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Shrink the Game

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Great company, fresh air, a challenging shot: The little things create a lifelong passion for the game. Photo by Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Great company, fresh air, a challenging shot: The little things create a lifelong passion for the game. Photo by Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Listen to a reading of this feature by the author

Golf is a hard game and I love it. Being hard is part of the attraction. I love the challenge. I love the landscapes on which we play. I love the journey as I walk around. I love the grass, no matter the color. In fact, I particularly love brown. I love the strategies and intrigue of great golf. I love the friends and the craic, the fresh air. But mostly I love the feelings when I play golf. When they are really good, they’re indescribable. I just know when it’s great.

But everything about golf today is big. People say, “Grow the game,” and I don’t get that. One of the biggest barriers to accessing golf is that it has become too big. Big golf course. Big land bank. Big machinery to maintain the big golf course. Big maintenance team to manage the big golf course. Big chemical inputs. Big water inputs. Big diesel bills to drive the big machinery that maintains the big golf course. Big budgets to maintain the big golf course.

Big golf clubs. Big hedges and big walls around the big golf clubs that sit on the big land banks. Big committees. Big greens. Big tees. Big bunkers. Big green speeds.

Big paths for the big carts. 

Big trolleys with big batteries to transport the big golf bags around the big site. All combine to give a big annual fee. Someone has to pay.

Big heads on big drivers. Big shafts. Big golf balls. Big golf bags. Big golf stores. Big golf companies.

What I remember and love about golf is the click of forged irons as I carried my golf bag; carrying it 6,000 yards was not a chore when tees were located beside greens and courses were designed for carrying and walking.

The sound of balata on persimmon. The beautifully contoured greens that sat comfortably on the land. Greens that ran smooth and weren’t measured by an apparatus that said 13 is better than 12.

I love the intimate strategies of golf on 110 acres. The fun around the practice area. Playing 54 holes and more in one day.

Golf does not need to be big. We need six-hole golf courses, nine-hole courses, 12-hole courses, 5,500-yard courses. But they must be clever, interesting, engaging and fun.

We must make golf smaller. Allow people to grow to love all the little things that are great about the game. We all own golf. Let’s pass it to the next generation in better shape than we inherited it. Less is beautiful. Less is more. 

Ken Kearney is an Irish golf-course architect and a decorated amateur player. For more big ideas, check out KearneyGolfDesign.com.