I read with interest this story from the Australian Financial Review in which Greg Norman was quoted as saying the golf industry has to “get our crap together,” and realize that the game can’t rely on the baby boomers for much longer, to which I agree.
The Shark talked about 12-hole courses, pace of play, dress codes, use of social media and turning up the music to entice millennials to take up the game.
I couldn’t help but chuckle about the fact that Norman is the same age as me and if you cranked up the Stones, Eagles or Doobie Brothers, my reaction would be more Rodney Dangerfield than Judge Smails in this scene from Caddyshack.
Then again, somebody one third of my age might react very much like the character played by the late Ted Knight if he or she heard tunes from the ‘70s, just as I might be the stuffed shirt if they flipped on a more contemporary tune.
Different people have different tastes and different opinions on the decibel levels that any tune should be played at, whether it’s on the golf course or not. There’s nothing worse than pulling up beside a car at a stop light that is blaring music you don’t particularly enjoy.
As for the golf course, it’s easy to enjoy your own music just by putting ear buds in from your smart phone if that’s what you want.
It’s been going on for decades. Richard Zokol became “Disco Dick” for his use of a walkman on the golf course, in the early ‘80s, although Zokol admits he’d just as likely be listening to a ball game or the news or his favourite tunes. By the way, Zokol insists he never listened to disco.
So, let’s get past the widely-held belief that baby boomers, particularly at public courses, have their shorts in a knot about change.
The private clubs, however, are their own private domains. The first one I played at stipulated that only Bermuda shorts could be worn on the golf course and if that was the choice of apparel, knee socks had to be worn with them.
I figured that somebody must have warned them beforehand about my chicken legs to have a rule like that, so instead of going with shorts, I wore long pants on a hot day because I wanted to avoid being caught with an outfit like the one they wanted if I chose to don shorts.
As Adam Sandler said in Happy Gilmore, “if I saw myself in clothes like that, I’d have to kick my own ass.”
Luckily, even the private clubs have eased their dress codes since those days and I think most baby boomers at public operations hardly notice if a kid has an untucked shirt or a cap on backwards.
When many boomers were that age, they would have played in cutoffs and a tee shirt, but were also told how to dress, just as they are today, with nobody back in the ‘60s or ‘70s daring to say the game should change.
It goes beyond one generation trying to force its values on another.
The old guys out there now are only a convenient target. It was actually going on long before the boomers arrived on the scene, which is why the game is so slow to change, or as Norman points out, progress “is like Chinese water torture, drip, drip, drip, but you only need to do a couple of successful (12-hole courses) and people will sit up and take notice.”
As far as long and difficult golf courses go, they were the product of the overbuild of the ‘90s and into the last decade, when golf courses opened seemingly every week, most of the high end variety when it was a contest to be bigger and supposedly better.
Add to that the fact that the USGA at the turn of the century was saying vintage golf courses were being made obsolete by equipment technology. The courses weren’t obsolete by most players’ standards, but by high level players such as PGA Tour players, yet how many times in a year did they visit each facility in a year?
I can’t speak for Australia where, according to the article, 50 per cent of golf clubs are in financial distress and 51 per cent have 100 members or less, but here in North America, people appear more aware than ever of the importance of appealing to millennials and are doing something about it.
Phil Mickelson said last week in Calgary that not only will the new Mickelson National be built to host a future RBC Canadian Open, but it will also be built to be family friendly and to offer faster rounds than the traditional 18. I’ll get into that in a blog later this week.
Back in May, I had this discussion with Miles Mortensen, general manager of the new Links at Brunello near Halifax, who points out that it too is set up for rounds shorter than 18, will allow music to be played and denim to be worn, will be family friendly and have more of a social aspect to it.
I’ll catch up with Miles later this week to do an update.
Tom McBroom, who designed Links at Brunello, also tweeted me after reading the Norman article, pointing out that Oviinbyrd, his home club in Ontario cottage country, plays popular music on the practice range and members love it.
Add to that some of the cool golf shoes and apparel now being introduced that will appeal to millennials. Golf boards are among the new means of golf course transportation popping up, although personally, I believe they might be fun at first before people lose interest.
The main thing is that people are realizing the importance of appealing to youngsters, perhaps not at the speed that some would like, but maybe the emergence of young players such as Canadian Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and others, will help speed things along.
It’s been said that there is a coming health care crisis as the baby boomers age and difficult as that may be to admit for someone of that generation, businesses have to prepare for that day, as well.
In golf, it will happen to varying degrees, with one golf course buying in more than the next one down the road. The golf industry is, after all, comprised of individual owners, who will run their businesses as they see fit.
When all is said and done, making golf more attractive to youngsters doesn’t mean that the game has to change for the existing core players.
Traditional 18-hole golf will still be available and hopefully, golf professionals will still be teaching golf course etiquette and other important values, which are more important things to pass along to the next generation than whether or not they need to tuck their shirts in.