An old friend is on life support. Heroic measures are being considered but I'm not sure anything can be done.
Golf is dying.
I've noted this anecdotally over the years. When I turned 40 I wrote about how the golf course was the last place on earth I could still feel young. Last summer, as I played and reviewed each course in Carroll, I wrote that I almost never, over the course of seven rounds, saw a single player younger than me. (Seniors seem to be the only ones playing -- and good for them.)
Last week came some dispiriting hard evidence about the state of the game.
First, the TV ratings for the British Open were released. Down by about one-third from last year on the heels of a historically low-rated U.S. Open. Even with "next big thing" Rory McIlroy holding off an attractive leaderboard. Are Tiger and Phil really done? The sport had better hope not.
Then came a double shot of negative news.
Dick's Sporting Goods announced that it was laying off nearly 500 golf professionals. This move seemed tied to the fact that Dick's expects its year-end profits to be off by about 10 percent, mostly because of a dramatic drop in sales of golf equipment and apparel.
Then came the announcement that Golf World will no longer publish a print magazine. After 67 years. This was the magazine I used to read voraciously for the in-depth coverage of tournaments all over the world as well as for the equipment section. Many of my first sets of clubs were purchased after poring over those pages. It will still offer a digital publication. Good luck with that.
This is all an extension of the fact that golf's popularity is on the wane. According to the National Golf Foundation, 157 courses closed in 2013 while 14 new courses opened. Fourteen. In the entire United States. (It marked the eighth year in a row that course closings outnumbered course openings.)
One of those closures, of course, was Wakefield Valley in Westminster. A lot of blame was placed at a number of feet for the end of the once-beloved facility. But let's face it, if anyone thought there was money to be made continuing Wakefield as a golf course, they would be taking tee times today.
No one is taking up the game. There are fewer and fewer avid players. Less people need lessons, putters or golf shirts, or want to read about it, or need a place to play.
Golf takes too long. Too long to play, too long to watch.
In our non-stop, multitasking, attention-deficit society, we increasingly don't have the time to leave for the course at 7 a.m. Saturday, spend five hours playing and then return home sometime in the early afternoon. Not when so much is expected during the work week and so many family and homeowner responsibilities are shoehorned to the weekend.
There is little in life that's more fun than stepping up to the box, pushing a tee in the ground, taking a practice swing and then busting a long, straight drive. There is little more frustrating than stepping up to the box, pushing a tee in the ground, taking a practice swing, and then realizing the group ahead of you is still messing around 100 yards up the fairway. This leads to a 10-minute wait, which leads to a few angry words and eventually a hooked or sliced or topped drive by a suddenly out-of-rhythm player.
Nor do we have time to devote to a golf telecast that could run five hours long in which viewers will see the leader take maybe 30 full swings. (Part of the appeal of soccer is nonstop action and a game that can be over in less than two hours.)
The golf industry is trying to figure out how to speed up play. The concept of "ready golf" has been championed. No less a figure than Jack Nicklaus is telling us to "tee it forward." There are even those who favor doubling the size of the cup, making it easier to sink putts, play faster and feel good about a lower score.
What golf can not do however is give us more time in the week. Or give us an automatic play-through card to show slower groups ahead of us. Or make it look as exciting as the NFL on TV, thus inducing young people to get their noses out of their electronics and their bodies out to the course.
Golf is dying. Tiger getting back to winning majors in conjunction with a few of the aforementioned suggestions might relieve a few of the symptoms, but no one has figured out a cure.
Bob Blubaugh is the Times sports editor. His column appears every Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.