In his April 2014 column for Golf Digest, which you can read in its entirety here, Jerry Tarde mentions the Hackgolf initiative that was introduced at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
“This January, for the first time, we felt a realization that the game needs to change fundamentally or follow the baby-boomer generation into the grave,” wrote Tarde.
The column is actually about multiple land use and whether we can call alternative forms of the game golf, using Foot Golf as an example to make his point.
Many traditionalists would say no, but some would say that soccer-golf hybrid is one way to introduce golf to people who wouldn’t normally have any exposure to it.
Grow the game, in other words.
Yet, one reader summed up the way the other side feels in a comment below Tarde’s column.
“It’s funny…this panic attack over “growing the game” is only coming from those sucking money from golf…the average player doesn’t care,” that reader wrote.
And your point is … ?
Of course, many average players don’t care. Why would they? Golf is a recreation for them and as long as they enjoy themselves, the only financial aspect of the game that concerns them is the greens fees or membership costs they pay.
As for those “sucking money from golf,” it’s their livelihoods, so of course, they care about revenues from those greens fees/memberships, pro shop and food and beverage operations. No apologies necessary.
The realization that golf is participation challenged did not strike suddenly in January when Hackgolf was introduced. Hackgolf was introduced as a result of concern for declining participation that has been around for years.
It could be argued that golf has talked too much and not acted quickly enough to declining participation as opposed to the “panic attack” that the reader suggests the golf industry is experiencing.
At the same time, the future that golf faces is far from apocalyptic. Hyperbole is what we do when discussing such matters, even if the sky isn’t falling.
I agree with those who say that golf will always appeal to a certain segment of the population and will always be a niche sport. The question is does the industry want to keep it that way?
What magnifies the game’s current situation is the way golf was back in the ‘90s.
If you were around back then, you’d go to the PGA Merchandise Show each year and the place was a zoo.
The Golf Channel was in its infancy and there were contemporary golf movies like Tin Cup and Happy Gilmore, with the old favourite Caddyshack still popular. Meanwhile, a young Tiger Woods was making a name for himself.
That’s what made golf “cool,” to use the buzzword, back then, but the industry was noticing signs of it losing that coolness shortly after the turn of the century.
Over the years, we’ve heard doomsday scenarios for sports such as tennis and golf. When I covered the CFL in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the league’s ultimate demise was a common topic of discussion, but it’s still here.
Golf has had cycles of popularity and it isn’t out of the question that another spike in popularity will occur, but is there anything wrong with the industry trying to help that along by identifying ways and acting to appeal to more people?
Those who want to grow the game are divided on how to do that, while the other faction consists of those who want to keep the game the way it is and be a niche sport.
There’s little doubt that the golf industry is a house divided, but having said that, there is no apocalypse coming. It can’t believe that itself and it certainly shouldn’t be presenting that image to the people we’d like to see playing.