Growing The Game - Part 1
I had the privilege and honor of being invited to a special Golf Industry Summit this past month, sponsored by the PCS.

About 25 industry leaders met in Atlanta, and the diverse group represented the PGA, equipment manufacturers, retailers, component makers and other factions of the game.

Our challenge was to examine the state of the game in America and come up with possible solutions to a trend of decline in golf in this country.

It proved to be a dynamic group, and we collectively came up with a somewhat different perspective on the game than you might have read about, and some ideas for how we . . . not just as golf industry executives, but as golfers . . . might do our own part to help reverse this trend.

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share some information with you and get your input on what American golfers can do to shape the game for the future. And I’m going to ask you to sound off, so I hope many of you will participate.

To start this process, let me give you an overview of where golf in America is today.

Generally speaking, participation in the game is flat or even declining. From 2000 to 2006, we experienced a drop in total rounds played from 518 million to 501 million, after over 15 years of steady increases in annual rounds played. There are over 28 million golfers who played last year, but less than half of them – 12-13 million – are considered “core golfers” who played at least 8 rounds. This number has not materially changed in several years, and account for over 91% of total rounds played. Since you're reading my blog, I have no doubt you are in this group.

This decline is in spite of the tremendous increase in television exposure to golf and the dynamic presence of Tiger Woods, who is now the most popular athlete – across all sports – in this country, possibly the world.

So, why hasn’t this visibility and “popularity” translated into an increase in golfers and rounds played ? That’s the 64 dollar question, as they say, and I’d like to get your input on this to compare with what this group of industry leaders came up with.

So, let’s again use the new survey capability. If you will visit the link below and answer a few questions, you'll see how your input stacks up with golfers across the world who read this blog. And you can help this game you love so much. So give golf a couple of minutes and stay tuned.

Take the Golf in America Survey Now
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[ comments ]
nocurling says:
golf is about the experience, not the scorecard. the average golfer will never try to cut a high fade into a back right pin because they are too afraid that they might double-bogey the hole and ruin their score. who cares? the fun in golf is executing golf shots, not shooting some mythical magic number.

if you want to have more fun, try these 5 things:
1) throw out the scorecard;
2) remove every other club longer than a 9 iron;
3) throw out the scorecard;
4) try shots you wouldn't normally try;
5) throw out the scorecard.

golf is about inner satisfaction, not bragging rights.

Mike says:
For me, the games not growing because it's too expensive. NO real bang for my buck.

The rates at Pebble Beach are akin to robbery.

The "experience" is no different than the one at a Kentucky State Park course, like at Dale Hollow State Resort Park.

18 holes, par 3's, par 4's and par 5's.

Greens at the end of every hole, tee boxes to start each hole.

The cost where I prefer to play is about 10% of Pebble's fee and I guarantee I'm just as thrilled, just as tired and 300 times more likely to come back.

Golf courses go bankrupt every week because they're a one-trick pony. All they sell is 18 holes of golf.

I can play 18 holes of golf at 22 other locations just like theirs within an hours drive of my house.

What are you gonna do for me besides over-charge me ? Where's the love ?

When they figure out that they need to add to the "experience" and differentiate themselves, then they can become the Starbucks of the golf course world and make me WANT to pay more for the same thing I can get cheaper someplace else.
webster miller says:
I think the biggest problem is the ever increasing time it take to play 18 holes. For those of us with families it is hard to find 5-6 hour chunks of time to play.

