“Big Day Out” – Golf Australia 2016

As seen in the June 2016 Edition of Golf Australia Magazine.

“Big Day Out” – Written by Matt Cleary

Chances are you’ve seen it, the cracking bit of shtick by the late, great and ridiculously funny man Robin Williams; the one in which he explains golf in the character of a maniacal, drunken Scotsman. You know the one (and if you don’t then Google is your friend, and you may thank us later). Funniest bit of golf gibber ever.

There he is on stage ripping off that thick Scottish brogue, riffing about his idea for a sport, one in which you whack a ball towards a gopher hole, with a tyre iron, trees and bushes and high grass between you and the target hundreds of yards away.

“Oh, great, oh, and here’s the better part – this is brilliant!” he says. “Right near the end, I’ll put a little flat piece with a little flag to give you hope! But then I’ll put a pool and a sandbox to screw with your ball again! Aye! You’ll be there crashing away, jerking away in the sand – ah-ha!”

“And you do this one time?” Williams asks himself.

“No!” he bellows. “Eighteen f***ing times!”

Brilliant stuff, and there’s been no more eloquent – and virally forwarded, shared and re-Tweeted – piece of commentary on the great game’s challenges and frustrations. And if you’ve ever three- or four- or – oh dear, sweet Ernie Els, no – six-putted, you may have cursed that Scotsman and the torturous size of his gopher hole.

One man wants to change that.

Murray Blair is head professional at Canberra’s Gungahlin Lakes Golf Club and the creator of Big Hole Golf (BHG). It’s golf as we know it but with a hole the size of a dinner plate. There are other ‘tweaks’ to tradition to entice beginners. But the eight-inch (20.3-centimetre) size of the hole (a normal hole diameter is 10.8cm or 4.25 inches) is effectively the nub of it.

“It adds a lot of fun and spice to the game,” says Blair. “You want people having fun. And if they’re one-putting, chipping in, they’re having fun. Why walk off a golf course feeling like you’ve been beaten up? You want people with smiles on their faces.”

Blair has set up a small league which plays Thursday afternoons and says he gets great feedback from juniors, beginners and senior golfers. “And it’s a good option for corporate golf days, which can involve people who’ve never played.”

For we rusted-on members of the “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” brigade, we who have no great truck with the game or the hole’s traditional dimensions, BHG’s theory is that if you already love the game, you’ll love it as much, perhaps even more, when the game is played with a bigger hole. P-p-poppycock? Perhaps. But imagine if the hole was half the size. Would you enjoy golf more if the hole was two inches wide? You would not.

A hole that size could ruin a man. It would certainly force one golfer into the Big Easy Retirement Village…

So if halving the size of the hole would halve the enjoyment, would doubling it double it? Myself and two mates, Mick and Blacky, are on the 1st tee at Gungahlin Lakes to road-test the theory. It’s a bluebird day in our nation’s capital and we’ve been fortified with rib-eye steak and a schooner of Kosciusko Pale Ale (because, as Blacky says, “We’re not savages”) and we talk of our expectations for the nine holes ahead.

“This could be my best ever chance for a hole-in-one,” I muse, and there is nodding. And thus, in the ways of golf kooks everywhere, we discuss whether such an ace would ‘count’ in one’s personal pantheon.

“I’d suggest it would count,” Blacky says. “But with an asterisk that says it’s a Big Hole Golf hole-in-one. You’d still store the trophy in your pool room. But maybe in a sub-pantheon.”

“Yes,” I agree. “And then visitors would ask, ‘What’s that there?’ And you’d say it’s my Big Hole Golf hole-in-one trophy. And then they’d ask, ‘What’s Big Hole Golf?’ And you’d say it’s like golf but the hole’s twice as big.”

And so on. And away we go. And it’s a good deal of fun. We play ‘normal’ golf from tee to green – then get onto the dancefloor and become Jordan Spieth. We attack from everywhere. Thirtyfooter?

Go at it, son! Take out the break. Leave ten feet coming back? No worries! Jam it home! Good as a gimme, that distance, rap that puppy home with authority.

“That would’ve gone in centre-cup in a normal-sized hole,” is something all three of us say more than once after one of us says it first, in the ways of men. We also agree that we will not be giving up golf

to play Big Hole Golf. The expanded-hole game could never substitute the thrill of riding a putt into that 4.25-inch gopher hole. Would chipping in from the fringe be as groovy if you did it every round? No. (Though it would still be quite cool, you must admit.)

Blacky gets philosophical. “This is fun, but is it golf?” he asks.The answer is yes – it is golf. But it’s not real golf. And if you’re a real golfer you won’t be brushing RG for BHG. But then Blair doesn’t want you to. He sells BHG as a fun thing to do on aThursday afternoon. Or as an option for a corporate day with people who don’t play. Or to get kids interested in having a whack. Or as something to play just for the very hell of it.

And if he ever gets his professional tournament idea going (see breakout) he could be BHG’s Chubby Chandler. After nine fun holes we rap in on the last, the three of us completing the go-round in 90 minutes. Admittedly we were pretty much on our own. But we stuffed around taking photos and holding impromptu super-long putt-offs for money. (And that, my friend, is very good fun.) We could have easily played the nine holes in an hour. I have had nine putts and three from the fringe. “You know what?” says Blacky, once we’re back in the bar. “There’s a lot of things that golf needs to change and the size of the hole isn’t necessarily one of them.”

“Dress rules!” asserts Mick.

“Inflexible membership models!” asserts Blacky.

“Both of those things are true,” I offer. “But playing numbers are declining. And to get the kids in, to get lapsed golfers back, to get regulars in for a laugh, for corporate days, or just for something different, there’s a lot to like about it.”