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.
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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.
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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.
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.