On the heels of my previous blog about growing the game through people who don’t give a damn, I was editing a contribution by Kevin Thistle, who is excited about the Coppinwood operation where he works getting involved with Golf Canada’s national Golf in Schools program.
I’ll let Kevin tell that story because I thought it would be good to run that article with this one, so drop by Kevin’s Blog for a read as well.
The Golf in Schools program is planted in good intentions on the part of Golf Canada. The plan is to introduce the game to kids through the physical education curriculums in their schools, just like basketball, lacrosse or even dodge ball.
From an industry perspective, we should all be in support of planting the seed to sprout new golfers, but the long-term question is, and it’s this way in any sport, does it do enough to hold that student’s interest in the game past graduation?
How many high school basketball or football players continued playing their games beyond high school? As it is with golf, some elite players may carry on if they land a scholarship in the U.S. or play in Canadian colleges, but in most cases, the desire to play starts to sputter due to school, careers and starting families.
Golf in Schools, to its credit, has a component for field trips to local golf facilities and information on how to enroll in a junior program, but actually playing the game with some regularity is critical to maintain the interest that was sparked in something such as the Golf in Schools program.
Enter the golf industry which, over the years, hasn’t been exactly welcoming to youngsters as a whole, but may need to become so considering the number of golf courses going into receivership these days or the generally accepted theory that participation is stagnating or decreasing.
If golf is the game for a lifetime, as we often like to bill it, how do we keep children who may have had an interest for golf in the game at one time? In the new world of options in both sports and entertainment, it won’t be easy.
Like Kevin, I grew up in a family that didn’t play golf and got involved in my teens through friends who had grown up with it. Working part time, we would save $20 and get lost for four hours once every couple of weeks on public courses that were just happy to get the money.
Back then, of course, we may have watched Laugh In or Happy Days on television, but I don’t know if we had the options available today that golf would have been a priority. All I know at this stage is that I’m glad it was something we enjoyed in the 1970s.
There are others who grew up differently. I smile whenever I hear Mike Weir talking about simpler times back at Huron Oaks in Bright’s Grove, where he played plenty of golf, but also hung out with buddies and even got into some not so serious mischief with the game becoming an important foundation for his life.
Weir was a golf course rat, the game’s equivalent of hockey’s rink rat, in that golf became part of his life. The game needs more of them, but can we multiply golf course rats in today’s society?
This is where the theme of the previous blog – going to people who don’t give a damn about the game – enters into it. Our first reaction is that we must look after the core golfers first and that’s legitimate since they’re a regular source of revenue for a golf operation.
Only operators can decide for themselves, but in many cases, there are still plenty of empty tee times, so the core golfers, as valuable as they are, aren’t filling the tee sheets, particularly at public facilities.
Many operators will look at the proliferation of golf course rats and say first that they’ll be a pain and, secondly, while growing the game is great for 20 years down the road when they may or may not be around, it does nothing to solve the issue at hand right now.
It should be remembered, however, that with each potential golf course rat, there’s a mom and a dad and maybe a brother or sister, which could mean revenue now if packaged properly.
Even if you are a public facility, can you offer a private club atmosphere by opening your doors to families, even on weeknights when it’s traditionally slow? Would a nine hole special with hot dog and a Coke for families sell with families as the target of your marketing?
This would go beyond just another special. At the gym I go to, they have a daycare that many women use. They’ve become quite common place, but I rarely see them in golf. If you offer family golf, even if just once a week, could a daycare be established for that time, so mom can play as well?
Not only might mom take an interest and tell her friends, but the child in daycare might wonder what his or her parents are doing out on the golf course and maybe take an interest in the game?
For the wives who don’t play the game, could wine-tastings or dinners be set up to allow them to establish friendships while the rest of the family is out playing golf? All of these are potential revenue sources in the present, with the added bonus of being able to grow the game for the future.
At the same time during these family moments, it might be a good idea for public courses to ease up a bit on their dress codes for kids and not get bent out of shape over a backward hat, untucked shirt or cargo shorts.
One of the places to start, if you see the need for establishing family golf, is on golf course websites, which I’ve found in my web surfing are woefully lacking in FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) information that newbies may look for to ease the intimidation of starting off in golf.
It’s that intimidation factor that turns many people away from the game and, like it or not, the custodians of the game need to accept it and deal with it in whatever way they can. Injecting a family atmosphere into the game would help in this regard, but obviously, isn’t the only answer because there’s no quick fix.
All we have is the realization that we have to go beyond the traditional in order to deal with a changing world and, as we’ve already said, go to people who don’t give a damn about golf and change their minds about the game.