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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsThe Hot Stove

The Hot Stove: Golf’s popularity fluctuating in United States

Golf as we knew it five years ago is changing, and that has brought the sport into a state of transition — for better or worse.

The economic crash of 2009 coupled with the collapse of Tiger Woods, professional golf’s modern-day idol, has crippled the sport, with fewer rounds being played and fewer young people playing the game, as stated by the National Golf Foundation.

 According to Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time Professional Golfers Association Major Champion who is widely regarded as the best player to ever play professional golf, a golf course in America closes every 48 hours on average. Since 2006, closings have outnumbered the openings of new courses.

 But despite a shaky future for the game, there is a glimmer of hope that can even be found here on campus.

The Ithaca College golf team, which is the second-newest varsity sport next to sculling, ironically began competition in 2009. In five seasons, it has become a powerhouse in the Empire 8 conference and a top-10 squad in Division III.

Senior Sharon Li has also been instrumental in the rise of the squad, as she has won three consecutive conference titles and was named Division III Player of the Year by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association.

Golf may be struggling in the United States, but in other countries, the sport is beginning to flourish. Li began playing at age 6 in Hong Kong, a region that has perhaps become the biggest area for the sport’s growth in the world. Nicklaus, who designs golf courses all over the world, said he has more potential courses being set up in China than anywhere else.

Though Bombers head coach Dan Wood said Li is one of few Division III players who may have a chance to play professional golf, the rest of the South Hill squad may also help bring golf out of its decline.

Senior Kelsey Baker grew up on a golf course in England, and her parents introduced her to the game. Baker began playing competitively when she moved to the United States for high school, but as with teammate senior Taylor MacDonald, there were no girls’ team to compete on. Instead, Baker and MacDonald played on boys’ teams and improved their skills enough to play at the collegiate level, where women’s golf was being added by more and more schools to help with Title IX compliance.

Wood said it is important to get people of all ages, and not just women, playing after high school because it will help bring up a younger generation with golf.

“If they’re in a place where their employers want to play golf, it’s a good opportunity for them to play and network at the same time,” Wood said.

Though Baker and MacDonald said the game is good from a competitive standpoint, they both acknowledged that golf is too time-consuming and costly for average players to play frequently, if at all. Courses across the country have begun making the game more accessible and fun with different nuances, such as widening the hole from 4.25 inches to 15 inches.

Baker said she prefers playing traditional-style golf, but would be willing to play a different style of the sport if more people began playing.

“If more of my friends started playing, and that’s the way they played, I would probably join them,” Baker said.