Columns & Blogs

Golf needs technology that works in its favor

It's been an unusually busy week, so to save time I thought I might just post this column on my Facebook page and see who "likes" it. Problem is, I only have about 20 friends, which until recently I actually thought was pretty good. Uhh, apparently not.

So then I figured I would shoot it out across Twitter, since I'm such a big tweeter. But anyone who knows me will tell you I can't get a thought out in an entire column, much less 140 characters. My last thought was just to text it, but I have this fat-thumb problem.

So I decided to rock it old school and go the dinosaur route of website and printing press. Contrary to general perception, those two forms of communication do still exist ... I think. We are a generation tied to our Facebook pages, PDAs and global networking. If I asked my wife which she would rather lose, her wallet or her Android, she would probably ask me "Well, how much money would be in the wallet, theoretically speaking." Not much, and it wouldn't matter anyway; the Droid wins hands down.

Albeit with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the point I am making is that as we change the way we communicate with one another, we are actually changing the way we behave with one another and how we spend our "free" time and casual pursuits. It's a fluid, fast evolution. It's also one that, as with most changes in social behavior and technology, the golf industry has been relatively slow to join.

Just as golf professionals and managers were mastering websites and databases, along comes Facebook, iPhones, Androids, mobile apps and Twitter. Someday before too long, laptops will give way to cell phones as our primary Internet access points, and the effects we still can't comprehend. That said, it's not the lateness to the party that has me worried for the golf industry, it's the tone of the soiree and what it means to our society that is causing a moment of pause.

As previously mentioned, our "addiction to devices" isn't just changing the way we communicate, it's changing the way we live. Now more than ever, we crave information and gratification in real time, because we no longer have time. If you don't update me on your life through Facebook, I don't know about your life. If you can't reach me on my mobile, you can't reach me. Things that used to take hours are no longer desired; things that take more than minutes simply take too long.

So, if you accept that as fact, what does that mean for the future of a game that takes four hours to play on a good day -- five-plus on a rotten one? What does that say for a game that sells experience and relationship-building as primary reasons to play it? Consider this: How many things this side of sleeping, working and -- on a bad night -- drinking do we still do that take more than four hours to start and complete? Not too many, and that is not particularly a good thing.

We have become a nation -- a world even -- obsessed with the now and completely done with the just-past-now. Golf is a game that takes time, and that is still one of the things, at least in my opinion, that is best about it. It has friends, nature, competition and challenge all rolled into one. I fear the generations that follow mine have lost the patience and attention span needed to do more than log on, update and wait -- for a second -- to get the gratification they seek.

The other side of this technological boondoggle is the effect it could have on pace of play. It used to be the two primary distractions on the golf course were nature's call and the sight of a cart girl pulling up by the green. Now there's dozens of players on any given course checking e-mail, answering phones, texting and even updating their "status" online. It's only a matter of time until ClubCar comes out with a golf cart that includes an iPhone docking station. Mark it down; it will happen.

In addition to slowing play, our technology dependence has the net effect of diminishing one of the best aspects of the game. For many, a day on the links was a getaway of sorts. A few hours with friends away from the grinds of work, bills and honey-dos is among the things that golf has always offered. If the boss can e-mail you or the wife can text you as you line up a 10-foot birdie putt, that aspect of the game is lost. It's not the game's fault, it's ours, but it is an issue all the same.

Even before these social changes, the time committed to playing the game has been a challenge to both its growth and prosperity. That problem is likely to become the most significant issue facing the industry in the years to come, given what we have seen in recent times.

Yet as they have time and again, industry leaders will find solutions to this new-found time crunch. Nine-hole outings, early morning and late afternoon events, and perhaps a campaign to encourage us all to escape from the PDAs for just a few hours a week are answers to the worries.

This is not to say that golf courses should ignore or fight these changes. To the contrary, the golf industry had better find a way to embrace the social media evolution, but on terms that work for the game rather than against it. Utilize the networking opportunities out there, but also promote the aspects of the game that allow golfers to escape the ties that bind -- if even for only for five hours a week.

I know one thing, it couldn't hurt any of us who enjoy the game to every now and then make our Facebook status "gone to the golf course, will update in five hours." That's one activity worthy of leaving the Android in the car and physically interacting with friends and family rather than just talking to them on Skype.