YouGov 'boring' poll is nonsense but proves golf's image problems endure

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If events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s this: don’t trust a YouGov poll.

For a supposed leader in market research and data analysts, it doesn’t half get stuff regularly and startlingly wrong.

It had the result of the Scottish independence referendum coming down in favour of a ‘Yes’ outcome by as much as 2%. In the event, ‘No’ won with more than 55% of the vote.

The day before the country went to the polls to decide on Brexit, the firm’s former president predicted that ‘Remain’ would win by 8.5%. Hours later, he was admitting that the result was ‘embarrassing for me’.

It also had the Conservatives and Labour deadlocked ahead of the 2015 General Election, predicted that Donald Trump would lose the race for the White House in 2016, and estimated that Theresa May would increase her party’s majority in last year’s UK General Election.

Imagine playing heads and tails and getting it consistently wrong. Worse, imagine playing heads and tails, claiming to have verifiable evidence that the outcome will be ‘X’, only for it to consistently be ‘Y’.

So, when YouGov today released results of research into the UK’s most boring sport, it’s fair to say I took it with a pinch of salt. Golf, lo and behold, came out top in the survey of a <sarcasmfont> whopping </sarcasmfont> 1,616 Britons.

According to 70% of respondents, golf is either ‘boring’ or ‘very boring’ to watch. Only 11% reckon it’s exciting.

American Football is apparently the next most boring sport, followed by cricket, darts and snooker. The most popular, evidently, is athletics, closely followed by tennis and, weirdly, gymnastics. One can only assume that those polled included the families of Louis Smith, Max Whitlock and Beth Tweddle…

Let’s be honest: it’s probably a load of nonsense designed with the purpose of getting people talking and, more specifically, talking about YouGov. As a marketing exercise, it’s smart but you’ll excuse Martin Slumbers if he doesn’t go ringing the panic bell at R&A HQ. 

That’s not to say we should completely disregard this latest example of that which we already know: that golf continues to be plagued by image problems. 

If it’s not stuffy, it’s sexist. If it’s not sexist, it’s expensive. If it’s not expensive, it’s too time-consuming. If it’s not too time-consuming… you get the picture.

By now, most people are aware of the sport’s issues. That's no longer the problem. The problem, instead, is how we go about tackling them.

Bluntly, we’re lacking a clearly defined consensus on the best way forward. There’s no shortage of ideas, from shorter courses, to nine-hole events, to shot clocks, to more matchplay tournaments, to relaxed dress codes, to SpeedGolf and more, each and every one them branded ‘innovative’ and the ‘future of the game’.

What’s missing is a coordinated, joined-up-approach. It appears nobody has thought to sit down and agree on the best way forward. Bring all the main bodies in the game together – the R&A, the USGA, the LPGA, the Professional Golfers’ Association, the PGA of America, the International Golf Federation and so on – and have a meeting of minds dedicated to thoroughly mapping out the game’s future. Not talking about the issues; instead, addressing and fixing them. We’re essentially talking about a G8 summit for golf.

Realistically, of course, there’s very little chance of that happening, let alone a blueprint for best practice being formed. There are too many vested interests in play and too many compromises required for a universal common ground to be established. 

So, what do we do? To me, it’s pretty simple: leave the game not as we found it but as a better reflection of the times and society. We can each do that, starting by loosening the grip on out-dated traditions, showing a little courtesy to our fellow players and would-be players, and by refusing to stand in the way of progress just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

The best way to affect to change is to be the change you want to see.

Enough of us do that and the game will inevitably be better off and decidedly, unequivocally, not boring. 

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