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New Study Exposes What Actually Triggered The Great Golf Boom Of The 80s

Randy Wilson


In order to replicate golf's biggest growth surge, we have been doing research into what caused the 80s boom.  Was it greed?  No, although bankers and real estate developers rarely miss out on hyper-inflating a good bubble, turns out . . . it wasn't them.

Was it the sharp increase in televised golf saturation?  No.  Was it the Boomers aging out of participatory team sports?  White belts?  Johnny Miller?

It was none of these.  It may be hard to believe, but the 80s Golf Boom predated the "One Course A Day" mantra.  That disastrous concept didn't cause the Boom, it merely took advantage of what was already happening.  

... golf was not cool in the 70s. I had to remain in the golf closet.

Here's what happened:  First, you must understand that golf was not cool in the 70s.  No matter what you've been told by us geezers, there was actually a very high NF (nerd factor) associated with golf.  As a high school kid during that era, I had to remain in the golf closet.  We had no golf teams at any school I ever attended and I went to a LOT of schools.

Second, something came along and without warning, inexplicably made golf cool.  People who once ridiculed me for playing golf, working in golf and wearing obnoxious plaid pants, suddenly became avid golfers.  Saturday morning tee times were hard to get and previously unpopular munis packed out all day long.

For years, we tried to solve this mystery.  What made golf cool?  But now, after decades of research, our findings are ready to publish.  Is it possible it was...  "Caddyshack"???


When "Caddyshack" was released in July of 1980, I did not see it, for I was busy.  Yes, I know that's a ridiculous statement from someone who had been working in golf, film and TV for years, but it's true.  I was on training status at Fort Bragg and my residence did not have a movie theater nearby, or a roof, for that matter.  I did, however, manage to read a few newspaper reviews of "Caddyshack" scribbled in anger by film critics.

One wrote that "Caddyshack" was the worst film ever made and Roger Ebert said mean things, too.  I always found that odd, given that Roger's best effort at writing a screenplay himself was "Beneath The Valley of the Ultra Vixens" for a famous nekkid sex director.  Oh, and also, Ebert panned "Blade Runner", something I could never forgive.  

I don't like critics.  I think they're inherently negative because they have trouble accomplishing anything positive.  Critics, if they haven't actually done the work they are so expert in, are worthless.  That's why I can take golf course critics like Tom Doak seriously, while Matt Ginella . . . not so much.  If a critic rips up my film work, or one of my books, I tend to check out their body of work before I reply.  If they have no body of work--you know, actually making something--I ignore them.  

After I read the reviews, I desperately wanted to see the film, but by the time I came off training status, it was out of theaters.  As we did not have easy access to watching films at home in those days, it was 1985 before I could rent a VHS player and binge watch every film I had missed during my lengthy vacation with our rich Uncle.  The first thing I rented?  "Caddyshack".

06f3cd281af1c668d57e081859a421f2-.jpegI can't say I was thrilled with the film's portrayal of an Asst. Supt.  But at least I began to understand the lines I had been hearing on the golf course for years.  "Be The Ball" finally made sense, as did "NOONAN!"  I did enjoy watching that elitist Judge driven insane, while the lower caste of golf won out--but I hated Murray wearing the boonie hat.  (That had been my official golf uniform for years and I knew I would never be able to wear it again.)

I eventually did go back to the boonie hat, mostly because of skin cancer--but I never, ever, did a Carl Spackler impression.  My brother Mike, on the other hand, could do a spectacular "tears in his eyes" soliloquy. 

How did "Caddyshack" trigger the boom?  In my expert opinion, the film appealed to everybody.  First, as a goofy comedy, it pulled in the little kids, who nearly died laughing at "Doody".  Teenagers who reveled in the spirit of rebellion against stuffy adults loved it and so did golfers who just wanted to see a golf film, no matter how far off from reality.  The movie attracted a wide range of people who would have NEVER gone to see anything with golf in it.

Where am I going with this?  Ever deeper into Rockbottum CC Philosophy.

Those who know me are well aware of my theory on stabilizing, rather than "growing" golf.  Some agree with me, while others--especially those with an Alphabet dependence--will immediately leap to their feet screaming "Silence!  Golf is better than ever, you peasant!"

All it takes to sober them up is a quick glance at the numbers.  The percentage of current total population actually playing golf is about half of what it was in the 70s.  Recent golfer counts have included putt-putt, bar golf and those who considered playing a round of golf.  If you want accurate numbers, subscribe to Pellucid. Rockbottum CC is not the place for that.

To stabilize golf, we should aim for the proportionate numbers we experienced in the 70s; we must recover from the "Steroidal Overbuilt Phase" and return to affordable golf.  More emphasis should be placed on fun and playability.  Golf became strong as an affordable action sport, rather than a slow, waiting game contested in surreal, pristine locations more suited to photo shoots and rich guy bucket list destinations.    

The big PR programs can easily point to a success story every now and then--bless their hearts--but true stabilization can only come from another surge of grass roots golf popularity . . . from every level of our painfully splintered society.

b2454d892ee910df80d0c6d4e31ec24a-.jpegOur research indicates we need another "Caddyshack".

No, not those miserable reboots that were greenlighted by accountants who blindly follow the formula of the pre-built audience, nor the mystical transcendental search for the swing quest movie.  Golf needs another film shot from the viewpoint of the common man*, with some fun and adventure and that all important feeling of inclusion. Something more like Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels".

*If no one else can come up with anything, I offer up my illustrious work, "The Greens of Wrath".  I'll even write the screenplay.  I can promise more explosions, whacko Asst. Supts., screaming crazies, arrogant members, golf pros being punished and cruel practical jokes than 20 "Caddyshacks".

Or we can just wait for the big PR programs, the Pollyanna magazine editors and the driving range disco bars to turn things around.

NOTE:  In the spirit of trying to help, "The Greens of Wrath" will be made available for the next 30 days, just in time for Christmas.  There will be no e-book version, just to irritate the pirates.  Critics are welcome to share their expertise, although you will be asked to show your work.  

Also, before "Tin Cup" and that Sanders film are cited as examples of second wave "Caddyshack", ask yourself how many lines from those films you hear quoted in daily life.





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LOL...good idea golf could stand another shot in the arm, to generate some new interest in the game. Since Arnie has passed and all that he brought to the game a new transfusion is in order.

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Thanks, Mark.

Arnie is the reason my Dad took up golf and that's how I got here.

There was something magic about the supt's son, common man, leading the way into building the modern game.

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