'That's a good question," said just about all of the top area professional and amateur golfers who, while gathered on Long Island this week for the Met Open, were asked to name the one thing that should be done to help the game of golf.
All of the entrants in the season's last big local championship, which concludes today at Old Westbury Golf & Country Club, love the game and would like to see more people share the feeling.
They also know that golf, as a sport and an industry, has been flagging in recent years, for many reasons.
So there was not one clear answer to the question of what to do about it. But there were a lot of interesting ones -- usually after a pause for reflection.
"It would be something to do with the time it takes to play," said Mike Meehan, the host pro for the Met Open. "You think about public golf, a guy who wants to play Bethpage. That's his whole day."
Old Westbury recently held a women's tournament in which tees were moved up so that every hole was a par 3. "They loved it. The first group finished in 3 hours, 10 minutes," Meehan said. "Is the answer 12-hole golf? If people could know that it would take only three hours, I think you'd really be on to something."
Bob Rittberger, head pro at Garden City Golf Club, agreed that time seems to be the "overwhelming" challenge.
Mark Brown, head pro at the Tam O'Shanter Club, said, "I just think people playing from the right tee markers would be the best thing. I see people try to stretch it out. I tell my members, 'When you start shooting 72, that's when you should move back.' People are playing from the wrong markers, which leads to bad scores and slow rounds."
Rob Labritz, who, like Brown, recently competed in the PGA Championship, said, "Golf needs ambassadors, good players and good people, who can spread the word of the game. Young guys, good dressers."
One of the younger players in the Met Open, amateur Jim Liu of Smithtown, evoked tradition. "Just go back to the basics," said the golfer who will leave soon for his freshman year at Stanford. "A lot of things are just getting out of hand, like calling in on rulings. There's a controversy over the belly putter. When I first started to play the game, there was no real controversy surrounding the game at all. I'd say, 'Just go back to playing.' "
The equipment boom was cited by Paul Dickinson, assistant pro at Montauk Downs. "The ball is just going too far," he said. "I had a guy who took a lesson from me, he's from Jupiter Hills down in Florida. He said Keegan Bradley comes to his driving range just to be able to hit drivers because he hits it 350 and he can't hit driver at many ranges. There's something wrong with that, isn't there?"
Kate Keller, an official for the host Metropolitan Golf Association, said the sport will have a great future if it can make itself more inviting to a vast underserved market. "It's staggering, how intimidated women are to come out and play golf," she said, adding that even though she has a job in golf and is from a golf family, she often feels pressure because she is a 33 handicap.
Darrell Kestner, director of golf at Deepdale and the dean of local pros, summed it up by saying, "I think golf needs families to be able to come out and zip around in 3½ hours. And keep it fun."
Blanca's House and the Long Island Chapter of the National Ice Hockey Officials Association will hold their second annual golf outing Saturday at Spring Lake Golf Club, Middle Island. Visit www.blancashouse.com.