Bigger cups, 12-hole rounds part of effort to give golf a boost

If someone asked you to play in a 12-hole golf tournament, would you be intrigued or would you laugh?

Before you answer, you should know that Jack Nicklaus likes the idea. He likes the idea so much that he is having a series of 12-hole tournaments at the Memorial Club in Columbus, Ohio this summer.

On top of that, those tournaments feature holes that have been increased from 4 inches in diameter to 8 inches. Oh, if you don’t finish your round in 2 hours, you get shots added to your score. In other words, penalty shots for slow play.

In a time when it seems more and more people are questioning why the game of golf is losing players, failing to attract new players and has rounds of golf stretching out to five hours and longer, the charge for change has a high-profile champion in Nicklaus. The 18-time major champion and arguably the greatest golfer of all time has made noise about problems facing the game before. But what is happening at the Memorial club this summer is tangible proof that Nicklaus is serious about addressing the ailments of the game.

First, a few facts. Over the last 15 years or so, participation in the recreational game of golf has remained pretty flat. But in recent years development of new golf courses has spiraled downward. Whether it is the cost of the game (clubs and green fees) or the expanding time it takes to play a round or just a difficult economy, the game is just not moving forward.

Lots of people have talked about how changes can be made to attract people to the game. Cutting the cost is certainly one possibility, but golf courses still need a certain amount of revenue just to pay the water bills and mow the grass.

Playing the course from a shorter set of tees than usual is a popular idea these days and the idea behind “Tee It Forward,” a project inspired by club manufacturer Barney Adams and supported by the USGA and the PGA of America.

But here is Nicklaus, one of the few voices in the game that carries weight with everyone, taking action and saying that maybe dramatic changes are needed. It’s possible that officials from the USGA and the PGA of America might scoff at the idea of 12-hole tournaments or an 8-inch cup to make it easier to hole a putt. And we know most officials of the game, recreational or professional, have provided only lip service to speeding up the game.

Now comes Nicklaus putting all three of those out-of-the-box ideas into a single event, and doing it time and again over the summer. The question is whether the powers of the game will just laugh off the Nicklaus initiatives or take some of the ideas seriously.

Another question is whether any desert golf courses might follow Nicklaus’ lead and schedule days of 12-hole events or large-cup events. Or maybe there are other ideas: offering nine-hole play on some days; shotgun six-hole rounds for players; offering merchandise for golfers who complete rounds in a specified time.

Hey, anything that gets golfers on the course is a good idea. Just ask Jack Nicklaus.

Larry Bohannan covers golf for the Desert Sun. His columns appear Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at 778-4633.


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