Author's note: This appeared in the blog "The Next 500 Years" in 2007. The messages remain the same.
In 1989 Sir David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia was re-released, twenty-six years after having won the 1962 Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and five others. At the time, my town had one magnificent super-sized widescreen movie theater. It later got sliced up into about six small screening rooms, but while it was intact there was no better place on earth to watch a film. And from my perspective there was no better place to spend an afternoon (apologies to golf).
I’d always been a movie lover, and the theater experience to me was magical. But that all changed on a Wednesday afternoon in 1989 when I took off work and escorted my wife to a 12:30 p.m. screening of Lean’s masterpiece. By my calculation, the early afternoon Wednesday showtime would be lightly attended, affording us a high probability of avoiding chattering interference by less respectful patrons. This was going to be a great day.
And it got better. Entering the darkened theater we discovered that we were the ONLY ones there–in a room with perhaps 1200 seats. It soon became apparent that no one else was coming… a dream come true. We were about to watch one of the greatest films of all time entirely by ourselves.
But what happened next was more hideous than hot dogs and Jim Jones Kool-Aid, more pernicious than shanks and yips. In fact, what followed was so traumatic that it’s taken until now for me to face up to it.
As we settled into our plush, gum-gilded recliners, as the film started to roll, two ushers–one male and one female–wandered into the theater, sat in the same row as us–about five seats away–and TALKED FOR THE ENTIRE 227 MINUTE DURATION OF THE FILM.
Not since that ugly day have I trekked by the $9 popcorn and into the once holy sanctuary of celluloid.
* * *
Reacting to recent essays here pertaining to slow play, Ben Witter recently submitted the following:
I’m convinced that pace of play is an issue that, if not seriously addressed by the industry, will eventually kill this game. I’ve almost given up on recreational play for the same reasons you stated in your post about taking [your son] to a game rather than playing golf…
It’s virtually impossible to imagine and, moreover, shocking to know that Ben Witter, the most passionate lover of the game of golf I’ve ever known, a man who covets playing golf more than a young boy anticipates Santa’s delivery of an electric train (or, in modern terms, an XBox 360), has largely stopped playing recreational rounds of golf.
* * *
Be it movies, golf, or tiddly winks, just because we love it doesn’t mean we do it. Whether by caterwauling cretans, or dawdling duffers, when the joy is sucked out of that which we love, we will turn away and pursue alternative investments of our disposable time and income.
I now watch an occasional film–on my big screen TV (I also have more time to be cynical). Ben has taken up waterskiing. One can only wonder how many rounds have been lost to jet skis, Harleys, Miatas, and Saturday afternoon cannonball contests. One wonders what it will take and if it’s even possible to regain those lost rounds.
Ben’s memo had a P.S., indicia of how the golf culture has moved past anger and denial into acceptance:
I was at an outing yesterday in Virginia where the pro finished his pre-event announcements by telling everyone that “We’re shooting for a 5 hour round” and I thought – geez, this is what golf’s come to… acceptance of a 5 hour round as the goal!
Solutions exist. Some have been presented here already. Many more will be discussed. But as Ross Perot told us there has never been a shortage of good ideas–it’s the execution that counts.
As we all know, the information superhighway is rife with sloppy writing, emotional subjectivity, and misinformation. That's our world, but the advantages of the Web certainly seem to outweigh the disadvantages. I am definitely getting a little worn out with the countless articles and op-eds about LIV Golf presented by ignorami–including in the mainstream golf and general press.
Wearing my "arrogance hat", here are some thoughts:
There is a lot of logical talk about the fact that the Saudis bankroll LIV as a sports washing campaign. For this discussion let's stipulate that in our black and white world, the Saudis are "bad guys". It also should be acknowledged that PGA TOUR sponsors do a massive amount of business with the Saudis, and we all saw our President crawl over to Riyadh and get shot down on his request for significantly increased oil production. Hence, I rate this topic neutral. The U.S. government, our richest corporations, and many others prostitute themselves and their enterprises with bad guys from time to time.
Jay Monahan has been overt in the most pejorative way in calling LIV an "exhibition". That's the pot calling the kettle black. Once you get past the AJGA, virtually all of competitive golf on the national and international level is a professional exhibition with paid actors–even collegiately. The NFL is an exhibition… MLB… NBA… PBA… the National Pickleball Championship. Some are just bigger and better than others. The TOUR provides a powerful force of suspended disbelief with respect to this topic–to the point where it's easy to buy into the fact that this is pure sport–but pure sport doesn't compete with other leagues by offering bigger and bigger payoffs.
