We have just heard Rory McIlroy say that growing the game isn’t his responsibility.
e also watched TV coverage of the PGA Championship and were exposed to many wonderful programs/initiatives developed and invoked not only by the PGA Of America, but the many PGA organizations around the world.
The world economy that faltered in 2008 has not fully recovered leading to discussions among non-golfers and business-oriented media to write articles about the big bust in golf.
They are wrong. There was no bust. There was a long overdue market correction.
Far too many people entered the golf business for the sole purpose of making money. They had no interest in the game and yet, they benefited from the very spirited efforts of golf proponents who spent hundreds of hours trying to attract new golfers while adding to the enjoyment of the current group of players.
Since 2008, many of the faux leaders have taken their profits and/or losses and moved on to the next big investment but what about the so-called bust?
In the early 1990s, I found the most beautiful piece of land for building a golf course on that God had made in the Greater Toronto Area.
It had open fields of perfectly rolling hills of sandy loam soil, a brisk rock outcrop with a 50 metre drop to a future fairway, a small lake with a good-sized river feeding into it, a location to die for, and a lovely portion of mixed bush.
Knowing I had a few interested parties, I went to the Land Registry Office only to find the owner lived in Sweden.
I called him.
He had owned the property for over 40 years and was interested in a sale, but when I told him our use for the property his immediate reaction was to ask, “Aren’t you concerned about the number of courses in the area?”
I was stunned by his question and after a brief conversation about his background which had nothing to do with golf, I learned very quickly that land investors are extremely smart people.
He knew the demographics of the area, the spreading of the city boundaries into the neighboring countryside, all about the economy, the currency exchange rate, the weather, future road development and the official land use plans of every community within a 50-mile radius.
We made several offers, but nothing materialized. Today, that property near Milton, Ont., is covered with a small city.
My point is that a lot of very intelligent land developers did enter the golf business with the expressed purpose of using it as a vehicle to bank land for future use and make money while waiting for it to reach its potential.
Along the way, golf equipment manufacturers realized that their stock market shareholders/owners only cared about profits.
It didn’t take long to learn how much disposable income golfers had for the latest, frivolous idea. They flooded the market with game-improvement promises that saw new technological advances released monthly.
It became a perfect storm and had the recession of 2008 not interrupted things, we might still be on the quest for growing the game. Instead, the whole process came to a halt.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the future for holding land as a golf course arrived somewhere around the year 2000. Just as fast as new courses sprung up like crocuses in the spring from 1975 to 1995, the golf course construction business wilted in the ensuing years.
As of 2008, equipment manufacturers are returning to the days of one primary new product release annually and perhaps a moderate secondary one with a reduced number of SKUs.
In concert with the over-saturation of golf course facilities came the Tiger era. Monstrous exaggerations were made of projected growth based on new untapped markets of various ethnic groups and aging baby boomers.
Most industry people thought the boom would continue as sons/daughters followed their parents into the game.
People who were supposed to become golfers were enjoying better health and extended aging, but were working past the age of 65, both because they are fit enough and also to feather their retirement nests.
Strangely, the leading outdoor activities became cycling, walking, jogging, bird-watching and home improvement, including gardening.
The problem is people raised in an environment to receive instant gratification that golf rarely provides, so they enjoy activities that provide all golf offers, but without the expense and frustration of developing the skills required to play the game.
Since the glory days, golf industry people have been focused on trying to get the game to return to those dizzying levels.
It won’t happen.
However, what will happen is a steady, methodical effort to continuously introduce, nurture, develop and cultivate youth. Yes, there will be a contingent of later aged teens and adults who decide to have a go, but the real grassroots answer is young kids.
If you look at golf facilities that are vibrant and filled with activities, not only will you see beautiful gardens around the front entrance, an inviting clubhouse and a parking lot full of cars, you will see golfers of all ages including five and six-year-old juniors practicing their putting, hitting balls on the range and playing golf.
Profit-oriented people cannot relate to the amount of hours and effort required to tend the needs of this service-first business model.
They count the money coming in, divide it by the wage bill and start cutting staff. They don’t understand the concept of people enjoying themselves spending more money.
In today’s world, husbands are no longer the sole bread winner. They cannot leave their wife on weekends to spend time playing golf, deal a few hands of gin and come home smelling like cigars and scotch and rightly so.
Women share equally, if not more, in the family equation and men much less prefer a date with the guys to one with their wife and kids. Golf is a total family experience.
Those course owners who still gravitate toward the old concept of men-only clubs and corporate golf conducted for men only have missed the boat. There is market for it but it’s a small one.
It doesn’t bother me to see the number of available courses shrinking. Most were only there for the purpose of paying for land until it could be developed. They were never operated in the sense of belonging to the golf fraternity.
It doesn’t bother me to have only one release of new equipment from each company every year. It does bother me that the Tiger era didn’t materialize because there are millions of projected new players who don’t enjoy golf as we do. Tiger’s image exposed them to the game, but the game wasn’t ready to receive them and many left.
As I said, there was no big bust in golf. What we had was a market correction.
The core values of the game have survived. People who love the game still play it. Growth is based on the presentation of the ideal that not only is playing golf healthy, it is fun.
Some of the fun is in actual laughter, but most of the fun is in the experience of the life of a golfer, belonging to the fraternity of golf, being part of the worldwide family of golf.
I’m glad golf went through the past 15 or so years when it grew to include many temporary dabblers who left when they realized it didn’t offer what they sought.
The vast riches exchanged during this time frame made the “movers and shakers” in the game understand that times have changed and we/they could no longer fish for new golfers without different bait.
Something had to be done.
Many new programs like the First Tee, Drive, Chip and Putt, PGA of America Junior Golf League, Future Links, the Canadian Junior Golf Association, Youth on Course, Girls Golf and many others came into being.
We learned that golf needs a continuous effort to attract new golfers and support for those initiatives isn’t going to come from profit-oriented parties.
It will only come from those who love the game and want to share that love with others, such as the various PGA Associations around the world.
Rory McIlroy might not think he has a responsibility to grow the game, but he is a useful figurehead who can open the door of exposing the game to new players, young and old.
Let him simply play golf to win tournaments, but when he does attract an audience, we should be waiting in the wings with an invitation into the game.
Growth is a grassroots project.
The motto isn’t “grow the game.”
It’s “share the game.”