In response to Brian Costa’s essay on why golf is failing (Wall Street Journal, 3/8/16 edition): Golf is losing popularity because it is a really, really hard game to play and we are a less and less patient society.

There are only two routes to competency in golf: natural gifts, and endless practice. Golf has its “naturals” – 100% of the pros on the PGA Tour or any of the lesser tours are naturals, people who have never had to think about their golf swing except to refine it. And there are lots of other naturals, people who made the college golf team, win their club championship every year, etc., even though they lack the special skill-set to tee it up with the big guys for a living. There are also people (not many) who took some lessons and practiced a lot in order to develop a good game, or at least a decent one, and who have had the time, patience, and financial means to do so. And then there is everyone else.

Everyone else is doomed to having a deficient swing for life. With one exception (Arnold Schwab), no one in the history of golf has ever gone from a lousy swing to a good one. Arnie shot in the mid-90s and had the worst slice I have ever seen, a majestic, parabolic ball flight that started out heading 45 degrees left of target (subject to allowances for atmospheric conditions, the curvature of the earth, etc.) but ended up right on target. Then he got fixed: spent an entire winter of séances with a teaching pro, and started shooting in the 70s. My theory is that Arnie was an ugly duckling whose inner swan was just waiting to be revealed by a perceptive instructor. For the rest of us, a bad swing is forever.

A few of us, through the jackpot combination of an indulgent spouse, children who actually do not miss you at all, and enough time and money to squander, climb magically from terrible to mediocre, and it is no easy climb. But for most normal people who try to take up golf, the results are so ugly, so discouraging, so utterly lacking in anything that even remotely resembles a usable golf swing, that it does not really feel like you are playing golf at all – and if you are, why bother? Why spend 6 hours trying to find your ball in the woods, trying to hit a ball off of sand or twigs, realizing that it takes your very best combination of technique and luck just to escape any hole with less than a double bogey? Especially when you have had to drop a hundred (or two, or more) just for the privilege of viewing – and spoiling – the gorgeous landscaping.

This is a game that will never grow, though it will never vanish, either. Thank goodness.

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