The following is a guest post by Colin Knight
Golf is a sport that is as popular as it ever has been. Though it lacks the speed of soccer, or the danger of motor racing, the sport still pulls in massive TV audiences, and huge crowds still flock to live tournaments. So what's the appeal?
The one thing that does make golf great sporting theatre is how rapidly things can change, even in the last few rounds of a tournament. In a tennis match, when one player wins the first set comfortably, then they will often go on to win the match. In golf, the leader in the clubhouse at the end of the first day of a tournament will rarely win the event. The uncertain nature of golf is what makes us watch and play the sport. No two days are ever the same and it's a sport that no one can ever really say that they have mastered.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Two goals scored in soccer in the final of the added time at the end of the game are much more fast-paced and far more exciting, but golf is a game for strategists. After reading your opponents' intentions, their form on the day and the equipment they have available to them, you may choose to take on a riskier shot or play a tamer one. The slow burn of golf provides a culmination of suspense and tempo that can challenge any sport worldwide.
Because golf is a sport that can be played in old age, many of the spectators and TV viewers who watch golf tournaments can relate to the challenges faced by golf's superstars in a way that they can't relate to with soccer stars, rugby stars, etc. There is also the link between the weekend golfer and the top pro, of both having the ability to play a terrible shot one minute and hole a great putt the next. The unpredictable nature of golf is probably its most attractive feature as a spectator sport.
All sporting events are as much about the occasion as the actual event itself. Spectators who arrive at the FA Cup final a minute before kick-off may witness a great game, but will likely fret over missing the build-up to such a momentous event. For golf spectators, as with motor racing spectators, not being able to see all the action doesn't really lessen the feeling of attending a great sporting event. In the case of golf spectators, seeing great players tee off, and especially showing their nerve by sinking a tricky putt, a golf tournament is an occasion. Soaking up the atmosphere of that occasion can't really be replicated by being able to see more players, more holes, and different angles on TV. Seeing leading golfers in the flesh also brings home to spectators just how good top class golfers really are, both in terms of power and finesse.
Golf today has as many charismatic stars as it has ever had, especially with the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. The fact that Woods, who has transcended the sport, is not such a dominant force has also helped to create more of a level playing field. This, in turn, makes watching golf more attractive. However much anyone loves a particular sport, if that sport becomes predictable then it will lose some of its appeal in terms of sporting drama. The closing stages of a major can be remarkable in terms of twists and turns and, because several players can also be 'in the mix', this makes golf a sport where the likely outcome can change several times in just a few minutes.
Attending a live golf tournament also has that communal feel that a live sporting event helps to create a feeling of collective appreciation, which cannot be replicated on the sofa. We also live in the age of the celebrity, of course, and the attraction of being able to see great golfing stars from such close quarters is a reason why attendance figures are only likely to rise over the next few years.
Colin Knight is a keen (albeit amateur) golfing enthusiast who is lucky enough to be lead groundskeeper at Hereford course Belmont Lodge. When he’s not the bane of divots and molehills, Colin is practicing his putting on the (proudly) manicured greens of Belmont.