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It’s the Munis, Stupid

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These early morning patrons of the Municipal golf course found a number of new water hazards from the six inches of rain the night before, Washington DC , August 13, 1928. These players refused to be daunted by the miniature lake and are playing their shots where they sank. Photo by Underwood & Underwood/Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Don’t get cute. Just make the munis worth playing. Photo by Underwood & Underwood/Underwood Archives/Getty Images

A few years ago, the outspoken CEO of a major golf-equipment company proposed a larger, 15-inch cup and oversized ball as a cure for what ails golf. He reasoned that golf is simply too hard, and that’s what’s keeping people, especially millennials, away from the game. This proposal was widely met with derision; at No Laying Up, we responded with a post titled, “This Guy Has a Terrible Idea.” But the proposal did provide a good window into how people in golf’s C-suites think about the game’s future. 

Millennials are a large, amorphous and popular target in golf circles. The go-to stereotype is a mobile-device-addled, narcissistic snowflake with a short attention span. This plays a significant role in why we end up with insane fixes that won’t do any real good. The amount of money and resources the PGA of America and the USGA alone have spent on half-cocked “grow the game” initiatives over the past decade is positively stupefying. Plenty of millennials may fit that mold, but there are so many of us who roll our eyes at getting scapegoated.

Let’s be real: The game is often inhospitable to a diehard golfer of any age, let alone a newbie who wants to try it for the first time. Golf’s not too hard; it’s too expensive, too far and too halting. For many, a weekend round on a course with decent conditioning likely entails a trip to the suburbs (or beyond) to a cookie-cutter course with an overly bucolic name for a round replete with close calls near a homeowner’s back porch, 500-plus-yard par 4s and forced carries while shackled to a golf cart for six hours. 

Thankfully, the solution is closer than most people think. The fastest way to get more people playing more golf is for all of us to start taking an interest in the municipal courses that have been cast aside in our own neighborhoods. Somewhere along the line, consciously or otherwise, players deemed these courses too short, too scruffy and too far gone for the modern game. Too many have simply accepted that municipal golf is inherently shitty.

By all of us, I mean players and owners. Munis should be a part of the community, not apart from it. Local pride should shine through in every way. Take my local track: Jacksonville Beach Golf Club. Here’s a muni with great potential—a fun, walkable layout with spectacular bones. I can play for $13 with a pull-cart, tee off at 7 p.m. and get nine holes in easily. Locals, especially beginners, don’t need to wait for ridiculously expensive times over at TPC Sawgrass. Great times can be had right here.

Muni owners, oftentimes part of local government, also need to be part of the solution. The Jax Beach clubhouse has all the ambience of a musty funeral home. I’d love to stick around and down a local brew, visit the range, grab a bratwurst off the grill and hang with golfers who just finished up, those looking for a game or, God forbid, someone who isn’t even playing and just decided to drop by for a drink. Think of it like a true business: Leverage your asset and try to generate some revenue that you can pour back into it. In this case, the more revenue generated, the less subsidization required of the municipality.

Munis make the game accessible to the masses and, perhaps more importantly these days, make it convenient. Think of the time saved and actually spent in your neighborhood, not 45 minutes away at the “semi-private” Manor at Meadowlark Springs Towne and Country Club. Strange things tend to happen when people spend time in their neighborhood: They meet their neighbors. They become active. They start wondering whether getting the fourth green back to its original size would create a variety of pinnable locations that bring strategy back to the course. They fix ball marks because they know they’re coming back soon. They play with juniors, taking the time to impart the culture. That’s growing the game. 

Or maybe everything will just be solved with that 15-inch cup.

Todd Schuster is better known as Tron Carter from the No Laying Up collective. His opinions on wine might be spicier than his takes on golf.