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Changing the game

By: Jim Linsdau Placer Herald/News Messenger Sports Editor
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With spring in the air and golf clubs struggling to stay afloat in this sluggish economy, there is an effort going on to save the game and its magnificent courses. When Tiger Woods hit the scene several years ago, there was a mad scramble to be more like Tiger. Everyone wanted to hit the ball 300 yards on the fly and roll in all putts from anywhere inside of 50 feet. To handle the burgeoning interest in the game, golf courses sprang up everywhere – and each had to top the other in “championship” quality. With investors pouring money into the new Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman layouts, million-dollar courses were being built with near-perfect greens and magnificent facilities. With the economy booming, $75-$100 green fees weren’t uncommon and it helped to keep hackers off the course. More and more kids became interested in the game and top instructors were getting four-figure fees for their lessons. Golf shops couldn’t keep up with the demand on merchandise and those selling the same brand clubs as the latest Masters’ winner couldn’t keep up with the demand. Like Tiger, that was then and this is now. It has been estimated that around 1 million wanna-be golfers leave the game every year. One golf magazine said those dropping out were saying the game is too difficult, too expensive, and it takes too long to play. Today, elaborate golf courses are now struggling to keep up with maintenance and are falling into disrepair. Tie that in with foreclosures and the lack of home sales on those same golf courses and you have a disaster in the making. But, American ingenuity and golf aren’t dead yet. Case in point was the recent sale of Whitney Oaks Golf Club and the sale of Sunset Whitney last year. Some entrepreneurs are discovering ways to keep going these masterpieces of golf, and others like them. It won’t all translate into lower prices, but faster play and decreased difficulty may now be in the works as well. Will Robins Golf Academy out of Empire Ranch Golf Club in Folsom, and now Turkey Creek Gold Club in Lincoln, is changing how golf should be taught and played. Robins is a pro who recovered from tragedy to discover the secret of the game is in its simplicity. “When you believe you should hit it straight and the greens should be in nice condition, you should play in four hours. No one should be playing slow and your ball shouldn’t get lost and you should swing perfectly and all putts should go in you are stepping into a very painful arena,” Robins said of the misconception many have of golf. Robins and his coaches, as he likes to call his PGA-certified staff, are dedicating themselves to teaching the art of loving the game – and it is working. His students are dropping on average eight strokes a round, not by changing fundamentals but by changing attitudes. If Robins and his cadre continue to instill the joy of the game that has alluded so many, and golf courses can adjust for the economy, the grand old game could start making a comeback. And maybe Tiger will too.