I definitely am in suspension of disbelief with regard to the TOUR, and the DP–and that will never be the case with LIV. I don't track all the NASCAR title sponsorships but recall once there was a Winston series at the top and a minor Busch series. Maybe that's a good analogy. LIV is the Busch League–and entertaining at that. I just can't figure out why the TOUR, the DP, the R&A, and others of the golf establishment feel so threatened by this.
If I was commish I don't think I'd ever talk about it–I'm not sure why Monahan is so into giving LIV all that free PR. It appears he's scared down to his socks. But he's the king and his kingdom is and likely always will be massively dominant. And, so far, no player who has joined LIV matters to me. The chances of LIV overtaking the TOUR brings a vision of flying pigs to mind. In this case, I'll worry about the TOUR when Rory joins LIV (who would you rather root for–Rory or Brooks, Rory or Sergio, even Rory or Phil–who more than once has gotten tied up with some pretty shady gambling folks).
I just spent three days watching the Wyndham event–and the absolutely pristine excitement of watching young Tom Kim win, gain his TOUR card, make the Fedex Playoffs, and perhaps launch a storied career. That ain't happenin' at LIV. That said, let's not discount the positivity of LIV in raising up the Asian Tour and the potential of perhaps LIV and the Asian Tour evolving into one of the "big three". But we'll be long gone before they manage to buy their way into the history books with the TOUR, the DP, the USGA, Augusta, and the R&A.
Don't hang this on Greg Norman. He's not really much more than the Saudi's top "sporting lady", and no better than their second choice at that (kudos to Jack for not grabbing the cash). Like most really rich guys, Norman's a slave to dough. But I can see how $100 mil in the pocket would make it easier to embrace the positives of LIV.
I did spend some time with Greg a long time ago, in a business relationship. We spent a day on a soundstage in North Miami filming. He was #1 in the world at the time. One of his conditions was that we provide a studio in south Florida where he could land his helicopter—he was unwilling to drive an hour from his home. He brought his head pro from Medalist GC to carry his bag. But in the shoot, Greg was very down to earth and it was a fun day. I’m not sure it would have gone as well had we not paid him over $500k, hired a production crew suitable for the Olympics—with winners of 14 national Emmys–and even engaged Julio Iglacias’ personal make-up lady.
But I digress.
My point is if half the world bows at my feet and I’m being paid infinite money, I could easily turn into a diva. I have only positive thoughts toward Greg and since I’ll never walk a mile in his shoes that almost definitely won’t change.
I’ve very much enjoyed the first three LIV events—watching the majority of the Web feed. The whole operation is still quite sloppy but they’ll figure it out. And, contrary to some folks’ statements, I've seen indications that LIV will perform some potentially lovely charitable acts.
So what if they have been able to grab more sporting ladies off the various pro tours and even the amateur ranks—there are plenty to go around. I look at it as a separate product. But it's the TOUR and the DP that represent the venerable game of golf, with its history and traditions—in spite of the fact that the TOUR leadership sucks up a massive amount of cash in providing wonderful careers to their seemingly infinite number of almost exclusively white Vice Presidents. A little sport is going on here as well.
To what degree should a for-profit sports entertainment entity concern itself with geo-political issues? Personally, I see no problem limiting this concern to how it would affect profitability. We have politicians and governments that control the rest. I own a small golf simulator company. If the Saudis wanted to buy a bunch of them from me I would take their money–within legal bounds. I'd use it to pay my mother's senior living expenses and help out my kids–maybe buy a new hat.
The Saudis might be the guys with the pantyhose over their heads and the bag of burglar tools but I'd be the one walking off with the dough. If Jeffrey Dahmer had offered his victims' families a hundred mil each–I'd have encouraged them to take it.
Btw, that's all Greg and the other sports did. Guys like Norman and Mickelson have been grabbing the dough with both hands for decades. Personally I thank them for all the excitement and entertainment they've given me over the years at their own expense of potentially warped values. I can't criticize any of that stuff–and I don't think that anyone with the possible exception of Jesus, Mother Theresa, and Ghandi should have justification to criticize them.
The rest of us, we're all sports.
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.