John Huggan, my fellow columnist, wrote a magazine column last year suggesting Harry Styles, one quarter of the extraordinarily successful boy band One Direction, was more important to the future of golf than Rickie Fowler. Fowler is the current matinee idol of the American tour and the poster boy for so many young golfers.
Styles loves the game, plays it well and has the not insignificant number of twenty-four and a half million twitter followers. Fowler in contrast has just over eight hundred and ninety thousand. For a golfer that is a lot of fans but it’s hardly twenty-four million.
More importantly one assumes the vast majority of those twenty-four million see golf as a game is of little consequence or relevance. It’s not a sport they play or would ever consider playing.
The fans of One Direction are hardly golf’s traditional demographic. To so many of them golf doubtless looks stuffy, boring, over-regulated and played by a bunch of old white guys and their wives. It doesn’t look like game fans of Harry Styles would be particularly interested in playing.
It’s hardly surprising. Golf can be stuffy and appear unwelcoming. There are still clubs where women are excluded including some still hosting The British Open.
It is over-regulated and the rules are confusing. Nor are kids in this age going to put up with being told they can’t use their phones on the golf course, that their socks are the wrong colour or their skirts an inch too short.
Wearing non-traditional clothing is not incompatible with respecting the game and appreciating its traditions.
It can also be boring but rarely when it is played over interesting pieces of architecture.
Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National, long ago argued golfers gave up golf without knowing why they had grown tired of the game. On bad courses, he wrote golfers ‘were no longer playing golf, but a very bad substitute for it.’
The Scotsman was right in 1932 and nothing has changed. Golf isn’t boring on interesting courses and it is why good architecture has played such an important part in popularizing the game. No one did it better than MacKenzie and his genius still lives through Augusta National, Cypress Point, Crystal Downs and here in Australia at Royal Melbourne.
At Augusta on Wednesday we saw another One Direction star, Irishman Niall Horan, caddy in the par three tournament for fellow countryman and Masters favourite Rory McIlroy.
Pictures of Horan, dressed in white overalls and the familiar Augusta baseball hat and with McIlroy’s golf bag slung across his back flooded the Internet and the Twitter feeds of his twenty-two million followers. Here was golf exposed to non-believers in a manner undreamt of a decade ago.
They saw Horan delighting in the atmosphere and meeting heroes including Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. Hopefully they wondered if there was more to golf than a bunch of stuffy, boring, old, rich and badly dressed white guys slashing a little ball around a field with no seemingly discernable intelligent purpose.
Maybe some of them will watch The Masters this week and some might even give it a try. The unlikely duo of Styles and Horan are important and for as long as they are happy to be used by the game the game should use them to expose it to a generation and demographic it has hitherto had no hope of engaging.