Andrew Cotter: I hope the obsession with the youth market doesn’t neglect older golfers. The excitement of competition is something we never lose, no matter how ancient we get.
(Cotter’s latest column is taken from issue 370)
Happy New Year! Yes, I am well aware that this greeting may be well out of date by the time you read this. But this is not unusual for me, since I never quite know when to stay saying it anyway. Indeed I tend to start most emails or texts with ‘Happy New Year’ until somebody tells me that’s probably enough around early March.
But as I write, we are in the dog days of 2017 and, like most people at this time of year, I find myself saying ‘Hang on a minute… where did that go?’
So here I am, considering the passage of time – a cheery matter to be sure for a light-hearted golf column, but one that has probably been brought on by watching ‘On Golden Pond’ and drinking two glasses of mulled wine.
In 2018 I will (according to the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary) enter middle-age. It doesn’t specifically mention me, but it says that middle-age begins at 45, which I can’t deny will happen some time in the summer. I suppose I should be thankful that I’m not living in the 13th Century, where living past 40 would stand you a very good chance of being burned a witch.
I know things won’t change overnight. I won’t suddenly become a miserable curmudgeon, railing against the world and most of the things in it, mostly because I’ve been doing that since the age of seven. But it’s a sobering thought nonetheless: I will be a middle-aged man.
In golfing terms, of course, this makes me very normal. As a white, middle-aged man who likes golf I will be a walking, talking slicing cliché. And while I like to think that I’m still down with the kids (I say that I’ve heard of I’ve heard of Stormzy and pretend I know what Snapchat is) I know that I’m not the target demographic in the current drive to get people into golf.
In many ways, golf has never appeared younger or more vibrant – the average age of major winners is dropping and while Rickie Fowler may not be part of the major club yet, you could easily see a youngster taking up the game wanting to be like him, to dress like him, to do a Snapchat like him (did I get that right?).
But I also hope that the obsession with the youth market doesn’t neglect older golfers. Don’t get me wrong – almost everything that has been done to make our game more energetic and appealing should be applauded. I started playing at three and barely put a club down as a child. I made friends through golf and learned much about myself and about life.
The best things to have changed in the game have been the attitudes to juniors and the loosening of strange and stuffy rules and regulations. Many of them seemed odd and still do now.
But one of golf’s great strengths and attractions has always been that it is a sport which older people can play and enjoy well into their dotage. A lot of sports disappear from our radar as the years roll by – rugby, football, running, ultimate-fighting. It seems that going for a swim or playing bridge are all that might be left.
So, for many people, golf is the sporting answer as they get older. It provides exercise. It gets them outside for a few hours. It helps them meet up with friends, while still offering the fun aspect of sport and the excitement of competition – something which we never lose, no matter how ancient we get.
It is also worth saying – though not fashionable to do so – that as golf desperately tries to adapt to be part of the modern world, it can provide a blessed escape from it. A lot of people are very happy to arrive at a golf club and for the pace of life to slow down and for things to get a bit quieter. For them that is part of its very attraction.
The drive to get younger people into golf is admirable because we see falling playing numbers, but maybe that isn’t the demographic to be chasing after all.
Someone who comes to the sport later in life is just as important.
Perhaps we like to focus on trying to be a young and dynamic sport because age is something that we fear. Or maybe it’s just the case that in all aspects of society we tend to look on the older generation as people whose views somehow matter less. Which is strange, as we’re all heading there.
In fact, on current trends, by the 2030s almost a quarter of the population in The UK will be over 65. Medical advancements not only mean that we are living longer but also that we are able to remain active in later life.
Golf should never be afraid of looking to the older generation as much as the young.
And with that I’m of to wash the car and look up the rules of Bridge. Possibly while listening to Stormzy. After all, I’m not quite middle-aged yet.