I can't tell you the last time a saw a ranger actually doing his job to keep players moving along. In fact, I generally see them adding to the problem when they see a group of friends on the course and proceed to have a 15 minute chat with them.
Bill Kelly says:
I write from Australia, but feel urged to comment as the state of the game here closely reflects the situation you have outlined. In essence I'd like to echo the earlier comments and take the argument a step further. Golf is too expensive today (and I'm not just talking about the price of clubs) and it takes too long to play and I think both of these problems grow out of the obsession with distance that has dominated the game in recent years. The distance the ball goes today has made courses find an extra 1,000 yards, or more. This additional real estate costs money to buy and maintain, and who pays - the golfer! With longer courses comes longer (slower) rounds. Whats more, walking (a core essence of golf) is increasingly lost to carts, which brings with it even more expense. We all know golfers who spend enough on drivers each year, to put a deposit on a car, in their on going obsession to find more distance and while I am not sure what a top quality ball costs in the US. I know they cost more than double the price of a very playable ball in OZ.
Terry, I don't believe I am a luddite, but I truely believe that golf needs to adopt a formula closer to what prevailed in the 1950's and 60's. With average golfers playing a course of 6,200 yards or so and even tour courses only needing to be (say) 6,800 yards. I'd like to see walking the norm for able bodied men and women who play and love the game and most impotantly I'd like to see rounds rarely exceeding 4 hours. If we head down this path I am confident that golf will prosper with the general public again able to afford both to dollars and time to play the game in greater numbers and I think that by far the simplest way to achieve this is to shorten up the ball. Lets make a 260 yard drive the new mark of a long bomber. If I may, I'd like to conclude with one final thought. How about a 10 club rule? Makes the game cheaper and brings greater emphasis to shot making. Let me hasten to add here that I am not having a shot at club makers. Let them compete with their technology by all means, but lets move the emphasis from distance to precision. (Your niche Terry) because at the end of the day thats where the fun really is. Terry please let me part with an Aussie' ism and say "mate" I love your blog, because you truely love, understand and care about golf.
Cheers Bill...
Jeff says:
Yep, its cost.


Time and money we all understand. Few people can afford $100 green fees very often, and fewer can do that AND spend 6 hours to play.

The experience for more expensive courses does not meet the fees they charge. I, like Mike, think that the luster of playing the exclusive course wares of pretty quickly. For $250 I will go play the Muni 4 times and be happier.

Pride - now that is something that hasn't be directly mentioned. Courses, in their effort to cash in on the bonanza of tour stops, huge Green fees etc have become so difficult the average golfer (20-24 hncp) can't hope to play even to his handicap, let alone improve.

This goes to cost. You go to play a newer course, and you better be ready to lose 4 or balls. That's another $10, $20 or more out the door.

I now live in Spain. In Catalunya to be exact, a huge growth in Pitch and Putt has gone on here for the last 4 years. Not for a lack of great golf (seriously great courses here actually) but because of the time and cost, and the law of diminishing returns. Gé¼20 and 2 hours is more palatable to the average joe, than 5 hours and Gé¼75. You get more or less the same experience - open spaces, golf, friends etc etc.

This has attracted about 10,000 players in the last few years, and expects to grow even more in the coming years. Why? because it is accessible financially and timewise, but more importantly Pitch and putt allows people easier access to success on the course -- the first birdie, scores go lower quicker.

In fact there is a high conversion rate for people going from the P&P scene to "regular" golf.
golfguy says:
I agree with webster! Golf takes too long. On an average day 4.5 hours not including travel to and from and warm up. If I could play it in 2 hours I'd be there everyday!
Artful Golfer says:
2 1/2 years ago, at 46, with kids grown and in college, I finally picked up the game on a regular basis. I've been attracted to the game since I caddied in Junior HS, but never had the luxury of having both the required time and money at the same time until now. Beyond the obvious expenses and time involved in playing 18 holes, a lot of time and energy goes into learning the game and to keep improving. There just aren't that many people with that kind of desire, time, and money.

I have a son who is 22, who I've only been able to drag out 5 times. Although the game comes easy to him (immediately breaking 100 on difficult courses), he just doesn't have the kind of time required to play a full round - even if I pay for it. He has other interests and priorities, in addition to work and school. He told me he'd love to play, but it just takes up too much of the day. For most, golf can only fit into their lifestyle and budget after finishing school, raising kids, and perhaps even finishing their careers. Perhaps the game will begin attracting more participants now that baby boomers are beginning to retire.

