Golf’s Real Appeal Is Low-Tech

k-vest_man_using_vestHardly a day goes by when an editorial touting ways to increase participation in golf fails to cross the desks of people in the industry. One recurrent theme identifies the increasingly sophisticated technology invented to cater to golfers as key to attracting the all-important, more-tech-savvy younger demographic.

Well, I say bollocks to that — with the disclaimer that it’s really more the urge to say or write bollocks than a rebuke of the concept. Actually, I’m happy to support any participation booster that achieves the desired end. I just don’t think that continued immersion in technology will do the trick. Here’s why.

First, if it were to happen, we’d have noticed it by now. Even before there was videotape, the golf swing was the most analyzed athletic movement in history, as Fred Shoemaker, of Extraordinary Golf fame, has been pointing out for decades. It stands to reason that the same would hold true throughout the digital revolution.

“Every popular sport has been touched by computerized analysis, improved motion-capture capabilities, and so forth,” notes Calvin Roach, avid golfer, technology consultant, and former IT manager for the European Union’s Manhattan office. “But golfers, with their often obsessive attention to detail, figure to be especially receptive to the latest refinement, which explains the more or less endless stream of mind-blowing inventions.”

Still, it’s no contradiction to be dazzled by the gadgetry available without having much interest in engaging it with any regularity. For the serious player wishing to know, for example, exact angles of impact and swing plane for every swing, fine. However, if there’s a technology that in and of itself lures novice golfers, we have yet to find it.

Second, the burgeoning of technology, in golf and elsewhere, has a curious parallel in our everyday activities: Like golf-particpation screeds, the deleterious effects of the constant bombardment of information on our psychological health has become a publishing genre in its own right.

Consecutive issues of the Sunday New York Times have included essays entitled “No Time to Think,” by Kate Murphy, an indictment of our contemporary need to stay in ceaseless touch electronically; and “Hit the Reset Button In Your Brain,” by Daniel J. Levitin, which stresses the need to escape the deluge of data. And items about progressive companies devising team-building strategies and activities devoid of cell phones, iPads, and other modern contraptions are increasingly commonplace.

Golf and its four hour-plus duration – generally cited as a prime culprit in the game’s declining fortunes — offers the perfect template for relief. Call it a Luddite Day: Leave the digital devices at home, or at least in the locker room or glove compartment.

Two-time major winner Jack Burke, Jr. once bemoaned the corporatism (my word, not his) permeating the world of golf. The golf course, he said, should be a place where we consciously replace the tensions of the rest of our existence with fellowship and an appreciation of nature and the great game. If only.

(The media certainly bears some responsibility for the golf-as-commerce trope. This writer has produced a couple of treatments exploring the work of business golf consultants; that is, people who counsel others on how to conduct business on the golf course. Sample advice: Don’t talk turkey before at least the 5th hole, don’t get blown out of your shoes on beer. Of course, I only wrote these articles for the money.)

Our colossal arsenal of launch monitors, simulators, and other game-improvement equipment obviously has its place and isn’t going away; neither, of course, are smart phones and tablets. But promoting golf as an antidote to information overload could be more productive than as an extension it. “Escape from technology” – we could admittedly find a catchier term – is a growth industry. Golf should be a player.

The concept received validation last week from an unanticipated source: Pope Francis. The pontiff reminded young Pope Francispeople that while the Internet is a gift from God, it shouldn’t detract from appreciation of the natural world and all the other things He gave us. It’s enough to make a guy overlook papal perspectives on less consequential matters, like, say, masturbation.

Television viewers may have seen the escape-from-technology theme embodied in a just-released ad from the Michigan golf-tourism people. It shows four guys on a sun-dappled golf course – walking and carrying their sticks, no less – while the voice-over extols the absence of modern bells and whistles. High-quality production values aid what seems like a timely and appealing message.

Think about the last really enjoyable round of golf you played: You didn’t want it to end, and when it did and it was time to get back to work, all you could think was, bollocks. For good reason.

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