Saturday, June 14, 2014

Revisionist Recreation for Retirees

If you’re looking for low-stress recreation, now is a great time to be retiring. Changes that are afoot for golf and chess will make both of these activities more senior-friendly.

Courses around the country are testing revisions aimed at making golf more relaxing for seniors. “Aimed” is the operative word here. Those who are especially unskilled at putting that little white ball into that almost-as-little cup are a key audience for this trend.

The lead to an April N. Y. Times article by Bill Pennington got my attention: “Golf holes the size of pizzas.” Pennington tells us that industry leaders worry about golf “following the baby boomer generation into the grave.” This is not an image I want in my head as I watch golf on Sunday afternoon TV. To re-quote pro Sergio Garcia on the new rules: “A 15-inch hole could help… older golfers score better.” Ya think? And don’t expect me to dig deeper into scoring in a 15-inch hole. You can go there on your own.

Another idea being kicked around is foot golf, using soccer balls, along with those pizza-sized holes. A key objective is to reduce the intimidation many folks feel when confronted with golf’s single set of rules for experts and amateurs alike. What’s the big deal if they have a second set of rules that are more retiree-friendly? It’s not like someone who wants to play just 9 holes with cups that he can actually see without his driving glasses on is going to compete in a PGA sanctioned event.

The TV commentators spend a lot of time discussing a pro’s club selection. I gather they can carry only a limited number of clubs in their bag during a tournament under the current rules. That sounds like an advantage to me. I’d be as confused over which club to use as I would be over which golf shoes to wear with what outfit. Give me just two clubs, but put a different head thingy on each end. If it doesn’t work one way, I’ll turn it upside down and try again.

Speaking of trying again, another idea being floated is to help inept players get out of especially rough spots without levying penalty shots. Mulligans for all! And for every hole. (I used to think a mulligan was a style of golf shoe, by the way.) Just kick it out of that sand hazard. Or better yet, toss it out with your ungloved hand.

Even the PGA is on board with simplifying the game, tradition be damned. But don’t worry, plaid pants and wildly colored shirts will still be de rigueur for tournaments. Well, that’s a relief.

If your participation leans more in the armchair direction, you might be interested in efforts underway to make chess a spectator sport. This tidbit was reported in the Financial Times global section. Andrew Paulson, an entrepreneur with very deep pockets—and loads of patience, apparently—has set off on a crusade to make this happen.

Reporter James Crabtree claims Paulson “plans to infuse chess with… sponsorship deals and… razzmatazz.” As I read this, the strains of the song “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago began playing in my brain. “Give ‘em the old Razzle Dazzle, razzle-dazzle ‘em. Long as you keep 'em way off balance, how can they spot you've got no talents? Razzle-dazzle 'em, and they'll make you a star!”

One piece of so-called razzmatazz would be biometric bracelets worn by the players. They’d track things like heart rate and perspiration level, “giving spectators an instant sense of the stresses faced at the board.” I don’t know about you, but I’m all tingly with anticipation just thinking about this.

Paulson is quoted as saying: “If you can persuade millions to watch golf, chess is going to be an easy sell.” Not so fast, Paulson. If you’d read Pennington’s article, you’d know that golf isn’t such an easy sell anymore, either. Maybe if they add mulligans to chess, we’d get some real excitement. “Oops! You just captured my queen. My bad. I’d like a do-over, thank you.”

Crabtree put his finger on the biggest stumbling block to making chess must-see TV. Sponsors are giving it a wide berth because the man who has run the sport for decades is an eccentric, to put it mildly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that (according to him) aliens once abducted him. On the plus side, they sent him back to earth with the knowledge that they had created the game of chess. You just can’t make this stuff up. Well, maybe you can. But this time I didn’t. Honest.

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