Today is the first round of the 143rd Open Championship being held in Royal Liverpool Golf Club Merseyside, England. The Open Championship is the oldest golf tournament in the game and prized by some as the pinnacle of the sport.
In honor of the Open Championship, I want to use this edition of “King of Clubs” to talk about the history and longevity of the game and its, believe it or not, questionable future.
Yes, golf will be around long after you read this column and outlast anybody fortunate enough to witness a man on Mars or anything beyond that. But its future capacity is, in my opinion, still a question needing to be answered.
Its roots were, and maybe still are, anchored in two of mankind’s most prized attributes: honor and integrity. But the modern game as I know it is suffering from this fast-pace, technological, smartphone-driven and information-seeking era.
The modern game dates back as far as the 15th century in Scotland, but an ancient Chinese scroll shows a depiction of a member of the Chinese Imperial court swinging what appears to be a golf club at a small ball with the aim of sinking it into a hole as early as 1368 A.D.
One thing that is apparent in the history of the game is that it has always been played by the powerful: kings, emperors, imperial court members, the elite or specially privileged. The “honor” to play the game went to the highly respected and leaders of the land. This prestige is still a big part of the game, but it has changed and my belief is that the next 100 years will bring a complete transformation of the game.
The modern game is not too modern anymore and the integrity of the game is in jeopardy.
Golf is in the middle of the fast-paced information era and more people are viewing the game as “long” and “slow.” Honor and integrity has now taken a back seat to long and slow? What would our past kings, emperors or imperial court members think of this “new” honor? I think they would say we have no honor. Nonetheless, times are changing and so is golf.
This weekend, if you get a chance, especially come Sunday, grab a glimpse of the final round of the Open Championship and focus in on the course. Its natural rolling hills, native long grasses, brown fairways, deep bunkers the size of cars and seamless green edges that disappear.
You will see players shaking hands and tipping their caps at the patrons who applaud, not cheer. Listen to the first tee annoucer and the distinction in his voice when he annouces Tiger Woods or Tom Watson — he respects the game and gives them the honor to play the course.
That is the way golf was meant to be, playing the natural characteristics of the ground just as much as flying the ball through the air. Take a moment and appreciate its beauty because it might become a thing of the past if golf doesn’t become “shorter” and “faster” for this new generation.