By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff
So far the snippets I’ve posted from my upcoming book have been from the first chapter, which first describes the reason golf is a singularly great game. It then contrasts ball golf with disc golf in light of the many limitations of the former and the lack of those limitations with the latter.
This post continues that dissertation with an examination of time factor, as in, how long each takes to play, and exactly why that matters when it comes to accessibility.
Keep in mind this book is aimed primarily at the non-disc golfing public, designed to properly educate them about the nuances and beneficial aspects of our sport. As a way of explaining the intention of certain passages to you, the disc golf-enthusiast reader, I’ve added some further comments to the text. Those are the sentences in italics.
The Time Factor in Golf
According to GolfLink, a portal website that bills itself as “the most complete online golf resource available on the web,” an average foursome playing 18 holes on an average course at average speed “should expect the round to take near the maximum of 4-5 hours. They estimate that for groups using motorized golf carts the duration might be as low as 3.5 to 4 hours, but that, of course, adds to the list of expenses and reduces the amount of beneficial exercise. GolfLink is a for-profit commerce site dependent on the popularity of the game with no reason to exaggerate this estimate. Quite the opposite, actually.
For an increasing number of people, that’s just too big a chunk of time to carve out of their busy schedules already filled with work and family commitments. In a report in the New York Times in 2009 titled ‘More Americans Are Giving Up Golf‘, Paul Vitello points out that “The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.”
A check of more recent statistics on the National Golf Foundation website confirms that the downward trend continues and even steepens into 2012.
“More troubling to golf boosters,” according to Vitello, “the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.”
Vitello’s report centered on a small gathering of golf enthusiasts on Long Island, New York — some with vested commercial interests in the health of traditional golf, some just avid players — attempting to brainstorm ideas on how to reverse the numerous negatives trends surrounding recreational play.
One thing that stood out as I read this story and others I came across while researching the book is that even golf’s staunchest supporters acknowledge it is in steady decline in terms of players, rounds played, number of courses, and many other measurements. They see the reasons related to logistics like time and cost rather than taste, and I agree completely. That’s why I believe if properly positioned, disc golf is poised to meet the demand for that taste.
According to Vitello’s report, at least one person present felt that the issue was as simple as it was unchangeable.
“The problem is time,”Walter Hurney, a real estate developer, said in the report. “There just isn’t enough time. Men won’t spend a whole day away from their family anymore.”
Although other reasons for golf’s decline were suggested, in his next passage Vitello seemed to lend more credence to this reason than the others.
The five men who met here at the Wind Watch Golf Club a couple of weeks ago, golf aficionados all, wondered out loud about the reasons. Was it the economy? Changing family dynamics? A glut of golf courses? A surfeit of etiquette rules — like not letting people use their cellphones for the four hours it typically takes to play a round of 18 holes?
Or was it just the four hours?
Another indication that this theory is one that enjoys major support among those trying to revive the game are recent efforts to write stricter time limits for each shot into the rules (suggested by none other than Jack Nicklaus) and creating six-hole courses rather than the normal nine or 18.
“When the ship is sinking, it’s time to get creative,” Walter Hurney, a principal owner of the Great Rock Golf Club in Wading River, said in Vitello’s story.
Disc golfers will tell you that creativity is a great thing, but they’d rather play a full 18 holes, or even 27 holes. And why not, if it takes fewer than two hours?
The Time Factor in Disc Golf
In this section, I realize that I’m speaking to the ‘chain music choir’ as I describe the time efficiency benefits of disc golf. But imagine the impact this information might make on someone who loves golf or has always been intrigued by the game, but just can’t spare the time it takes to play. Someone who had no idea of the quickness and flexibility of a round of disc golf.
Unlike ball golf, time requirements are not and will likely never be an issue in disc golf. First of all, the average disc golf hole is roughly one third the size, in distance, of the average ball golf hole. This reduces the walking time needed to get from shot to shot at about the same ratio, which translates to a typical 18-hole round taking two hours or less rather than 4-5 hours for ball golf.
Disc golf courses do vary greatly in hole length and even number of holes (24- and 27-hole courses are not uncommon), meaning that some courses can take longer than three hours to play. But even on the longest courses a couple other factors ensure that time will never be a reason that people who want to play routinely can’t do so.
Since the majority of courses are free to play and almost all of the rest cost less than a fast food value meal, playing a partial round when time constraints require it is quite common. The culture of disc golf and more casual and less regulated nature of its courses contribute to this as well, permitting a player to start on whatever hole is most convenient. Flexibility is another theme the reader will see repeated throughout this book.
Next up is a discussion of the advantages of disc golf as a sport that is easy to learn yet hard to master. Ball golf is famous for being so difficult that nearly everyone who decides to take up the sport and play it on a regular basis must take lessons from a teaching pro — and even then they usually struggle mightily most of the time. As we know, that’s not the case with disc golf. Pretty much everyone has fun, from day one. Stay tuned.
Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.