JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Amateur golfers need to be made a priority to keep the sport growing even though the professional game is a multi-million dollar industry and getting stronger, Gary Player told Reuters in a frank discourse on the future of the game.
“Professional golfers have never played for such enormous money. Some of the pros win in two tournaments what I won in my entire life,” the nine-time major winner, who turned 83 on Thursday, said in an exclusive interview.
“Professional golf is so popular now and Tiger Woods coming back has really given it a shot in the arm. And the Ryder Cup was fantastic. There are so many big events, big attendances, big sponsors, massive money for the players, but what we need is to build the courses for the average man.
“The pro is not that important. It’s the average person who comes to the course, to enjoy the game and have fun. That is key,” said Player, who still travels extensively, has a strict fitness regime and looks much younger than his age.
“Golf courses need flatter greens, wider fairways and not so many bunkers to make them (amateurs) enjoy the game. Amateur rounds are down because they are too expensive and too slow.
“There must be no restrictions on the weekend golfer. Let them enjoy the round. There used to be the long putter, that was then banned. To hang with that, let them use it,” he said, almost shouting to emphasize his point.
Player has been talking about technology potentially ruining the sport for at least five years as longer distances achieved mean designers lengthen the layouts and add more hazards to keep courses challenging for the professionals.
But that only serves to widen the gap with the amateurs.
“We want them (amateurs) to come out and enjoy themselves. We’ve done too many things to chase them away from the game instead of getting them into the game.”
Earlier this year, when he hit the ceremonial opening tee shot at the Masters, Player called for rules to be put in place to reduce by 50 yards the distance golfers can drive the ball.
“The equipment, in my eyes, is ruining golf. Pros are driving par-fives with an eight iron. There is so much emphasis being put on length right now. All I hear is fathers telling me how far their sons hit the ball.
“We saw in the Ryder Cup, Europe annihilated America because they (the Americans) had to hit the ball straight. American golf is wide fairways and long hitting. The rest of the world is narrower and straight hitting. Straight hitting is important.
“But the old cliche still holds true, ‘You drive for show and you put for dough’,” Player said chuckling.
“Putting is the most important thing. A short putt is the same value as a 350-yard drive,” he added.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris