Golf Gazette: Is a 15-inch hole a cure for golf’s ills?

Riverhead, Vineyards Golf Club Head Pro Louis de Kerillis on 1st Tee Box Par 5. (Credit: Joseph DeMaria)
Vineyards Golf Club Head Pro Louis de Kerillis on the first tee box. (Credit: Joseph DeMaria)

Ladies and gentlemen, the game of golf is in need of some help. Yes, Houston, we do, indeed, have a problem.

According to the National Golf Foundation, golf has lost nearly five million players in the last decade. The number of rounds played, along with club memberships, are down at most courses. And golf courses around the country are shutting their doors. Younger people are no longer spending time at the game, saying it takes too long and is too difficult to learn. Many have become discouraged from playing the game thanks to its many tedious and archaic rules.

Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, said, “We’ve got to stop scaring people away from golf by telling them there is only one way to play the game.”

Professional golfer Sergio Garcia recently played in an event where the conventional 4 1/4-inch cup was replaced by a 15-inch version. Afterward, Garcia said, “A 15-inch hole could help beginning, junior golfers and older golfers score better, play faster and like golf more.”

Curtis Strange, a former professional golfer who is now a golf analyst for ESPN, had this to say: “I don’t want to rig the game and cheapen it and I don’t like any of that stuff. It’s not going to happen. It’s all talk.”

The United States Golf Association president, Thomas J. O’Toole Jr., said, “We think the charm of the game is a single set of rules. But we applaud strategic thinking that brings people to golf. We shouldn’t be narrow-minded.”

The golf equipment giant TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, concerned that interest in the game is on the decline, has installed oversized holes at a club in Southern California. It found that the larger cup reduced the time needed to play typical round by about one hour. And most golfers saw a 10-shot improvement in their scores. This year the company will subsidize the installation of 15-inch holes at over 100 golf courses. The bigger holes would certainly be a plus for outings and events that attract the occasional and less experienced golfer.

Your golf guy asked a few local folks what they thought of the 15-inch cup and the problems the game of golf is facing.

Judy Victoria of Mattituck: “Price is a big factor. It’s not easy for a young couple or college students to afford a round of golf. We need to start exposing youngsters to golf when they are 2, 3, 4, 5 years old. I’m not in favor of the 15-inch cup. Maybe 8, but not 15.”

Bob Feger of Greenport: “I’m a traditionalist. Changing the size of the cup would be like moving the pitcher’s mound in baseball. The rise of golf, like any other artificial market, is fired by television or a personality. I don’t know if someone making 30, 40, or 50 thousand a year can afford to plop down initiation and membership fees to join a club. Like so many things, it’s cyclical.”

Amy Agnesini of Southold: “Fifteen inches! Why so drastic? That’s huge. Maybe increase the cup about an inch more. A problem I see is the cost to play golf. I think the smaller, par-3 courses will do well. People are less intimidated on shorter courses, especially beginners, and it’s less expensive to play.”

Jim Trentalange of Cutchogue: “The game is very expensive. Balls are $5 each. Drivers can cost $400. Young people today are spending more time with their families and don’t have four to six hours on a weekend to play golf. Personally, I don’t like changing the size of the cup. You can fit a basketball in a 15-inch cup! The old Scots would be turning over in their graves if they heard about this one.”

19TH HOLE: Jimmy McLaughlin, the new general manager of Cedars Golf Club in Cutchogue, reported a hole-in-one on the ninth hole by Robert Schiavetta. Kenny Weinstein of Sandy Pond Golf Course in Riverhead let me know about two aces at his course: Joe Harrison on the second hole and Christiann Wilows on the ninth hole.