When the industry was summoned for a press conference at the Rosen Center, next to where the PGA Merchandise Show was about to begin at the Orange Country Convention Center last week, I was ready to head back to my room for an all-nighter writing about how TaylorMade had broken taboo by introducing non-conforming clubs.
Had that happened, TaylorMade wouldn’t have been the first to do so after Callaway introduced the ERC and ERC II driver over a decade ago and got itself into a war of wills with the USGA, which shamefully made Arnold Palmer persona non grata for his endorsement of the ERC for recreational use.
You can read more on the Palmer-ERC controversy here.
Had TaylorMade done what was rumoured, it would certainly have caused a swift reaction from golf’s governing bodies and controversy among those who play and work within the game.
While that company might have received a cuts and bruises from the backlash, one suspects it may not have been serious injury because of the number of people not opposed to such an action.
Back in February of 2012, the GNN Poll asked readers if they would defy golf’s governing bodies and sell non-conforming equipment, assuming quality products were available, and it was an even split.
Even when Callaway introduced the ERC, there were plenty of people within the industry disgusted by the USGA’s treatment of Palmer and there seems to be a more ravenous appetite for change now.
Alas, the non-conforming club controversy is academic because that was not what was introduced by TaylorMade CEO Mark King, PGA of America president Ted Bishop, National Golf Foundation CEO Joe Beditz and renowned business management consultant Gary Hamel.
Instead, they introduced Hack Golf, a crowdsourcing initiative to welcome fresh ideas on what would draw people to the game and what has stopped them from playing, among other pertinent matters in a struggling game with disturbing numbers about participation.
You can read more about Hack Golf here.
“Our industry has been controlled by traditions and the protocol of how you play the game and people who have been attracted to it for generations have loved that,” King said later at a State of the Industry panel at the show.
“We have to start to experiment with new freedoms and the expression of an individual. And when we can get there, then we’ll see the game grow,” he added.
As I mentioned in the original blog, time will tell if Hack Golf can stand the test of time, but its main proponents certainly spoke with passion and conviction and that wasn’t the only indication that the golf industry is ready for change.
It may mean shorter courses or bigger holes. It may mean clubs that get more distance due to trampoline effect. It may mean rounds that are less than 18 holes or other non-traditional means to get people interested in the game.
PING has introduced the nFlight Motion fitting process using an attachment that clips onto any golf shaft and sends swing information from the device. Only three swings are needed to measure swing speed, path, angle of attack and other information needed for a precise fitting.
Chairman and CEO John Solheim figures the nFlight Motion can be a valuable tool.
“It’s amazing what it can do. It also shows you what your swing plane looks like. The neat thing about that is that the golf professional who’s working with you can look at it and he can see if you’ve got some problems in your swing that you may want to work on with him,” said Solheim.
“What we’re trying to do is simplify for the pro and get a really good fitting, so it doesn’t take him as much time to do it,” said Solheim, adding that it can potentially have added value.
“Hopefully, the USGA will decide to let us put it in the club, so that you can play a round of golf and then analyze how you hit each shot afterwards,” said Solheim.
“(The USGA) want no electronics on it right now. It’s just part of their tradition. As long as you’re not analyzing your own swing while you’re playing, it shouldn’t bother them,” he said.
You can read the entire blog on the nFlight Motion here.
There was a distinct feeling that the golf industry is ready for change at this year’s show and that should come as no surprise considering the controversy that went leading up to the ban on the anchored putting stroke last year.
The stance by the PGA of America against the anchored putting ban, then a proposal, led to a prickly relationship between him and R&A chief Peter Dawson, which you can read about here.
Dawson pretty much told the president of an association with 27,000 golf professionals that he has no right to comment on such matters even though there was an official comment period. He was resentful that Bishop would have that audacity, which is troubling.
The entire golf industry should be insulted when it’s insinuated that only the R&A and USGA have golf’s best interests as their main motivation.
One of the primary motivations for people getting into the industry is that they love the game in its purest form. Opening the doors for people to get into the game at its grassroots will only serve to strengthen it, not weaken it.
In short, few want to see the game change at its highest levels, be it professional or amateur, but they do want to see people playing recreationally. Fresh ideas are needed to make that happen and hopefully, some will come out of Hack Golf.
Change at the grassroots does not mean the game has to change competitively and the more people play, the more interest there will be in the game in its purest form. In this era of Tiger Woods making headlines for missing a cut, how much interest will golf lose once Tiger retires?
To stoke the fires of interest, potential newcomers need to be convinced that it is fun, that families can play and that it truly is a game that can be enjoyed by all ages.
In many ways, the golf industry has also been too traditional, giving the USGA and R&A a pass as the governing bodies despite the controversies that have ensued due to their decisions.
Right now, the governing associations have the opportunity to open themselves up to new ideas instead of resisting them and it does seem like the USGA, in particular, is willing to be a little more open minded.
Equipment companies can, in fact, do whatever they want and nobody can actually stop golf courses from changing their set-up from time to time as they see fit to draw in more people. To this point, both equipment companies and golf courses have wanted to respect the governing bodies, but how long will that continue?
The anchored putting debate is over, but the appetite for change and growth in the game seems much more ravenous months after that decision came down if the PGA Merchandise Show is any indication. We’ve seen dire stats for years and how long will it take before the industry starts doing something about it?
That hunger is a good thing if it’s a motivating factor, but a bad thing if it means the game continues to weaken due to inactivity.