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Is Golf Dying? And is This the Way to Save It?

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Does golf need a radical overhaul?

This isn’t necessarily a new question, but it’s one being debated more — and more seriously — coming off the recent PGA Merchandise Show.

Adding fuel to the fire is a group of well-known, influential, and highly skilled players whose recently launched idea is likely making the blue coats at the USGA turn green.

Some think it could save golf from dying a slow death.

One thing’s for sure —  you’ll probably think it’s one of the best or worst ideas you’ve ever heard of.

First, most everyone agrees that golf is hurting. The number of players, rounds, and courses is declining.

At the core of the debate is whether the game of golf is just too darn hard, at least for the casual player.

One factor at play is that golf courses have become so much tougher over time.

Our most recent building boom was somewhat of an arms race to see who could build the biggest, baddest and longest layouts – a problem further complicated by many players who insist on playing from tee boxes too long for their game.

I couldn’t help but notice during last weekend’s Match Play Championship event that the pros were routinely hitting wedges through 8 irons on their approach shots.  Too often I see amateurs holding 4 irons and hybrids, even after “ripping” a drive.

As discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a group of Silicon valley executives have even gone as far as to propose an alternative set of rules called Flogton (“not golf” spelled backwards) where players could match rules that suit their skill levels.

For example, taking one mulligan per hole and getting free relief from trees and other obstacles.  (Little did I know, I have friends who have been playing Flogton for years!)  Among the proponents are longtime Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, John Donahoe, the CEO of eBay, and Bill Campbell, chairman and former CEO of Intuit…all low handicappers.

I even found a product at the PGA Show looking to ride this trend.  And while I support the effort, it definitely deserves at least an honorable mention in my unofficial list of goofiest golf items of all time (joining such doozies as Windage, a spray bottle that emits a puff of powder so you can judge the direction of the wind – this comes in very handy if you ever play on a course without grass).

The name of this year’s brainchild is Kangarila. To play it, you use only six clubs and play with special Kangarila balls.  The balls have special markings, and whichever section comes to rest facing up determines which club you need to use to hit your next shot.  For example, a wood, long iron, wedge, or “player’s choice.”  Kind of like golf meets Magic 8-ball.

Frankly, I have had some memorable times playing 3-club matches, so to some extent, I applaud the inventors of Kangarila.  However, if you want to play like this, wouldn’t it be much easier (and cheaper) to simply mark up a ball with a Sharpie?

What do you think?  Does golf need to be easier to survive?  If so, is the answer a separate set of rules (and perhaps equipment) for pros and amateurs? Are ideas like Flogton and Kangarila the best — or worst — ideas you’ve ever heard of? Please share your comments below.