ORLANDO — As the story goes, Jack Nicklaus momentarily lost track of his credentials for the PGA Merchandise Show on Thursday and was told if anybody in the Orange Country Convention Center didn’t know who he was, they were in the wrong business.
Never was a truer word spoken and to illustrate that fact quite nicely was the crowd waiting to hear the Golden Bear throw his support behind the Golf 2.0 “strategic initiative” to attract new players to the game.
The senior statesman, 72, pointed out that golf has lost 23 per cent of women and 36 per cent of kids playing the game since 2006. He admitted that his 22 grandchildren don’t play all that much and that other sports are grabbing their attention.
The waning interest in the game on the part of women and kids are disturbing, but not particularly surprising for it’s something that the industry has known for years as it battles to gain new participants.
One of the things decided by Golf 2.0 is that a golf course needs to be a more welcoming place to these demographics, also something known for years.
Supported by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association, Golf 2.0 has some major backing from the industry.
In all of the rehashing that it did of challenges facing the game on Thursday, the roundtable was dreadfully short on specifics and real solutions.
It’s one thing to say that golf professionals need to be more sensitive to the needs of women and children, but it falls short if it doesn’t become an industry-wide practice and that’s a big obstacle.
All good intentions aside, it’s going to be very difficult to make this happen with many within the industry still clinging to the idea that the core golfer is king of the course and what makes these key customers happy is what makes cash registers ring.
While some professionals may come on board with Golf 2.0, the industry didn’t need Nicklaus to tell them that this was the case, although it clings to his every word and is always up for hearing the Bear talk about loving the game as much as he does.
The reality is that making the golf course a more welcoming place for women and kids goes beyond golf professionals.
Owners and other golf course employees need to be on board as do members/public golfers who often look down on the presence of newcomers.
A common theme of Golf 2.0 is “outside the box thinking,” a good example being Nicklaus using eight-inch holes and a 12-hole club tournament at Muirfield Village last year, but one wonders how many golf course owners are willing to use such methods, at least on a regular basis.
Nicklaus mentioned he is in favour of city parks installing golf holes with synthetic greens at city/town parks to spark interest, but that will depend on each municipality to decide on such things, not those with golf’s best interests in mind.
So, there are two factors that may make Golf 2.0 extremely difficult to implement. One is the attitude within the golf industry towards women, kids and other new players.
The other is the attitude towards golf from outside the game. Is it even on the radar of perspective new players, with the gloomy American economy and other pastimes including everything from Ultimate Fighting to video games and computers?
While the backing of Nicklaus, the PGA of America and the USGA are great to have from a golf perspective, how much do they resonate with women, kids and other new player who may not be familiar with the Golden Bear’s 18 majors?
Golf has an attitude that whatever is important to the game is important to the rest of the world, so while having Nicklaus as ambassador is big from an industry perspective, it also needs someone who can be identified by the target demographics.
One who comes to mind is Justin Timberlake, an avid golfer who has been working closely with Callaway the past couple of years and a guy with mass appeal among younger people who may not be familiar with Nicklaus and all that he’s accomplished.
One positive that came out of Thursday’s press conference was Golf 2.0’s partnership with the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of America, which may eventually bring some of that organization’s four million kids into golf down the road.
However, even with the backing of golf’s big hitters, including slugger Ken Griffey Jr., we’re still talking mostly ideals with 2.0. More specifics on how we’re going to meet this initiative’s goals are required.
Golf 2.0 needs to morph into Golf 3.0 or 4.0 before it can begin to have an impact.