Skip to main content

A totally new kind of golf, dude

By Mike Downey
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
FootGolf combines elements of football and golf, with players kicking a football around a golf course complete with bigger holes. FootGolf combines elements of football and golf, with players kicking a football around a golf course complete with bigger holes.
HIDE CAPTION
Putting FootGolf on the map
FootGolf crazy
Global phenomenon
Pass masters
Famous fans
Par-ticipation on the rise
Green shoots
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Golf is looking for changes because it's losing players and fans on television
  • Mike Downey says new ideas such as bigger golf holes would speed play
  • He says purists are going to be offended, but other sports have changed to woo audiences
  • Downey: Why not let golf crowds make noise? And slap sponsor stickers on golf carts?

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune columnist who writes frequently for CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- George Plimpton, in the 1973 nonfiction book "Mad Ducks and Bears," describes a charity golf tournament. One of its organizers was Alex Karras, a pro football player with a sense of humor every bit as absurd as his big scene in the Mel Brooks cowboy spoof "Blazing Saddles," in which Karras' character, Mongo, punches a horse.

The tournament -- proceeds went to cystic fibrosis -- was a one-day event in Flint, Michigan, at a golf club called Shady Acres. Its participants included many a Michigan celebrity, NFL players like Mel Farr and Wayne Walker from the Lions. But this would be unlike any round of golf that any of them had ever known.

Karras and co-conspirators planted hidden tape recorders in the trees, blaring out jungle sounds. Detroit Lions in the woods, in the middle of a backswing, would hear the roar of a real lion. Bill Munson, a quarterback, about to hit a tee shot, jumped a foot because a cannon was shot off. A kicker, Errol Mann, was pranked with an exploding golf ball. A band of musicians stood by while guys tried to putt, playing Jarabe Tapatio -- "the Mexican hat dance" -- nonstop.

A totally new kind of golf.

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

Good idea?

According to a recent New York Times article, a totally new kind of golf is exactly what this sport desperately needs, even if that means a bizarre kind of golf unlike any you have ever known.

"Golf holes the size of pizzas. Soccer balls on the back nine. A mulligan on every hole," the story by Bill Pennington of the Times tees it up, just for starters.

Alister MacKenzie's road to Augusta
Specialist: Tiger facing 3 months recovery
See amazing trick golf shot

Pennington points out that U.S. courses have actually fooled around with goofy golf innovations like these. A round was played in Greensboro, Georgia, last week -- a couple of PGA Tour pros took part -- that featured a 15-inch hole. A standard cup on a green is just 4.25 inches wide.

That's right, a hole that looked like one Bugs Bunny would pop out of was used by the golfers at the Reynolds Plantation that day. It was like changing a basketball hoop to the size of a Hula Hoop.

Why on Earth would a golf greenskeeper dig such a huge hole?

Because a theory appears to be in play that golf desperately needs to something big, something dramatic, something drastic to keep the game's popularity from sinking like a dimpled Titleist into a pond.

"People under 35," Pennington writes, "have especially spurned the game, saying it takes too long to play, is too difficult to learn and has too many tiresome rules."

Larger holes = fewer putts. Ergo, faster golf. No more three-putt greens (or more). No more waiting for the slowpokes (or old fogeys) in front of you to play through.

A golf purist might be mortified. You don't redo the Mona Lisa with spray paint. You don't take Niagara Falls and stick a water slide in it. Golf shouldn't become a joke, like Ralph Kramden learning to play the game on "The Honeymooners," led to believe that to address a ball, the first thing you do is go, "Hello, ball."

But would it be preposterous for golf to offer an alternative way to play? This is what some visionaries ask. If a younger generation could be attracted by a radical approach, would that be so bad?

CNNMoney: Cycling is the new golf

Boxing still exists, but as it began to fade, a new audience took to mixed martial arts. Track-and-field still exists, but as it began to fade, kids began doing jumps and sprints in extreme sports like the X-Games on boards or bikes. Volleyball evolved into beach volleyball. Skiing begat snowboarding. Pro football experimented (with less success) with indoor football. Pool turned to 9-ball. Stud poker turned to Texas Hold 'Em.

Adapt or die.

For those who pull another old adage from a bag -- that if something isn't broken, there is no need to fix it -- keep in mind that nobody's trying to eliminate golf as we know it. There will still be holes, still be clubs and balls, still be (depending where you play) a caddy or a cart.

Golf courses have been going out of business, however. (In late 2013, for example, five Charlotte clubs faced foreclosure, as did three in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.) Public ones need new customers. Private ones need a way to entice new members.

Women's professional golf is losing TV exposure and tournament sponsors. Men's pro golf seems super-popular, but at the Masters tournament, where Tiger Woods withdrew due to an injury and Phil Mickelson failed to qualify for the weekend's rounds, CBS reportedly had its lowest television ratings since 1993.

Woods, 38, has undergone surgery -- a "microdisectomy," according to his website -- for a pinched nerve in his back. His return date is uncertain. Winner of 79 PGA Tour events, including four Masters championships, Woods has been able to take part in just three tournaments in 2014. He tied for 25th place in one, tied for 80th in another, withdrew from the third. Tiger is golf's go-to guy; without him, TV networks could lose many viewers who couldn't care less how many shots below par a Rory McIlroy or a Bubba Watson is.

So, perhaps a surprisingly large percentage of today's audience is more interested in a certain golfer than in golf.

"Foot golf," according to the New York Times piece, is one new way to play, using a large hole, a soccer ball and no hands. Silly? Stupid? What have you got, you say, a hole in your HEAD? Hey, there was a time in America when night baseball seemed silly, as did a game of basketball played with a shot clock. A lush, landscaped country club would have seemed silly to men from St. Andrews, Scotland, who learned how to play the game on bumpy, lumpy links.

Golf of the future?

A few possibilities spring to mind:

No more "Quiet, please"

Let the spectators speak up. Cheer. Chant. Heckle. Do the kinds of things basketball or football fans do. Make some noise. Hold a tournament that -- not unlike that Karras concept -- invites the crowd to get involved. TV ratings could be big, too. Instead of some dude yelling "Get in the hole!" after a golfer's swing, he could yell "Watch out for that pond!" while the guy is in his stance. Baseball hitters don't require quiet.

Winner take all

Whichever golfer wins the tournament wins the $$$. No one else gets a cent. No $20,000 for placing 20th. No "appearance fee." Come one, come all to the Master tournament -- one Master, not plural -- in which the victor gets $5 million and the runner-up gets a bag of lovely parting gifts.

Golf Polo

You play it in a golf cart. You never leave it. You drive it, and you drive your ball from it. You chip from it and putt from it. We categorize this game under "motor sports." Each golfer gets to slap sponsor stickers all over their carts, just like NASCAR.

Strip Golf

Each time you don't make a par, you need to remove a ... nahhh, it'll never work. (Except maybe at golf courses by the Jersey Shore.)

3-in-One Golf

Who decided golf has to have one hole per green? Today's greens are so large, you could put a cup on the left, a cup on the right and a cup smack in the middle. A golfer could decide which one to go for upon reaching the green. This also would triple the opportunities for a hole-in-one.

Oh, and one more:

The Golf X Games

Bikes. Skateboards. Rollerblades. Fastest to finish 18 holes wins. A really steep ramp by the 18th green. Let's go play some golf, dude!

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT