The Final Nine
by Fred Dobbs
Now that I’m in decline I almost never sleep past 6 a.m. The only exception is when I absolutely must get up. This morning was one of those times. My alarm reliably sounded at the appointed hour, and I do remember hitting the snooze button. But I fell into a very deep sleep before the second blast, not to awaken for thirty minutes (my decline has also taken its toll on my hearing). It was a costly error, but not worth discussing.
I got to pondering why the snooze buttons on alarm clocks all grant nine more minutes. I think it’s because nine minutes is just enough time to fall back into REM sleep, leading to a series of events that ruin your day. But I’m a negative guy.
H.L. Mencken opined on the symbiotic relationship between time and beer. Twenty-four hours in a day. Twenty-four beers in a case. Essentially, according to Mencken, beer is a measure of time.
The number nine’s relationship with time isn’t exclusive to the snooze button. Two sports offer an alternative to the traditional clock.
Baseball fans laud their sport’s glorious separation of time from traditional measure. Instead of minutes and hours, baseball’s time is metered in outs and innings… nine innings. Golf’s time is measured in shots and holes… and nines.
Like my collapse into catatonia this morning, there have been some famous failures on the final nine in golf. Greg Norman’s dump at Augusta in ‘96 has been called the worst choke in tournament golf. I think I agree. Few remember Harry Vardon’s wrenching Open collapse at Inverness in 1920. Vardon was, especially by the standards of that day, an old man at age 50. As he stood on the twelfth tee the final day, five strokes clear of the field, a vicious cold front blew through (remember those?). Vardon wearied, his lead dissipated, and he finished second to Ted Ray. But he didn’t choke. His body failed him.
In my book the most tragic gas-job was by Arnie at Olympic (we’ll pause now for a moment of silence). Arnie’s choke, to me, was the worst ever… because he wasn’t a choker. He was, as the press told us more than once, a swashbuckler. I’d love to be called a swashbuckler. How cool would that be? As Arnie proved that day, everyone chokes sometimes. Even swashbucklers. But this piece isn’t about choking. Yet.
The other day I flew to Atlanta–the capital city of the Great Wasteland (okay, two Mencken references in one article are a bit much). I had the usual array of seat-mates. Bubba sat to my left–suffering the bloated burden brought on by years of consuming deep-fried mushrooms and Lite Beer. Unshaven, sporting less than sanitary jeans and t-shirt, his elephantine arms and shoulders protruded halfway into my space.
The guy in front was, by my estimation, a retired IRS agent, about 70 pounds overweight (they charge extra for 70 pounds of baggage, unless it comes attached to your body in the form of fat cells). As soon as the plane took off he jammed his seat back as far as it would go, and with his girth augmenting the range of his projectile’s motion he crushed my knees and almost dismantled my jaw.
To my right was a young woman wearing an extremely short dress (I'm male, I notice these things). She never stopped moving the entire trip. It was like the fast forward button was stuck on the VCR (remember those?). I never saw anyone fidget so much or so frenetically.
At one point she decided to put some lotion on her hands. I didn’t think it was possible to shake a bottle so rapidly. It was like one of those vibrating paint mixers at the hardware store. Ultimately the cap flew off and lotion spewed everywhere. She shrieked.
Later, when the attendant put two drinks in front of her (orange juice and water, no ice) I waited for the inevitable. Sure enough, about five minutes later, her right arm exploded forward in what appeared to be a completely involuntary movement–liquid spewing everywhere. She shrieked.
But that was more tolerable than what went on before she was told to turn off her cell phone. I never heard anyone talk so fast. From what I could gather–discerning a few key words–her boyfriend’s phone had made it into the hands of a cab driver. I suffered through her mach six cackling while she floundered in futility, with a heavy Japanese accent, to get the Mexican driver who apparently spoke very little English to return the phone to her hotel. I shrieked.
Surrounded by my collection of annoying friends, I made myself as small as possible in my even smaller than normal space and tried to read the in-flight magazine. That’s when I came to realize what it’s going to take for the game of golf to survive the next five hundred years.
Each issue of Delta Airline’s magazine includes a welcome article by the President and CEO. In this particular issue, the welcome message presented a myriad of measures being taken to significantly reduce Delta’s consumption of jet fuel. Updating to newer jets has reduced fuel consumption by 30-35%. Modifications to older craft will save one million gallons of fuel annually. Elimination of ovens and other weight reduction moves will save 1.4 million gallons. Modifications of climb and descent speeds, the use of stationary fueling carts, and implementation of single-engine taxi procedures save another million plus gallons. The list went on.
I paused to contemplate these amazingly simple and effective changes, and why they took so long for Delta to implement. Ben Franklin and others have been credited with the axiom “necessity (desperation?) is the mother of invention”. Perhaps the more applicable flipside would be “bounty is the father of sloth” (best to not lay the blame on mother).
I suppose it’s the unchangeable nature of man to wait until the last minute to make moves to avert impending doom. But did we really think that we would never have to deal with rising fuel prices and global warming? Damn those Republicans.
American golf is facing a similar fate. It’s not only not growing, but rounds are gradually decreasing. Many factors are involved, with time perhaps the greatest. Our evolving culture has whacked the amount of time we devote to leisure activities.
Concurrently, rounds are taking increasingly longer to play. Unfortunately, golf’s alternative measure of time–shots and holes–has not held up in the marketplace. In our everyday lives we remain enslaved by the clock.
Jack Nicklaus has suggested that we have twelve hole courses, but there’s something nay gawf about “the back six”. I have a better idea: Learn to play faster.
Golf’s “nine” used to equate to about an hour and a half. Anymore it often creeps closer to three painful hours. That’s the gas equivalent of about ten dollars a gallon. The time has come to learn how to conserve–not shots, not holes… but time.
It's the final nine. Let’s hope we don’t choke.
There’s a pretty good “sci-fi” book called Ender's Game where a young boy is recruited into a special long term military training program that seeks one person to lead the world and save the universe.
The training involves “gamified” military exercises, plus extensive training via video games.
Still very young, Ender is challenged to succeed in a new video game, a critical test of his skills. He wins the game.
What he didn’t know was the game was his ultimate mission and he wasn’t controlling virtual fighters. He was controlling real fighters in a winner take all showdown for the survival of mankind.
A very successful friend once told me he loved business because it was the ultimate game—sort of like Ender’s game. And I’ve concluded that understanding and embracing that fact, before you start to play, provides a huge advantage.
If you’re an entrepreneur (code for “business guy who can think independently”), it’s likely the best of your competition are playing their “game” something like chess. They’re at the board, on one side, making moves within accepted norms, systems, parameters, traditions, and known dynamics, following “best practices” and “execution”.
Be above the chessboard. Eschew the accepted norms exercised by your competition. Determine how to blow them up. Replace them. Create new paradigms. Redefine things. Destroy your competition, and save the universe.
We’ve got an amazing gang at Clarity.Golf. And it’s getting bigger and better just about every day. We’re blowing up the best practices—without giving a plug nickel what they even were.
Meanwhile, our Harvard MBA competition are sitting in their penthouse aeries, studiously working their digital slide-rules, pouring over financial statements, vetting the best sensitivity training courses, rigging plans for recurring revenues (code for “gouge the customer”), making their products more cheaply (code for “gouge the customer”), jamming human pegs into holes and then unceremoniously eliminating the pegs that don't fit.
A Harvard MBA walks up to the counter and orders a double latte with a triple espresso shot and a dash of nutmeg. The guy behind the counter says, “You must be a Harvard MBA”. The righteous MBA responds “Well, yes, but that’s offensive. You’ve pigeon-holed me as a Harvard MBA just because I ordered a highly caffeinated, exotic, expensive coffee!” The guy behind the counter replies, “It has nothing to do with the coffee. It’s because you’re in a hardware store.”
Forest or trees?
We at Clarity are out to blow up the norms and save the universe. And, in our opinion, blowing up the norms includes focus on improving every aspect of the customer experience, code for “serve the customer”.
Note: I wrote this article fourteen years ago. It still applies, however the growth of indoor and other derivative forms of golf have had a wonderfully positive effect on golf's growth. While the number of North American golfers–defined by golfers who play on golf courses–has slightly declined over the last fourteen years, in the same period the number of golfers who participate in derivative forms of golf have increased sixfold. Sixfold! This includes 12 million participants that never play on a golf course. Pretty cool.
When my grandmother was succumbing to cancer, my uncle made a series of calls to my father to come pay a final visit. Over time the requests for my father’s visit became more urgent. I accompanied him on the ultimate visit. We were both shocked at the degree of my grandmother’s physical decline. Yet her mind and soul had sustained the same amazing luster and positive energy she had had in her prime.
The business of golf in America is ill. A casual observer might not notice, as would have been the case with my grandmother before her body began to fail. But the symptoms are present. Golf can be healed, but not without change. It’s been said that golf has lost its relevance in American culture. I am willing to stipulate that this is the effect. But the causes are many.
If you could give golf a stress test, a colonoscopy, and a full body MRI, you’d understand what the doctors already know.
Signs of Illness:
The Howling B.E.A.S.T.S.
A while back I tried to write a clever article about slaying the BEASTS. “BEASTS” is my acronym for the things in golf that affect its overall relevance. We can heal golf if we focus on improving these fundamental elements.
B = Barriers: The game today places barriers for many participants. We must strive to welcome with open arms all players, regardless of ability, age, sex, race, or style. We must think of golf as the business it is and golfers as the customers they are. Instead of bombarding our customers with rules and negativity when they come to the course, we should strive to make every moment they spend an extremely positive experience.
E = Equipment: Most golfers have equipment that is ill-fitting to their swing and physical capabilities. We must strive to deliver to golfers clubs that fit their games. We also need to make this equipment affordable, or to welcome new players without equipment by supplying it at the course–with a selection and reasonable cost comparable to how bowling centers accommodate casual participants.
A = Access: Many golfers perceive impediments to regular play. We must strive to overcome factors that mitigate access including price, availability, pace of play, weather, and location. One partial solution involves the growth of indoor golf. While hard to comprehend for golf traditionalists, indoor golf has the ability to overcome virtually all of the access problems golf faces. It also is consistent with a cultural trend to move outdoor sports and activities inside. Consider that over 80 new indoor water parks are expected to open in the U.S. in the next year. One indoor golf simulator purveyor claims that 2 million rounds per year are played on its simulators alone. GolfTec, an indoor golf instruction business, claims to give 10% of all the golf lessons in the U.S.
S = Social: The vast majority of golfers play to relax and have fun in a social environment. Women especially are oriented to the social aspects of play. We must strive to get compatible golfers together in a way that creates an enjoyable social experience. There are many ways for golf facilities to create a more social environment for players to meet and play together. But the biggest impact can be made, very easily, by simply getting club pros out from behind their desks and pro shop counters out onto the course to get folks together, play holes with the patrons, and act as the course's social director.
T = Time: The most diabolical disease in golf today is slow play. We absolutely must take measures immediately to enforce a reasonable pace of play, and to educate golfers on how to speed up play and why it is essential to the health of golf. It dawned on me while playing the other day, waiting on every shot the entire round, that most players really have no idea how to get around the course efficiently. Instead of having marshals patrolling the course pretending to keep things moving, send out friendly instructors to help players learn good habits in efficient play.
S = Satisfaction: In golf, as it is with anything in life, if one doesn't find their performance satisfying they'll be less encouraged to do it more. We must strive to improve our methods and systems for teaching the game, we must help golfers realize and find pleasure in meeting realistic expectations, and we must provide courses and play from tees that fit our games. We must strive with all our power to guarantee that our customers have a very predictable, positive experience every time they come to the course.
If we place serious focus on these fundamental elements, we can not only heal the business of golf, but we can help the game of golf sustain its amazing luster and positive energy.
Bill Bales has been a force in golf simulation for over thirty years including as developer of Microsoft Golf, AboutGolf — under Bill’s control–#1 premium sim in North America — PlayData (producer of launch tracking for AboutGolf’s simulator), and Clarity.Golf.