The Future of Golf?

Ok, a fairly dramatic title for a post, but lets think about this for a minute from a golf professional point of view, then get a little more personal:

The PGA of America and the LPGA both have the philosophy and core vision of “growing the game”. It’s a buzz phrase and its vital to the health of the game we love. But what does it actually mean? Golf 20/20, Golf 2.0 and other initiatives like Tee it Forward and Play Golf America are national programs launched and pushed down to local levels to varying success. How can local Golf Professionals be more productive and successful in growing the game?

Well, statistics show that there are fewer “avid” golfers now than in the past (golfers who play 25+ rounds per year). Not as many people are trying the game for the first time, and of those who do, don’t stick with it. And that means fewer players in an economy that is not quite stable, and players with disposable income levels that may be flat to down. Golf courses are either closing or changing their membership levels and strategy (depends upon where you live in the United States). Private clubs may go to a public fee structure. Golf course management companies are putting more courses in their portfolios and finding success, so you see contraction in the number of courses, and that changes the competitive landscape. Time is a commodity. The game is hard, and it takes a while to develop skills. But it’s not impossible, is it?

New technologies play a role here. The golf industry is not the nimblest nor the most aggressive at being the “early adopters” of resources. PGA/LPGA instructors may love to use launch monitors and other software programs to teach, but how many are active on platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn or perhaps Foursquare for their facilities? How are golf facilities actively promoting the game and their courses? Do facilities have a mobile/digital strategy in place? Still sending coupons through the mail? Do you know the makeup of your customer base? Where are players coming from, and what can you do to find new players? What type of junior development program do you have in place?

I’m hoping I know where one new player is coming from in the next few years, and she lives in my house. My six year old daughter seems to have an interest in the game. She asks to go hit balls. I think she actually likes to (try) to carry her bag. I credit Indian Valley CC PGA Head Professional Joey Pohle and his staff for conducting a fun-centric golf camp and series of clinics this past summer. Riley and my other daughter Sydney took part in them and each enjoyed being with kids their own age, learning about the game, interacting with the golf staff, but most of all, having fun.

As a parent (and PGA Pro), I’m thrilled when one of my girls asks, “Daddy, can we go practice?” And the best thing I can do with them at this age is say “sure”. And then take the teacher hat off and put the daddy hat on and just play and have fun. The most teaching I’m doing is making sure she puts her hands on the club in a decent way. Then let her swing away. I’ll let Joey and his staff handle any instruction in a few years if it gets to that point. But I know that right now, I’m developing a love of the game at an early age. And a time to spend with my daughter(s). And help them discover something I love. And maybe, just maybe….they will become the future of the game.

By the way, the best part of a practice session with Riley? The putting contest after whacking a bunch of balls. There is nothing better than watching a six year old drain a 30 footer, then say, “Can we play some more?”

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