In conversations I’ve had since writing this blog earlier this week and in stories I’ve read since then, there has been plenty of talk about new initiatives to help grow the game, the trigger being the introduction of Hack Golf at last week’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
The involvement of TaylorMade president Mark King, PGA of America president Ted Bishop, National Golf Foundation CEO Joe Beditz and business management consultant Gary Hamel would indicate that the desire for such initiatives is strong among many within the industry.
For others, not so much.
There is the feeling among many others that the game is a grand one and shouldn’t be tinkered with to a great degree. The strong shall survive and the weak may perish when it comes to golf operations and the number of people they are able to lure to their fairways and greens.
Christian Chensvold of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article earlier this week entitled “Whoever said golf was supposed to be fun?” in which he describes golf as being the ultimate test of physical coordination, mental focus, strategy and nerves.
He also questions the move to have the game meet golfers on their terms rather than the other way around, adding that the game may just not be compatible with many 21st-century lifestyles that include other entertainment/sporting options, little time, etc.
What these differences of opinion illustrate so well is a challenge that any new initiative, whether it be from Hack Golf or anywhere else, faces once it gets to implementation stage.
The golf industry is the wild west when it comes to such new ideas. There are no laws or rules for everybody and golf operations will do whatever pleases them. Some will be willing to try something new and some won’t.
When the number of golf operations that were opening 15 years ago was skyrocketing, the industry knew it was reaching a saturation point, but there wasn’t a thing the industry could do about it.
Just as you can’t stop an operation from opening, you can’t force an operator to do something that he/she doesn’t want to do, so the effects of any initiative will be localized to those operations willing to implement them.
It’s easy to understand the concerns of the purists, who don’t want to see the game change and see the concerns of the adapt-or-die crowd as Chicken Little calling for the sky to fall in. Golf will survive in its purest form, but to what extent?
It isn’t alarmist to suggest that many operations won’t survive if participation doesn’t pick up.
Some stats indicate that even core golfers are playing less these days and who will occupy the fairways after them unless we draw new people into the game or bring back those who have played and quit for whatever reasons?
If the number of golf operations dwindles, jobs go with it, which is why the industry is concerned, although the revenue that goes along with a healthy golf environment is also an important consideration.
On the other side of my business, I’ve seen friends who were typesetters, paste-up people and writers lose their jobs because of the never-ending evolution of the media, specifically newspapers and magazines, which are still trying to find a way to survive in this era of instant information.
That quest for survival will continue, but one thing is clear. Maintaining the status quo was not an option, even though many question the steps media outlets have taken in order to stay alive. As it is in golf, some will survive and many won’t. Others have already disappeared.
Sound familiar in golf? Should we stay status quo?
That will be decided on an individual basis from one golf operation to another. Some will take an adapt-or-die attitude and others will believe that traditional golf, perhaps with some new programs added in, will be enough.
The point that Chensvold missed in his Wall Street Journal article is that few are actually trying to change the game in its purest form. It’s the game that so many grew up with or learned to love if they picked it up later in life.
Most initiatives are geared towards attracting newcomers, be it families, juniors, women or ethnic groups. The objective is to bolster the game at its entry level, not change what it’s all about for those who love it in its purest form.
That, too, is Chicken Little thinking.
The goal of new initiatives should be similar to graduated driver licensing systems that ease somebody into operating a motor vehicle. In golf, it would, or should, be about easing somebody into the game without intimidation, which we do know does exists among neophytes.
If the game is able to help somebody through various stages of learning the game in a comfortable environment, it helps nurture their enjoyment. If that’s the case, the objective would be to get them to the point of wanting to play competitively and seriously.
Yes, golf is supposed to be fun, but different people have different definitions of fun.
The elite amateur or pro doesn’t play the game at its highest level because they don’t enjoy it.
The weekend foursome may be out to play seriously, but also enjoy time with buddies.
A family may want to just spend time together playing three or six holes.
The differences in the definition of fun are many, just as the way people within the industry and those who play the game view the future of golf.
It’s those differing opinions that make the implementation of new programs such a challenging task.