Golf is known for being the home of the "traditionalist" - the type of individual that revels in the history and traditions of the game. And golf has many rich traditions that survive to this very day connecting golfers of today with its Scottish roots. Most relate to the Rules of Golf, others to etiquette, the country club life, course designs and yet others that are forever linked with our golfing heroes.
I was first drawn to this wonderful game when I was a young boy of about 7 years of age. My first love was and remains hockey ( ice hockey for my British friends ) and I come by it honestly as I am a born and bred Canadian! But, I will never forget the time when my father came home with a set of golf clubs in a terrific blue golf bag. It came with traditional leather head covers, persimmon woods and pure blade irons. They were the clubs that I grew up with as a boy and they came with woods numbered 2 and 4 in addition to my No.1 - Driver! My, how times have changed since then.
From that inauspicious beginning my curiosity and fascination with the sport was borne. From there, I remember listening to sports news and the names of Nicklaus and Trevino ruled the airwaves and television screens. Then there was the time I was at the dentist's office, sitting there and reading a recent copy of Sports Illustrated with golf's newest star, Johnny Miller, on the cover. It's hard to believe that was in 1974. I am officially beginning to feel old now, especially when most of my playing companions only know Johnny as a now retired commentator on NBC's golf show.
The decade of the #hashtag
The pace of change that has overtaken golf continues. The growth of the game has not been limited to just equipment changes, it has perhaps been even more influenced by the growth of social media. Our world has changed significantly and perhaps nothing has been as disruptive as the advent of the internet and how we share and receive our information. It has grown from simple bloggers to the social media world of Twitter, Instagram, We Chat, and more. One of the early social media stars that brought golf into our consciousness or perhaps it was the other way around, was Instagram influencer Paige Spiranac. The graduate from San Diego State University played on the varsity golf team and in her post collegiate career, tried the professional golf route. It didn't take long though for her to become an Instagram sensation. Regular posting on Instagram, mainly sharing photos of herself on the golf course, some posed and others "action oriented", she built up a following of over a million. That was approximately 6-7 years ago. She is now up to 2.2 million followers.
Spiranac has often been the target of abuse from some for having been a pioneer of the golfing Instagram world while being labelled a professional golf "wannabe". At a time when most publicity was reserved for professional players, Spiranac began making a name for herself through social media. Yet, she has also been criticized heavily at times for her choice of golf attire that she displays online. She is a very well endowed woman and in choosing golf attire that is both comfortable for her and still functional for golf, she has become a magnet for people that are concerned with or deeply offended by her choices. My mother was well endowed and she was one of the best athletes that I ever knew (besides my sisters who obviously inherited similar athleticism). So, I have come to understand some of the challenges she had in choosing sports apparel while trying to conform to some of the social expectations at the time. It was a constant struggle for her and is fraught with criticism, rejection, gossip and more, but at least she did not have to deal with social media.
Growing the Game
Paige has been criticized for not wearing traditional golf attire that usually consisted of shorts or skirts to the knees and tops with collars. I can understand the sentiment of dress codes at the golf club, particularly since I grew up in a Golf & Country Club environment, and it was something that I aspired to as a kid. Yet, when I look at Spiranac, I see someone who loves the game and is out there promoting it through Instagram and Twitter. In doing so, she is helping to bring new and more focus to the game. Her on course attire is not something that is out of the ordinary in today's culture; she most certainly "pushes the proverbial envelope" with her wardrobe, but she remains what I would believe to be respectful to the game.
The photo at the top of this blog was one that I captured last July. I was very touched by the poignancy of the story that it told. A thoughtful nephew collected his uncle from his retirement home to take him to the practice range to hit some golf balls. His uncle, was 87 years young and was an avid golfer in his heydays. He mostly played golf at two local municipal golf courses in Vancouver, British Columbia -- Langara Golf Course and Fraserview. What I found so poignant yet romantic about it was that even at his advanced age, he still loved the game that he so thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon outing away from the care home. These two gentlemen though, are of Asian ancestry, and they are both old enough to have experienced the social obstacles of the day; it made playing golf at Country Clubs that much more difficult, if not impossible.
Today, there is not one golf course in the region that does not benefit from Asian golfers (among others). In an era of declining golf participation, the Asian golfers have filled the gap left behind, taking the time to enjoy the game that they grew up aspiring to play. I see similarities with younger and new golfers. Golf is probably one of the most difficult sports to learn the basic skills needed so that one can go out on the course and play. Just think of when you first learned the game and all of the coaching and unsolicited advice you received: "keep your head down", "don't hunch over so much", "grip your club like you're holding a bird" and more. The thing about golf though, is we need people to invest the time, energy and yes, some of their hard earned money, in order to maintain the financial viability of our sport. But, once they do, the love of this game never really leaves us and one of the most wonderful aspects of this game of golf is that it can be played for most of our lives. It's truly a game for life.
So, if Paige can help bring more people into golf through her social media profile, then all the more power to her - because we all need to keep growing and sharing this game that we love. It really is a game for a lifetime.