Imagine going to Yankee Stadium and being able to sit almost anywhere you want because people aren't into baseball anymore, so the place is half-empty.
How about showing up for a Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints game without a ticket, and the person at the ticket window asks, "Where would you like to sit?"
Could the same happen in the NBA? What if you went to a Boston Celtics or Dallas Mavericks game and just like that bought two, three, four seats right behind the home team's bench?
I'll never forget what the late, great Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney said to me during an interview back in 1972, right after the Steelers had won their first division title, almost 40 years after he became the team's owner: "If somebody called and asked me, 'What time does the game start?' I'd say, 'What time can you be here?'"
Instead, most of the most popular professional sports teams have waiting lists of fans eager to buy season tickets. And it has been reported that some fans wait as long as 10 years before their names are called.
Sadly, that is not true for my favorite sport, the great game of golf. Overall, the golf business-if the National Golf Foundation's numbers are correct-is not only failing to grow, it isn't even stagnant. The NGF reported that the game lost millions of players from 2009 to 2010 and that 11 million fewer rounds were played in 2010 than the year before.
The most popular explanation is that too many young people are not taking up the game. Increasingly, kids are into soccer or lacrosse instead of telling Santa Claus they want a set of golf clubs for Christmas.
Of course, the big question is, "Why in the name of Arnold Palmer is this happening?" Those of us who have been golf addicts for decades don't understand how anybody could not try the game or could give it up after trying it.
It's almost a given that Tiger Woods dominating the PGA Tour for years after he turned pro in 1996 got thousands into playing golf. And that makes one wonder if his fooling around in 2009 turned people off and away from golf.
I think part of the problem is the two things-the only two things-I don't like about golf. One, golf is difficult to do seldom and well. I mean that 99.9 percent of players have to work at it at least a little-go to the range, hit balls, chip and putt. Otherwise, they can't go out once a month and shoot a solid round. Two, when you include drive time to and from a course and the four hours-plus required to play 18 holes, a round typically takes half a day.
And nowadays, how people spend their time seems to be more important. Not only that, but it's hard to text, tweet, blog or stare at an iPad when you're trying to make a 20-foot birdie putt with $5 riding on it.
Many people who love the game but not the time it can take are going out for just nine holes. Eagle Vale, a public golf course in Fairport, allows golfers in a hurry to play three or five holes and then hit the road. That makes it easy for people to get in a little golf on their lunch hour and get back to the office on time.
As you probably know, the Rochester area is a golf resort that isn't a golf resort. We have about 95 courses within an hour of downtown, and at many the green fees, including a riding cart, are so affordable that people from other cities can't believe it. And almost all the courses are kept in good shape.
Why so? Simple answer: competition.
Golf courses, private and public, are trying to attract new members, new players or-even better-both. Some private country clubs are offering membership deals they hope will fill their locker rooms. And some even allow the public to play on certain days.
There was a time when the trend was to build a championship golf course, lengthy, with lots of sand and water hazards and tricky greens-you know, a real challenge. Now, my guess is that's the past, not the future.
Good example: Champion Hills Country Club in Victor. It is a private, nine-hole course with four par 3s, four par 4s and one par 5. From the back tees, the course plays only 2,779 yards, par 33. This was not an accident; it was to attract people who can't stop checking the time and to encourage youngsters to take up the game.
"We see more casual golfers who play more for the social aspect than for the game itself, not like the true diehards of yesteryear," said Darlene Sommer, director of golf at Champion Hills. "Too many courses have been built that are too difficult for the casual golfer."
And with that in mind, she said, more courses "need to cater to the casual golfer by offering nine-hole rounds at a good price to get them out more often. (Golf) needs to realize playing only nine holes is OK. ... We need golf to be fun again and let players make pars and birdies."
Champion Hills is always in mint condition, and anyone who doesn't hit one ground ball after another can play nine holes in an hour. It doesn't take much longer than that even for people who do hit ground balls.
My prediction: This is a trend, the direction golf is heading.
People can play golf almost as soon as they can stand up, and they play until they can't stand up anymore. It doesn't get any better than that, but now golf has to figure out how to save itself.
Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.3.5/18/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.