Even the greatest player the sport has ever known understands how difficult the game of golf can be for average amateur players, which, by the way, makes up the majority of public golfers in this country.
In fact, Jack Nicklaus -- the owner of 18 major championships -- understands that the difficulty of the game of golf is among the primary reasons why so many golfers leave the game or never really get started at it. It's been a major problem with the industry at the amateur level that by and large has gone unaddressed.
Nicklaus and two of the leading golf organizations in the United States are championing a movement started by Adams Golf owner Barney Adams that is intended to make the game easier to play, faster to play and a more enjoyable endeavor for players no matter how low -- or high -- the handicap reads.
Combining with the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, Nicklaus has recently spoken out in favor of "Tee it Forward," a new initiative that promotes the notion of players playing a golf course at the correct yardage from the tees that fit their ability and driving distance.
It might sound like a no-brainer, but the number of players hitting from tees that are simply too far back for their talent level might surprise you. Ego, peer pressure and even simple denial often place players at tees that exceed their playing ability. This forces longer rounds of golf, difficulty avoiding hazards, and a tougher time on the links than necessary.
"I love the game of golf, but I will be the first to tell you that there are things about our game we need to improve," said Nicklaus. "Now the PGA of America and the USGA have come together to develop ways to make the game more attractive and enjoyable."
The concept of the program is brilliant in its simplicity. Most golfers hit their drive somewhere between 200 and 225 yards on average (albeit not always straight). Those players should play the course of their choosing somewhere between 5,400 and 6,000 yards to take on what their game can essentially chew. In creating the program, the PGA and USGA have incorporated a grid of sorts that matches driving distance with the length of course that should be played. That grid can be found on both www.pga.com and www.playgolfamerica.com.
The concept not only extends to play off the tee, but embraces the idea that shorter approaches to the greens and easier to escape trouble when found will allow mid-handicappers to post lower scores, compete better with their peers and ultimately enjoy coming back to the game rather than leaving it. It's an idea that should be championed by golf course leaders across the country, including here in Beaufort County, where tight fairways and water hazards are the norm rather than the exception.
Currently, the program is being promoted at several Bluffton courses including Crescent Pointe, Hampton Hall, Oldfield and Colleton River. On the island, the program is supported by Shipyard, Oyster Reef, Golf Club at Indigo Run and Dolphin Head.
"Simply put, Tee It Forward can make golf much more fun for millions of people," said Allen Wronowski, president of the PGA of America. "We believe that by moving up to another set of tees, golfers will experience an exciting new approach to the game that will produce more enjoyment and elevate their desire to come back and play even more golf."
Not only will this program, which is gaining steam among public courses across the country, make the game more enjoyable for the "hackers" among us, but it will also help the better players enjoy the game, because those unbearable 5-hour-plus rounds on weekends might be trimmed as pace of play improves.
Additionally, the program may allow for better competition between the haves and have-nots as the "nots" can play from more appropriate tees without the pressure of ridicule.
Whether this movement ultimately ends in an easier game for the millions of us who struggle at it remains to be seen. What is evident is that people such as the legendary Nicklaus and those who are charged with the care of the game understand that something needs to be done.
Life is already difficult enough right now. The last thing we need are personal pursuits that add to the frustration rather than allowing one to escape from it.