TIME 2014 Election

Vulnerable Democrats Run Away From Obama

Democratic Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes And Senate Minority Leader McConnell Locked In Tight Race
Kentucky's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks at the Fancy Farm picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky. on Aug. 2, 2014. Win McNamee—Getty Images

There's a reason the President isn't often seen on the campaign trail

In Monday night’s one and only debate for the Kentucky Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic challenger refused to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“I have my disagreements with the President,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said. “The President is not on the ballot this year.” She added that it was her “constitutional right for privacy at the ballot box” to decline to name for whom she’d voted.

Though she did so clumsily and has been widely criticized for it, Grimes isn’t the only Democrat seeking a Grand Canyon of distance from Obama this campaign cycle. The President’s approval rating is at 42.6% and his disapproval rating is 10-percentage points higher at 52.3%, according to an average of national polls by Real Clear Politics. And he’s even more unpopular in states where Democrats are locked in tight races for control of the Senate like Kentucky, which he lost in 2012 by 23 points; Alaska, where he lost by 14 points; and Arkansas, which he lost by 24 points.

Democrats are hoping this election won’t be a referendum on the president, as midterm elections so often are. With just days left in the campaign, each race has become a smaller-scale war of parochial issues—most of them on which candidates can easily distance themselves from Obama.

As early as a year ago, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who is warding off a strong challenge in Arkansas, highlighted how he opposed the President’s gun control legislation in his first television ad of the cycle. “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do,” Pryor said in the ad. “I listen to Arkansas.”

On energy, Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska both ran ads distancing themselves from Obama’s positions. “[T]he Administration’s policies are simply wrong on oil and gas production in this nation,” Landrieu said in her spot. Begich bragged that he “took on Obama” to fight for oil drilling in the Arctic and voted against the president’s “trillion-dollar tax increase.”

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said in his first debate with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner that he is the “last person” the Obama Administration wants to see visiting the White House.

And while endangered Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan met Obama on the tarmac in North Carolina in August, going so far as kissing him on the cheek—footage that ended up in campaign commercials against her—she made clear ahead of his trip that she believes his Administration “has not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans.” (Obama was there to deliver a speech on veterans issues.)

Even Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who isn’t up for reelection this cycle, has taken the President out to the woodshed in recent days for not doing enough to protect Americans in the wake of the financial crisis. “They protected Wall Street,” she told Salon in an interview. “Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. And it happened over and over and over.”

Meanwhile, Warren, like former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is proving to be a powerful and popular surrogate these midterms, welcome in places like Kentucky and West Virginia where Obama dare not set foot.

All of which is why Obama’s spending his weekends during the final sprint to the election day golfing, rather than on the campaign trail. He’s done a huge amount of fundraising, but so far only two campaign events for incumbent governors in Illinois and Connecticut. There are a handful of other solid blue states where Obama can help—in his native Hawaii, for example—but First Lady Michelle Obama is much more in demand than he is. Michelle—who has an approval rating of 69%, higher than both Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at the same point in their husband’s presidencies—has campaigned for Senate hopefuls in Michigan and Iowa and a gubernatorial candidate in Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And she’s scheduled to stump for gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist in Florida on Friday, not to mention a bevy of voter registration events in other states.

Running away from an unpopular second-term President is practically becoming a tradition in American politics. Before the 1998 midterm elections, Bill Clinton was plagued by the Monica Lewinsky scandal—though Republican overreach helped his party actually gain seats. And thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush wasn’t very popular with his party in 2006, even before the financial crisis. Republicans lost both chambers of Congress that year.

“It’s a common phenomenon, running against a lame duck president,” says Prof. James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “In the last two years of his Administration, Presidents have tended to be very unpopular, having used up their political capital.”

Still, Obama bears the distinction of being so polarizing that running against him has proven successful for Democrats almost from the moment he was elected. In 2010, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin ran an ad that showed him shooting climate change legislation endorsed by Obama with a gun. That same year Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly ran ads distancing himself from the President. Both men bucked an anti-Democratic wave to get elected to the Senate.

Democrats this year are hoping to repeat their strategy. Grimes ran an ad in September that showed her shooting skeet while declaring: “I’m not Barack Obama.”

