Is there really a golfer out there who doesn’t feel a tingle of excitement with the advent of a new year? Some mild weather to start 2017 signalled something of a rush to the first tee last week for a first hit, yours truly included with a most enjoyable visit to the excellent Leven Links.
The PGA Tour’s opening event of the calendar year has already come and gone while the European Tour swings into action this week, when Rory McIlroy is the star attraction in the SA Open at Glendower.
The four-time major winner then heads to Abu Dhabi for a mouth-watering clash with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler in next week’s HSBC Championship and, if you add in Tiger Woods having recently committed to four upcoming experiences, including a European Tour outing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, then it all makes for an exciting start to the golfing year.
It, of course, will include the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open breaking new ground at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire and the Ricoh Women’s British Open paying a first visit to Kingsbarns in Fife – two tasty treats. The game, alas, is far from perfect and here are 10 things that would either help put a smile on the sport’s face over the coming 12 months or make it more enjoyable, both from a participation and spectating point of view:
1 Rory McIlroy becoming just the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam by winning The Masters at Augusta National in April. While he’s been unable to achieve this feat in two previous attempts, it’s surely only a matter of time before the Northern Irishman gets back in the Masters mix again and, eventually, exorcises those demons from 2011, when he squandered a four-shot lead in the final round.
2 One of the game’s leading lights (world No 1 Jason Day should be the prime candidate after his “I don’t care” comments last week) being hammered for slow play. Top-level golf has become painful to watch and it’s time for the game’s snails to be named, shamed and punished on a weekly basis. The sport will continue to suffer unless “real” action is taken by officials on all Tours.
3 More short courses to help encourage beginners into the sport and also help aspiring players sharpen up their games from 100 yards and in. Having cut his golfing teeth on such a course in Los Angeles, Tiger Woods talked last week about how he’d like to see more of these facilities and good on him for that. Golf is saturated with 18-hole courses at a time when it needs the option of good nine-holers.
4 The lining up of players being banned with immediate effect because it’s close to cheating and simply shouldn’t be allowed. While this is predominantly evident in the women’s game, it’s started to creep into men’s golf as well now. It’s believed that the game’s governing bodies, the R&A and the USGA, are looking at outlawing such a practice in the next rules review. But, if a new local rule can be introduced to eliminate a penalty when a ball is accidentally moved by the wind, then let’s have one for this pesky problem, too.
5 More Scottish successes in professional golf and more players from the sport’s cradle inside the world’s top 100 in both the men’s and women’s game. People around the world will always look for Scotland to produce talented golfers and rightly so. A fruitless 2016 on both the European Tour and the Ladies European Tour was disappointing, to say the least, and there can be no lack of incentive whatsoever among the players flying the Saltire on those circuits this year.
6 Muirfield members making the right decision at the second time of asking over admitting women. It is believed that an update on a new vote will be delivered later this month, and it has to be hoped that sufficient headway is being made behind the scenes to ensure there is no repeat of the embarrassing decision last May that led the East Lothian venue to be dropped from the Open Championship rota by the R&A.
7 Tiger Woods returning to top form – even better if that could be winning ways – because there is simply no getting away from the fact that no-one gets the juices flowing like the 14-time major champion. The interest in his return to the game at the end of last year was astonishing, even by Tiger’s standards, and the resumption of his comeback, including an appearance on the European Tour in Dubai early next month, is sure to help golf get the publicity it needs to spark a regeneration of the game at grassroots level.
8 Golf clubs around the world running obligatory etiquette courses for members because, sadly, that vital ingredient in helping make a game of golf as enjoyable as possible, is being neglected. Too many people these days step on to a course without having a hint of consideration for others, and it is the duty of every single club to do something to change that dreadful mentality.
9 Golf club manufacturers starting to rein back a bit when it comes to churning out new products, thereby giving club players in particular a chance to get some value for money out of a set of clubs or even an individual club as opposed to being tempted by the so-called next best thing in the game.
10 Some more team events in the professional game to try to spice up the schedule. There’s no denying the old Dunhill Cup was one of the most popular events on the calendar and, no matter where it was held in the world, a similar-style tournament would surely be welcomed by players and fans alike.