There was a time when people associated golf with grass on a pristine green or on a golf course at night in the winter. About as far removed from the serious work of politics as something can be. It’s a sport, though, that always has been around, even when it was laughed off as a sideline sport like bowling or bridge. It’s the essence of that, this love affair with golf as a day-long escape from a busy life that sometimes crosses into the otherworldly.
In the European Union there are over 5,500 courses, including 120 in the U.S. For growth, though, golf can only come from within. The Winter Olympics, which takes place Feb. 9-25, 2016, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will host the first U.S. Golf Association World Junior Team Championship, which began last week with 36 holes at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Like the trials for the U.S. Open, this time the USGA has combined youth golf with a longer tournament in order to cut costs.
The largest number of competitors in the first event is the under-17 field at 112 players. In the U.S. Open under-17s at Pinehurst, N.C., on the Old Course, the 156 entrants included some 82 girls.
With youth tournaments there is an enormous body of amateur research on golf’s advantages and negatives. We asked Dr. Jim Schermerhorn, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s College of Sport and Human Dynamics (ins in case you wondered) and one of the foremost authorities on golf’s history, why so many people hold so much interest in amateur golf. His comments focus on the game’s importance in developing leaders and ways to use golf to produce better leaders. Here’s what he wrote:
“My feeling is that golf has for the most part done what it was designed to do – help the great generalists to master the game and the uses of the game. It has pushed the great generalists to master the game and to learn to use it in various ways as they went. The game is critical to good organization, for it requires a combination of more than just playing skill. At the club level, it has trained a lot of very good golf executives, but as best as I know they are not particularly good leaders and so are important leaders are leaders in some fields who are not good golf executives.
“Golf is a great classroom as we show people how to play it. It’s a great reflection of life. It is great for the school worker to see the stress of managing a group of people. It’s great for the mechanic to see how to teach a group of people to play well. It’s great for the chairman and CEO of a corporation to see how a large group of people can be involved in an enterprise to make an important contribution. It’s wonderful for the president of the United States to see how his or her predecessors and presidents of the past overcame a crisis by getting together and communicating.
“What do golf and practice have in common? They help the leaders to become better, better and better. They get them to see and learn the best practices of a team, a business and an organization. They show how to use the game to build a team.
“One of the things the more modern courses have done very well is to make sure that every tee box has practice sites on a seasonal basis. Golf still maintains a tradition of community, of using a community club or an individual club to develop skills. Good golf represents the bond of the people.
“In the near future, younger golfers will gravitate toward training and organization in golf. That will be an important part of golf and all its aspects. We will be good at teaching and instructing people how to understand their golf skills and develop those skills in the best possible fashion.
“It is also true that anyone who has ever seen a large group of young golfers, particularly the little kids, especially they’re bending over, they hit a little ball on a little tee. They know their golf. But then they go over to a little practice area. We must create the best environments to understand and ultimately develop the leaders. In making golf as the successful enterprise it is, we can influence the way our entire society develops better ways of living.”
Schermerhorn notes golf also can affect young people’s adult lives. It can help them become better athletes, make better leaders, produce better leaders. So it can become a self-perpetuating philosophy of development. Of course, that’s the idea.