SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Golf icon Jack Nicklaus on Monday suggested major changes to the current state of the sport, saying it's alienating the average golfer and certain demographics.
"I believe that the game of golf needs help," Nicklaus said. "The game takes too long to play, it's relatively expensive and it's too difficult. There's a lot of things that could happen."
Speaking to members at the Desert Mountain Club, where he designed all six golf courses, to promote next year's Charles Schwab Cup Championship, Nicklaus cited significant declines in female and junior golfers in the past five years to display the waning interest in the game.
Since 2006, Nicklaus noted, the female golf demographic has declined about 23 percent roughly 2 million golfers while the junior demographic has seen a drop of about 34 percent, about 1.3 million.
Nicklaus, 71, said the biggest problem today is that the average golfer can no longer do the things professional golfers do.
"I think it's really important that the average golfer relates to the golf pros," Nicklaus said. "He always wants to be able to play like the pros, and today I don't think you can."
Nicklaus said golf balls used since the "Big Dimple" ball, which has a higher trajectory, was introduced by Titleist in the 1970s make it harder for the average golfer to drive the ball like professional golfers do. That, he said, has made people enjoy the game less and lose interest.
Nicklaus, who won a record 18 major championships in 25 years on the PGA Tour, is working with the Tour to determine ways to interest young golfers in particular.
"We need to bring people into the game and we need to keep them in the game," Nicklaus said. "We need to think out of the box."
As for particular ways to address his criticisms, Nicklaus said he has used tournaments to test stroke penalties for slow play and larger holes eight inches instead of four. Those measures, he said, were well received.
Nicklaus knows the "core" golfers resist changes to the game and admitted he has always been a bit of a traditionalist, but knows that golf requires some tweaking to sustain relevance and start growing again.
"I've always believed that the game should be played a certain way and played by the rules and so forth," Nicklaus said. "That's just not working anymore."