Read next: Hey, Mitt Romney Cracked a Good Joke

MONEY The Economy

8 Ways the American Consumer May Have Already Peaked

disposable diapers
Statistics suggest that American consumers may have hit "peak diaper"—for babies anyway. Joseph Pollard—Getty Images

The U.S. economy relies on robust consumer spending. But it's starting to look like Americans have had enough of some products.

Have you heard of “Peak Car”? That’s the idea that there’s a point at which total car ownership and miles driven will start declining. Given the questions about whether or not millennials want cars, as well as data showing that Americans have been driving less for a wide variety of reasons, some analysts believe that we’ve already hit Peak Car in the U.S.

And cars may not be the only thing that’s peaked. Here’s a look at a several seemingly disparate areas where U.S. consumers may be topping out.

Peak Car
The case for this one is controversial. Auto sales have been on the rebound since the Great Recession, sometimes growing by more than one million sales from year to year. After a hot summer for sales, 2014 is on pace for perhaps 16.5 to 17 million new vehicle purchases in the U.S. Then again, after months of heavy promotions and discounting, some experts believe the market is bound to slump toward the end of 2014, and few think that the tally will match the all-time high of 17.4 million sales in 2000.

Globally, some analysts predict that car ownership and usage will peak sometime in the next decade, while the Economist has theorized that Peak Car “still seems quite a long way off” because demand for cars in developing countries is expected to be strong for decades, and also because self-driving features will become mainstream. That means driving will be safer and insurance will cost less, drawing more people onto the roads.

Peak Casino
For years, there’s been talk about reaching a saturation point for casinos, in which gambling expands so widely that too many casinos are chasing the business of the same pool of customers willing to roll the dice and pull the arms of slot machines. The effects of such a situation are on display in Atlantic City, N.J., where one-quarter of the casinos opened at the beginning of 2014 are now closed. Two more casinos in Mississippi closed this year, and analysts are questioning whether markets such as the Baltimore area—which now hosts two casinos, and which has been blamed as a contributor to the falloff in gambling in Atlantic City—are big enough to keep local gaming interests afloat.

New casinos are still planned for Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, yet based on the number of casino closings and data indicating that overall slot revenues in North America are on pace to be down nearly 30% this year, it looks like there are already too many casinos in the marketplace battling to survive. “In many jurisdictions, gaming supply has increased while demand for the product has not, resulting in a state of market disequilibrium,” a post at the asset-based lending site ABL Advisor explained. “There is no simpler way for me to make this point.”

Peak Golf
Between 1986 and 2005, more than 4,500 new golf courses were opened in the U.S., including as many as 400 in a single year. Over the next six years, however, there was a net reduction of 500 courses, with 155 courses closing in 2012. Golf participation and golf sales are likewise plummeting for a variety of reasons: Ppeople are too busy, the sport just might be too hard, too expensive, or too uncool. And projections call for roughly 150 course closings and no more than 20 course openings in the years ahead. In other words, golf most likely peaked in the U.S. in 2005.

Peak Fast Food
The American appetite for pizza appears to have reached an all-time high around 2012, when one survey found that 40% of consumers noshed on pizza at least once a week. The food and beverage consultant firm Technomic noted in early 2014 that pizza consumption has “decreased just slightly over the past two years, likely peaking post-recession due to pizza’s ability to satisfy cravings and meet needs for value.” Foot traffic at Pizza Hut and other quick-serve pizza chains has been on the decline. For that matter, Businessweek recently made the case that the U.S. may also be reaching “Peak Burger.” The growth of franchises for fast food giants such as Burger King and McDonald’s has slowed significantly in recent years, with net openings close to zero.

Data from a new report from the NPD Group indicates that visits to low-cost quick-service restaurants, where the average customer bill is about $5, has been flat over the past year, and for the most part, income inequality and stagnant wages among the middle classes are to blame. “Low-income consumers, who are heavier users of quick service restaurants, were most adversely affected by the Great Recession and have less discretionary income to spend on dining out,” the study explains.

Peak Soda
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group may have together just pledged to reduce calories by 20% in sugary beverages, but the effort appears unlikely to bring American soda consumption back to the heights of a decade or so ago. Per-capita consumption of soda fell 16% between 1998 and 2011, and in 2013, total volume sales of soda was measured at 8.9 billion cases, the lowest total since 1995. Part of the long-term decline has been attributed to Americans wanting to cut calories and have more nutritious diets, but diet soda sales have been tanking lately too.

