It was the Tuesday night Hack Golf league at the TaylorMade Golf Experience on South Las Vegas Boulevard, and a young man named Keith Choate had about a 10-foot putt to save par on the second hole. Airplanes were roaring overhead. Sirens were blaring.
You gotta love golf in the city.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been a tricky putt for a mechanical insulator. Choate took only about half a second to line it up. He pulled his putter back; he indiscriminately whacked the ball toward the hole.
The ball nestled into the side of the cup.
The 15-inch cup.
A traditional golf cup has a diameter of 4.25 inches.
“Par,” Choate called out to his playing partners with a certain amount of sheepishness. “Hee-hee.”
These new 15-inch golf cups, which seem roughly the size of the Grand Canyon, at least from the tee box, are supposed to provide a shot in the arm to an industry that needs one. Statistics show that not as many people are playing golf as before. This could be because the game is more difficult than trigonometry homework, or because it takes too long.
These 15-inch golf cups are supposed to help fix what ails golf. In the manner of bumpers on a bowling alley, they make the game easier, and shave about an hour off a typical round.
HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” recently did a story on the 15-inch holes, and how the golf industry is struggling; courses once that had charged an arm and a leg for greens fees are now overrun with tall grass and weeds, Gumbel said. Courses are closing every day.
“Every macro indicator that we’ve been looking at for the past 20 years — rounds played, number of minorities playing, women playing — all of these things that we’ve tracked says there’s less people playing, and the ones that are playing are playing less frequently,” a man named Mark King, a leader in the industry — “one of the most important men in the game” — according to Bryant Gumbel, told the host.
“I just don’t like where the game is going,” King said. “It’s not in the right direction.”
The video cuts away to King planting a manhole-sized cup into a green with one of those golf-hole planting contraptions.
“There it is,” King says with a chuckle. “The future of golf.”
Bryant Gumbel sort of scoffs, because Gumbel is a purist who believes golf should be difficult, that it should be played with holes that are 4.25 inches in diameter and not as wide as the broadside of a barn. Curtis Strange, a former pro, scoffs, too.
Jack Nicklaus, a former pro who has won 18 majors, scoffs not so much.
“The game needs to be a game for the masses,” Nicklaus says on the HBO piece.
To which Bryant Gumbel replies: “So these somewhat crazy ideas that are being spawned by the problems of golf, these have your blessing? Fifteen-inch holes?”
To which the great Jack Nicklaus replies: “Sure. What difference does it make if it brings people in and introduces them to the game?”
Unlike players at more traditional gentlemen’s clubs, most at the Hack Golf league were indifferent to a larger cup size. One man visiting from Detroit wasn’t even aware of what the second flagstick was for before he teed off.
“Mixed reviews,” Kenneth Stauffer, the TaylorMade Golf Experience activities director, said.
“People like to come out and bring their girlfriend and not be intimidated. On the other side, you’ve got people who say it’s ruining golf by diluting how tough it is.”
When I asked Stauffer how committed the par-3 course was to 15-inch holes, he said “pretty committed.”
In the Hack Golf league, one player in each foursome shot at the 15-inch hole situated on one side of the green while the other three aimed at the traditional hole on the other side. Because these were mechanical insulators, their balls often crossed paths before they got close to either hole. Alcohol was not involved.
The players in Keith Choate’s group, which included his twin brother Kyle, and in other groups said they didn’t want to come off as sexist, but that women probably will like whacking golf shots at the bathtub-sized holes more than men.
These new multi-tiered driving range/nightclubs opening in Texas and elsewhere ultimately may introduce golf to more young people than will giant holes.
But just for grins, I hope golf with giant 15-inch holes survives, and one day they talk Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson into playing a round, because I’ve never seen a guy shoot a 23.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.