Much like the Trump posts, this will be a series, chronicling what I believe to be the largest problems plaguing the golf industry, how they inadvertently affect us, and what I see as solutions. Several weeks ago I read an article in a generic golf and business magazine that discussed ways in which a featured country club had been working to generate interest in the game. They set up pseudo practice events geared towards the various demographics of their audience such as juniors, women, and couples, with the overall goal to capture family interest in golf. The club raved about the interest they’ve created and how much it has done for enrollment and rounds of golf, how they’re seeing their memberships move from primarily social memberships to full golf, which, for those of you unfamiliar with the lingo, full golf is usually the most expensive membership you can get, short of equity member. The magazine’s next article covered a similar topic. This featured club revamped their starter program, (the starter is the one who sits on the first tee and makes sure you are beginning at the correct tee time, sort of like the movie usher of the golf course). They gave their starters small cards and pamphlets containing pertinent information about the golf course, and educated them on interacting with golfers so as to not only educate them about the course, but also to suggest games and variations to play within the group to maximize fun and pace of play. This article really is the crux of not only this post, but I think the golf industry as a whole, because all the periodicals we get sent to the pro shop contain at least one article combating the notion that golf is in decline and that the industry is suffering. They all find a new way to assure us that golf is in fact on the rise, that interest in the game is better than ever, and that the stereotype of golf being something only the Monopoly Man and Daddy Warbucks are capable of enjoying is finally being dispelled.
And yet, they’re wrong. There still exist notions of golf being an elitist sport, second only to polo in its requirement of being moneyed to be able to participate, people are perpetually gaining and losing interest in the sport, taking up the game only to be turned off it forever because of a bad experience they considered an assault on their existence. Golf, in my opinion, should not be considered a sport to 99% of those who play it. At the very least, a reorganizing of the word so that it is now considered a verb would, I believe, go a long way in solving the misconceptions, stereotypes, and problems plaguing Golf.
Consider this, when you tell someone you went running, what are you trying to communicate? Do you want them to know you ran 3 miles in 30 minutes, or that you went a specific route, or do you simply want them to know that you ran and that the mileage, time, and route are unnecessary details. With something like running, one does not say they “played running,” they say they ran, or they went for a run, because the possibilities of variations of running are so vast that one can’t truly come to a consensus with anyone else on a singular definition of run, and thus simply expressing the execution of the verb will suffice to those with whom you are communicating.
To the contrary, we generally don’t describe the act of participating in golf as simply, “I golfed.” We usually say, “I played golf, or I played a round of golf.” To describe our actions in this manner narrows the possibility of what we are trying to communicate down to a singular activity. This, is where the central issue is created. We all have an idea of what we believe to be the sport of Golf. 18 holes, played with clubs and a ball, with the object of the sport being completing the 18 holes in as few shots as you are capable. Simple enough, until you bring in all the other variables that complicate, distort, and hurt this fundamentally basically premised sport. For example, though when we are out there we are probably for the most part trying to accomplish the same goal of minimizing the amount of shots it takes us to finish, we are doing so through so many different forms that my golf has deviated from yours, which has deviated from his, and so on.
There are purists who believe golf is played counting each stroke, that one always putts out, that you play the ball as it lies, and, if you’re really crazy, you walk. There are leisure enthusiasts, that use golf as a medium to consuming fifteen beers and some drugs, because going to the lake is too expensive and they still have just enough self respect to not just start drinking on their couch while the sun is still up. For these guys, there’s never a bad lie, because the hand or foot wedge is usually the best club in their bag, and there’s never been a putt shorter than 3 1/2 ft. Of course there are the professionals, those we see on TV, who inspire and awe us with their mastery of something we can master only in struggling with. Last, and in my opinion, certainly worst, there are the golf Stans. These are the guys you see with $2,000 worth of equipment in their bag, a cart bag of course, if not a full sized tour staff. Golf Stans are like the mall security guard of the game. Horrible at their job, horrible at maintaining average human physical health, with the emotional stability of an adolescent bull, these rage monsters participate in the game because it’s the one thing that might give them the existential validation every other aspect of their life has failed to do. Look for these rage monsters to rarely see the under side of 100, cheat better than Bill Clinton or Enron, call you out on whatever arcane rule they were just informed of on some forum/ Golf Digest, and go through life crises on the course reminiscent of Brittney in ’08. Now, there’s a whole other litany of stereotypes out there, the ex HS athlete who thinks that because he could squat 550 back in the day he can drive the ball 400 yards, the novice who is determined to play a full round, despite whiffing every other shot, the guy in sales wearing $600 worth of apparel because “everybody knows business takes place on the course,” and nobody’s favorite, the old guy who can’t finish a round in under 5 hours, and thinks that just because he spent 50 years pushing paper he’s now entitled to an uninterrupted round, at a discount.
With such a grab bag of personalities out there, one would think it would be too easy to maintain interest and growth in the golf industry, given that there really isn’t one concrete demographic to pull revenue from. Unfortunately however it is this diversity that can drive down participation, and create inefficient methods within the industry to increase revenue. If those of us in and outside the business arena of Golf hope to continue growing the game and thriving off of revenue, there has to be a fundamental restructuring of presentation and participation.