Peak Fashion
In 1991, the average American purchased 40 garments of clothing annually, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal. Clothing consumption took off from there, reaching an average of 69 articles bought in 2005, which appears to have been the peak. In 2013, American consumers had gotten their clothing purchases down to an average of 63.7 garments per year.

Peak Diapers (for Babies)
The U.S. birth rate declined 8% during the recession-era years 2007 to 2010, and just kept on falling thereafter, reaching a record low (thus far) in 2013. Considering that U.S. births peaked in 2007, it shouldn’t be a surprise that diaper sales in the U.S. have retreated since then as well.

What’s especially interesting is that as baby diaper sales have declined, industry giants like Procter & Gamble have stepped up efforts to sell adult diapers and other incontinence products to make up for the decline at the other end of the market.

Peak Median Income
Lots of these peaks are just challenges for specific industries. But here’s one that might worry any consumer-based business: People can’t spend more if they aren’t earning more.

In 1999, median household income in the U.S. was $56,895 in today’s dollars (after adjusting for inflation), according to census data cited by New York magazine. That was the highest it’s ever been. Lately, the middle-of-the-road household income in America has been $51,939. Given increased automation of the workforce and the rise of income inequality across the board, it may very well be that the median household will never be able to party like it’s 1999.

TIME viral

Watch a Cat Ruin a Game of Mini Golf for Everyone

Seriously. What is it even doing there?

In case you were considering taking your cat for a few holes of mini golf this weekend: Don’t.

In this video making the rounds, a cat actively works to ruin the game for some people just trying to have a good time.

It’s all the proof you need that even if you name your cat Bagger Vance, you still shouldn’t take him to the local putting green. While cats may love the sound of birdies and bogeys, as it turns out, our feline friends struggle to master their golf swing, occasionally mistake the sand trap for a litter box, or use a nine-iron when a wood club is called for. They are also really bad sports. If they can’t play the back nine, no one can.

TIME robin williams

Watch Robin Williams Explain Sports

Robin Williams at the Friars Roast for Whoopi Goldberg at the Hilton Hotel in New York City on October 7, 1993.
Robin Williams at the Friars Roast for Whoopi Goldberg at the Hilton Hotel in New York City on October 7, 1993. Walter McBride—Corbis

The late comic went on memorable riffs about golf, baseball, and other games

No one tackled the absurdity of sports quite like Robin Williams. Here’s the comic legend riffing on golf, baseball and other games during his stand-up routines.

(Warning: Lots of NSFW stuff here).

Golf

Oh, so that’s why the shots are called strokes.

The Winter Olympics

Put on a glove, man.

Football

What happens when Tom Landry coaches ballet, and a choreographer coaches football?

Soccer

Williams’ take on flopping and yellow cards, with a detour to Lance Armstrong — pre-PED scandal — and hockey.

Baseball

Baseball had a cocaine problem in the 1980s, and the third-base coach wasn’t helping.

TIME White House

The Story Behind President Obama’s Custom Golf Balls

Not all golf balls are created equal when the President tees up for a foursome

Golfing at the tony Congressional Country Club this weekend, President Barack Obama shanked a ball off the first tee into the woods, providing a similarly unlucky player with a keepsake souvenir—a personalized presidential golf ball.

Dallas resident Pace Doherty found the president’s ball on Sunday, a day after the duffer-in-chief hit the links with aide Marvin Nicholson and ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. The Titleist balls were personalized with Obama’s official nicknames, with the word “POTUS” on one side and the number “44” on the other. (Obama is the 44th President of the United States, and POTUS is the quasi-official acronym for his job title.)

A source familiar with the president’s golfing confirmed that Obama personally pays for the golf balls, which retail for $57.99 a dozen, or about $10 more than a non-customized set.

Doherty posted a photo of the custom golf ball on Instagram.

Titleist spokesman Eric Soderstrom identified the ball as from the company’s signature Pro V1 line, currently played by 2013 Green Jacket winner Adam Scott. “We have been supplying golf balls to golfing presidents for many years,” he said Monday. “It is harder than you think to stamp perfectly on a round sphere with dimples in it.”

In his definitive tome on presidential golfing, First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush, ESPN reporter Don Van Natta, Jr. records former President Richard Nixon playing with custom golf balls featuring his signature and the presidential seal. Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all had golf balls featuring their signatures as well.

Presidential golf balls and boxes, 1970-92.
Presidential golf balls and boxes signed by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Sarah Fabian-Baddiel—Heritage Images/Getty Images

The golf ball in question differs slightly in design from Obama’s first presidential model, also a Pro V1. The initial version featured the “44” with the presidential seal on the opposite side. Titleist sold Obama those balls in a custom half-dozen box emblazoned with the presidential seal.

As recently as 2010, double-digit play numbers were reserved for the commander in chief alone, requiring the company to make special modifications to its processing line. But no longer. The company upgraded its manufacturing systems to allow anyone to print double-digit play numbers. Custom Pro V1 golf balls monogrammed with a “44” and “POTUS” like Obama’s retail for $57.99 on the website Golfsmith.com.

Amazon.com sells the monogram-free stock dozen Pro V1 golf balls for $47.95.

 

 

 

MONEY

10 Things Americans Have Suddenly Stopped Buying

Popping bubble gum
Ross Culshaw—Getty Images

America is just not the clean-shaven, gun-buying, soda-drinking, Chef Boyardee-eating place it used to be

For a variety of reasons—including but not limited to increased health consciousness, the harried pace of modern-day life, and plain old shifting consumer preferences,—Americans have scaled back on purchases of many items, sometimes drastically so. Here’s a top 10 list of things we’re not buying anymore, at least not anywhere near as frequently as we used to.

Cereal
In one recent four-week period, cereal sales were down 7%, and cereal giant Kellogg’s sales decreased 10%. The reasons for cereal’s declining dominance at the breakfast table are many. As the Wall Street Journal reported, consumers are more apt nowadays to turn to yogurt or fast food in the morning, and they’re less likely to have time to eat breakfast at home at all—not even if it’s a simple bowl of cereal.

Consumers also want their breakfast to pack more punch, protein-wise. “We are competing with quick-serve restaurants more, but the bigger driver is that people want more protein,” Kellogg CEO John Bryant told the Journal. It’s no coincidence that milk sales have been falling alongside cereal, with cow’s milk struggling especially due to the rise of alternatives like soy and almond milk. (Sales of yet another breakfast-at-home staple, orange juice, have plummeted 40% since the late 1990s.)

To try to put cereal back on the spoon of more breakfast eaters, food makers have been resorting to all manner of gimmicks, including the promoting of new higher-protein cereals, as well as the idea that cereal is a great late-night snack rather than just a breakfast-time basic.

Soda
The crash of soda—diet soda in particular—has been years in the making, with consumers increasingly turning to energy drinks, flavored water, and other beverages instead of the old carbonated caffeine drink of choice. The latest Wall Street report from Coca-Cola showed that the soda giant missed estimates, partly because sales of Diet Coke in North America fell in the “mid-single digits.”

(MORE: 10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On)

While a lot of soda’s slump can be attributed to shifting consumer preferences—more organic, less sugar—the broader war on soda involving taxes and big-beverage bans must factor in too. And if First Lady Michelle Obama has any say in things, the decline of soda is a trend that’ll continue: Her ongoing “Drink Up” campaign encourages kids to consume more water—and, consequently, less soda.

Gum
Likely due to heightened competition from mints and candies, chewing gum sales have dipped 11% over the past four years, the Associated Press reported. The editorial board of the News Tribune of Washington state, for one, weighed in that it is wonderful that gum sales are down in the gutter, sniffing, “Gum-chewing doesn’t do us any favors, making us look like cows chewing our cud. For humans, that’s not a good look.”

Guns
Gun sales have been booming in recent years, with sales periodically juiced when perceived anti-gun politicians enter office or a high-profile mass shooting takes place, prompting consumers to seek guns for protection—or just out of fear they won’t be able to buy them in the future because tougher gun regulations might be passed.

Lately, however, gun sales have fallen, sometimes sharply. The big reasons why this is so seem to be that there’s little in the way of likely gun control for gun enthusiasts to motivate new purchases, and also that everyone who has wanted to buy a gun in the past couple of years has already bought one (or seven). In the first quarter of 2014, the guns-and-ammo-focused Sportsman’s Warehouse retail chain saw comparable stores sales drop 18%, while gun sales at Cabela’s fell 22%.

But a little perspective is necessary. While guns sales and background checks are down compared to the past couple of years, they remain far above the levels of the early ’00s. As gun industry experts have put it, the decline probably just represents a “returning to normal” for gun sales—which aren’t as strong as they once were, but are still very strong nonetheless.

Cupcakes
Well, it looks like many of us at least have stopped buying the pricey “gourmet” variety of cupcakes. That’s the conclusion to be drawn with the collapse of Crumbs, the 65-store chain that shut down abruptly in early July. The news was widely interpreted as a sign that the gourmet cupcake trend is officially dead.

Chef Boyardee
ConAgra recently issued a warning to Wall Street that its consumer food volume experienced a 7% decline, and that it faced “continued profit challenges” due to some of its flagging, tired products—in particular, Chef Boyardee, the 86-year-old canned pasta brand.

Golf Gear
It’s not surprising that going hand in hand with fewer people playing golf, there are also fewer golf purchases being rung up at sporting goods store registers. The most notable eye-opener occurred this past spring, when Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that its golf equipment sales were down around 10%, at the same time the average driver was selling at a price of 16% less.

(MORE: Could Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?)

Razors
Beard-loving hipsters were blamed for the decline in razor sales last summer, and in 2014, razor giants like Procter and Gamble (owner of Gillette) has continued to blame poor sales on the trendiness of beards. Everything from the shaggy beards worn by the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, to month-long no-shave “challenges” like Movember and Decembeard have been cited as reasons why guys have scaled back on razor purchases. In response, marketers have introduced even more varieties of new high-tech razors, while also pushing the concept of “manscaping,” with special razors designed just for the task. The hope is that even if men aren’t shaving their faces, they might still shave one or several other parts of their bodies.

Bread
According to one survey, 56% of American shoppers said they are cutting back on white bread. White bread was surpassed in sales by wheat bread sometime around 2006, but in recent years the gluten-free trend has hurt sales of all breads. Sales are even down in European countries like baguette-loving France, where consumption is down 10%. In American restaurants, meanwhile, there’s an epidemic of free bread disappearing from tables, as fewer owners want to bear the expense of putting out free rolls and other breads that no one is going to eat.

Convertibles
The fun-loving, wind-in-your-hair thrill of driving in a convertible just hasn’t been enough to keep consumers buying the classic ragtop in strong numbers. Businessweek noted that convertible sales have fallen 44% since 2004, and automakers have been significantly scaling back the number of models that are even offered in convertible form. Apparently, too many consumers see convertibles as impractical, and/or not worth the $5,000 or so premium one must pay compared to the regular model.

Data recently released from Experian Automotive indicates that the convertible is largely now a toy purchased by the rich. Nearly 1 in 5 convertible buyers have household incomes of at least $175,000 (compared to 11% of buyers of all cars), and 12% of convertible buyers own homes valued over $1 million (compared to 4% of buyers of other cars). For what it’s worth, convertible drivers are also better educated than the average car owner (50% of convertible buyers have at least a bachelor’s degree, versus 38% overall), and nearly one-quarter of all convertibles are now purchased in three sunny states with ample coastlines: California, Florida, and Texas.

Related:

10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 14 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From inflatable toads to Taiwanese "frog men," here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

MONEY Sports

Could 25-Year-Old Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy after winning the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. Scott Heppell—AP

He was the consensus choice as golf's "next big thing" even before winning the British Open over the weekend.

As a sport and a business, golf is stuck in a proverbial sand trap, probably the deepest and most difficult one ever encountered by the industry. Player numbers are on the decline, especially among young people, and golf course closings in the U.S. are trumping golf course openings by a stunning ratio of nearly 10 to 1.

There is some hope, however, that golf will experience a renaissance, even among kids who are now too accustomed to instant gratification and too distracted by smartphones and social media to bother venturing outside to play baseball or go for a hike, let alone try their hands at the time-consuming, frustrating “old person’s sport” of golf. And one of the big reasons for this optimism is that today’s most exciting players also happen to be kids, and none more exciting than Rory McIlroy, the 25-year-old winner of the 2014 British Open.

OK, so a 25-year-old isn’t exactly a child. But he’s a kid compared with the prototypical gray-haired, 50-something golfer out on the links. And his success couldn’t come at a better time. McIlroy is part of a much-needed youth movement in golf, notes Jim Frank, a contributing editor to Links Magazine who has covered the sport for three decades. Joined by emerging superstars Rickie Fowler, who is also 25 and is known for cool clothes and shaggy Bieber-like hair, and incredibly talented young female golfers like Lexi Thompson (19) and Lydia Ko (all of 17), McIlroy is seen as a fresh injection of energy, excitement, and—dare we say it?—perhaps even hipness into the sport.

“He supposedly took the first selfie of a British Open winner,” said Frank. Hey, that’s gotta count for something.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of McIlroy and the rest of the youth movement—besides their unwrinkled, photogenic faces and a generally cooler appearance compared with the usual grandpas on the links—is that they’re changing the perception of how to play golf and when one tends to peak in the sport. “In the past, the assumption was that you didn’t really hit your stride until your 30s, after you’ve worked out the kinks in your game,” said Frank. “Today’s young players are really powerful, they wrench their backs and really hit the ball hard. And they’ve been playing so long that by the time they’re in the late teens and early 20s, they can dominate.” (They can also get injured; just look at how Tiger Woods’s body has fared in recent years.)

Nonetheless, the excitement, power, and youth that McIlroy and his peers bring to the game has to be good for golf, right? Sure, to some extent. But Frank believes it will take more than one charismatic, curly-haired Irishman to turn the tide.

“Are 14-year-olds sitting in front of a TV on a Sunday morning at 10 o’clock watching Rory McIlroy?” Frank said. The answer, of course, is no. While some parts of the golf world are trying to make changes to become more appealing to younger players and families, Frank believes that some retrenchment is still needed, and that the sport will always remain a niche activity, and one that always skews older.

When people in the business talk about rejuvenating the sport, they sometimes ask, “What’s the snowboarding of golf?” said Frank. “Snowboarding brought young people back to the mountains, and it helped save skiing.” Unfortunately, because a sizeable faction of the golf world has no interest in changing the game or doing much of anything to appeal to younger people, “there may not be an equivalent of snowboarding. But that’s the way we have to think of it.”

The big irony, Frank said, is that right now, when golf seems to be struggling so mightily in its attempts to attract new players to the game, there has never been a better time to play. “The equipment has never been better, and there’s great value for what you can buy fairly cheaply,” said Frank. “You can get on almost any golf course in the world, or join almost any club if you want. There are no lines, and there aren’t people behind you telling you to play faster.”

TIME golf

Rory Mcllroy’s Dad Wins $85,000 Bet on Son’s British Open Win

In 2004, Gerry Mcllroy bet his son would win the British Open before he turned 26, at odds of 500-1

Rory Mcllroy’s dad Gerry won over $85,000 from a bet he made in 2004 that his son, then 15, would win the British Open within the next 10 years.

The elder Mcllroy bet 200 pounds ($341) in 2004 that his son would win the British Open by the age of 25 at odds of 500-1, the BBC reports. Rory Mcllroy won the golfing tournament by two shots on Sunday. The bet was made through bookmaker Ladbrokes.

“Nine out of 10 times, these bets come to nothing, but on this occasion the punters definitely knew more than we did,” said Jessica Bridge, spokeswoman for bookmaker Ladbrokes. “And we can only doff our cap to their confidence and foresight.”

[BBC]

MONEY Sports

Tiger’s Back—But Golf Is Still In a Hole

digging golf ball out of bunker
Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

Tiger Woods has finally returned from injury and is playing the British Open this weekend. But is he back in time to save his sport from irrelevancy?

Tiger Woods is back on the course at the British Open this weekend, his first major tournament in nearly a year. Though he took home the trophy the last time it was played at Royal Liverpool, in 2006, he’s facing a tougher challenge this time, starting Saturday’s round 14 shots behind leader Rory McIlroy.

A Tiger on the hunt is always good for television ratings, but even the return of golf’s highest-profile player may not be enough to blast the sport out of its current hole. Golfer numbers are down. Golf equipment sales have been tanking. The number of golf courses closing annually is supposed to dwarf the number of new courses opening for years to come. “We really don’t know what the bottom is in golf,” Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack said in a conference call in June, attempting to explain why golf gear sales have fallen off a cliff. “We anticipated softness, but instead we saw significant decline. We underestimated how significant a decline this would be.”

What accounts for golf’s present rough patch? Here are a handful of reasons, including the curious case of Woods himself.

People are too damn busy. When someone asks how you’re doing, the response among working professionals and working parents especially is probably a kneejerk “crazy busy.” Studies show that leisure time has shrunk for both sexes, and that dads are doing more work around the house, though moms still devote more time to chores and childcare than their spouses. A so-called “leisure gap” still exists between mothers and fathers, and while dads tend to enjoy an extra hour per day of free time on weekends, they’re more likely to be watching TV than hitting the links. Fathers spend an average of 2.6 hours per week participating in sports (compared to 1.4 hours for mothers), which isn’t nearly enough time to play 18 holes.

As new dad Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal put it recently, speaking for dads—all parents, really—everywhere, “It is more likely I will become the next prime minister of Belgium than it is that I will find 4½ hours on a weekend to go play golf.”

A year ago, golf groups launched a “Time for Nine” campaign, pushing the idea that, because so many people can’t find the time for 18 holes, it’s acceptable to play a mere nine holes. The problem is that it looks like people don’t have time for nine holes either, lately.

It’s elitist and too expensive. There are plenty of ways to save money on golf, including booking discounted, off-peak tee times and finding deals on equipment. So golf can be affordable.

It’s just that, by and large, the sport has a well-deserved reputation for being pricey—think $400 drivers, $250,000 club “initiation” fees, and too many gadgets to mention. The snooty factor goes hand in hand with the astronomical prices and atmosphere on the typical course. As USA Today columnist Christine Brennan cautioned recently, unless the sport figures out a way to change course, “Golf is destined to continue to hemorrhage participants and further ensure its place as a mostly-white, suburban, rich men’s niche sport with plenty of TV sponsors who make cars, write insurance and invest money.”

It’s just not cool. In 2009, Jack Nicklaus lamented, “Kids just don’t play golf any more in the United States and it is sad.”

American kids today seem to be nearly as overscheduled as their parents. And like their parents, tweens and teens probably don’t have the time to regularly play 18 holes, what with soccer practice, saxophone lessons, and coding classes to attend to. Even if kids had more time, would they want to spend it playing an “old man sport”? When iPhones and tablets and Xboxes and Instagram are drawing their attention?

Among the suggestions offered by Golf Digest to increase participation in the sport, columnist Ron Sirak recommended that the USGA should fund caddie programs, and that private clubs should give four-year “scholarships” to junior players, with free lessons and playing privileges.

It’s too difficult. Pretty much every other sport on the planet is more immediately rewarding than golf. Take a snowboard lesson in the morning, and by afternoon, you can make a few turns down the bunny trail without falling (much). Golf is renowned not only for being frustratingly difficult for beginners, but even longtime players “enjoy” it as a frustratingly difficult hobby.

“The deep appeal of golf, once you get hooked, is that it’s difficult,” John Paul Newport, golf columnist for the Wall Street Journal, told NPR in May. “Normally when you play a round of golf, you step onto the green and that’s when all the intense stress starts. You know, this tiny little hole, you have to look at putts from many ways, you hit it a few feet past and you add up strokes quickly around the green.”

Newport was discussing a new golfing option involving 15-inch cups, a system created to make the game much easier and approachable, particularly for beginners. But don’t expect to see it anytime soon. In the description to Golf Is Dying. Does Anybody Care? author Pat Gallagher points to golf’s “resistance to productive change” as a big reason why participation has slumped dramatically. “While other sports have embraced new technology and innovation with open arms, traditionalists strive to protect the game of golf and keep it exactly as they love it—even in the face of suffering courses and shrinking audiences.”

Tiger Woods. Skeptics insist that golf isn’t dying. Not by a long shot. The sport’s popularity, they say, is merely taking a natural dip after soaring to unjustified heights during the “golf bubble” brought on by the worldwide phenomenon that was Woods. After the infidelity scandals and, more recently, poor play and loads of injuries from Woods, fewer people are watching golf on TV, buying golf gear in stores, and, you know, actually going out and playing golf.

So perhaps it’s not so much that golf is losing favor with the masses today as it is that golf’s widespread popularity a decade or so ago was something of a fluke. The decline in golf, then, would basically be the return of golf’s status as a niche game. “Golf courses were overbuilt, saturating major cities and secondary markets with ridiculous golf hole per capita ratios,” golf blogger David Hill wrote in a manifesto on why the sport, in fact, isn’t dying. “Tiger’s decline from Teflon coated Superhero to mere great golfer precipitated the bursting of the golf bubble. It’s as simple as that.”

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