In our area, I see a lot of high school and college aged kids still playing, but many of them are playing under the illusion that they can someday play professionally, instead of simply playing for the love of the game. For most of them, the demands of work and family will eventually force them from the game as well.
wedgeguy says:
This has been some exciting dialog, and I think you guys have it pegged. We have challenges ahead, but a rollback of the ball isn't going to happen, not with the competitive issues involved between the golf companies. But I do appreciate all the input and invite you to continue to exchange ideas on this subject right here. Hopefully the USGA is listening.

Simon says:
The single factor preventing me from playing more is time. I wish courses didn't play so slow, even my locals which post sensible rules like hitting off the tee in reverse order, people don't observe them, or persist in waiting for the green to clear because they 'might' (in their dreams) drive the green.
Eric Gambold says:
Golf is too expensive and takes too much time. Courses need to offer "by the hole" rates so people can play 12 or 15 hole rounds...something in under three hours. Hard to monitor, I know.

I've yet to see a golf course that encourages child/family play in any way. Where I live there are a lot of course but *none* offer family times, child tees, family rates, or even lessons to kids. Golf needs to wake up to the reality that the old coots are fading away, and that the newer generations want to do things with their kids.

Finally, most of the clubhouses I've been in are poorly run, with slow service from retirees, poor food, and a distinct lack of "customer is always right" ethic.
Eric Gambold says:
Slow course play is largely the result of most golfers not knowing what "ready golf" means. It doesn't mean roaming up and down the fairway in a cart, watching each other hit their ball. Nor does it mean a foursome hunting in the brush for 10 minutes for somone's lost Top-Flite.

It means that both people in a cart are set up and shooting at almost the same time, one person with the cart, the other with his/her clubs. It also means that after about 60 seconds you can forget about the ball lost in the gorse.

Course "rangers" (and I use the word sardonically), should be educating golfers about ready golf practices on busy days, not just hectoring people to "hurry up." Clubhouses can also require the use of carts on busy days, although they need to stop over-charging for them...the prices have become absurd.
Leo says:
IMHO, the problem with growing the game of golf is the short term focus on making money from the baby-boom generation that is daily moving into retirement, rather than truly marketing to, and making it affordable to elementary, high school, and college age kids/young adults to play the game. My daughter played high school golf, and is hooked on the game. However, after graduating and exceeding 18 years of age, most all courses expect she pay adult prices, even though she's attending a local community college full time, simply because she's no longer a "Junior" by age. She does not earn enough discretionary income from a part time job (making not much more than minimum wage) to allow her to play. I don't mind taking her out once in a while, but in the Denver Metro area, you're looking at $50 to $70 for us both to walk 18 holes. Not something I can do/afford on a weekly basis. My fear is that my daughter will slowly walk away from the game, finding other activities that she and her friends can afford.

Speaking of walking, and not wanting to spark a flame war. Again IMHO, the worst golf development ever was the riding golf cart. Golf is supposed to be a good walk spoiled. It is supposed to be a challenge of your skills, your mind, and your endurance. And I believe riding carts have made the game slower, especially with carts on the cart path only and 90 degree rules. Carts may be quicker than me leaving the tee box, but I'll be waiting at the green for the two in the cart because of the rules I mentioned above, or because of the dispersion of the shots and the time traveling between them. Very rarely have I witnessed a two-some in a cart play "Cart Golf" playing their balls fairly close to one another. For those whom truly need a cart to enjoy the game, I'm all for it. But for most, the exercise and mental benefits from walking, will do wonders for their golf game and health on and off the course. Who know, maybe more endurance for their spouse! However, because of the revenue, course designers are creating tracks that have tremendous distances between holes, forcing cart usage to play. It is my choice to avoid those courses if they won't let me walk it.

Sorry for the rant, but a nerve was hit with growing the game, and the slow play.
RShillito says:
1) take a lesson instead of the $400 club
2) Walk don't ride
3) If you have a handicap above 20 buy cheap balls, so I don't have to wait for you to look for them
4) Play ready golf
5) that means be ready to play your shot, not admiring your partner's from the cart.
6) play from the white tees - that means YOU
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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