News & Opinion

It’s not too late to learn an evolving game

It feels as though they’ve taken our rules, our language and our civility. You can putt with the flagstick in. It’s not a hazard; it’s a penalty area. You can’t halve a hole any longer; it’s a tie. And people play music – play music! – while playing a round of golf.

This is 21st-century golf. It’s critical that We Who Are A Little Older accept this youth-anasia of our game. We must holster our complaints that we’re losing our traditions and how the game is on the verge of changing beyond recognition.

It’s an evolution revolution. If we don’t accept and adapt, we’ll be irrelevant and sooner or later go quietly away. Hopefully, you’ll forgive We Who Are A Little Older for thinking this has all come at us in a blinding rush. Almost overnight, things about the game that have lasted a lifetime have morphed into aspects that are now unfamiliar and awkward.

You have to admit that it’s really strange putting with the flagstick unattended. Some of my friends are leaving the flagstick in the hole for every putt, even the 2-footers. I can’t do that yet. I need the whole hole to putt the short ones. I have an abiding fear of the stick swatting the ball back at me.

Dropping from knee-height? Removing loose impediments from a bunker? Grounding a club in a hazard, I mean, penalty area? Tapping down spike marks? This business of dropping after out of bounds in casual rounds (which I still don’t understand)?

It’s probably like when we started driving 55 mph on the freeways (only We Who Are A Little Older will remember that). It will take some getting used to. (Although, do you know anyone who actually drives 55? But I digress.)

While watching the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play last week, I was much dismayed to hear that match-play language also has been modernized. Matches are not all square any longer. They are tied. You don’t halve a hole or a match. That’s a tie, too. Dormie, perhaps the most charming word in golf’s language, has died the same antiquated death as the spoon and the mashie niblick. You’re just 3 up (or 3 down) with three to play.

And, I can hear music. For the longest time, I was as much a starched-collar traditionalist as anyone. I frowned upon cellphones brought to the course, much less allowed to ring. On that matter, I was as early of an adopter as We Who Are A Little Older can be. It’s 2019, and people need to be connected to the office and the family while they take four-plus hours to play golf. I get it.

I’ve even warmed up to playing music while we play. I happen to enjoy it, except when I played with a guy older than I am who wound up heavy metal for the entire round. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and that’s my line in the bunker.

Golf is still a game and not a sport. Just consult the language:

Can I get a game today? How’s your game? You’ve got to know your own game. It’s a hard game. It’s a game to be played and not mastered. I’m working on my game. You can’t buy a game. I’ve lost my game and am searching for it.

What has not and will not change about golf is that it's a game of honor, tests your character, finds out how you react under pressure, has endless camaraderie, and still can be played to satisfaction by We Who Are A Little Older.

The things that attracted us to the game are many of the same things that attract the next gens who are populating driving ranges and golf courses.

It’s increasingly clear that the new rules and vocabulary are designed with younger players in mind. The game can’t grow as long as it’s dominated by We Who Are A Little Older. And losing lifelong traditions can feel more than a little like we’ve been told we’re no longer needed.

But in the end, golf is still golf and always will be, providing with abundance everything that’s good about the game. It’s never too late to learn a new language.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email:; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf