and other measures pioneered in the U.S. have been implemented around the world in a bid to attract people to golf who may never have considered the sport, or are simply put off by the amount of time required for 18 holes.

"There is a mindset in golf that needs to change and it's going to take probably several years for that to happen," PGA of America president Ted Bishop told Reuters.

"For the first time ever it's not wrong for us to look at our sport and say that there are two types of golf that can be played," said Bishop who owns a large golf complex in Indiana.   Continued...

May 8, 2014; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; An overall view of the 17th green during the first round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course.  John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports