Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How do we grow the game?

I think he's hooked already ...

This is another piece from a series of lectures I attended at the ASGCA meeting this year in Chattanooga.

Joe Guerra said (and I whole heatedly agree him) said that the PGA tour does not help to grow the game. I agree with Joe and think that it’s not Tiger Woods that grows the game. It’s the people at the grass roots level who really grow the game.

I found it fascinating how every speaker we had essentially made the same comment. The game will not grow without “women”. I think golf has finally figured out that my generation is different from their generation. Women play a far greater role in the decision making process and are often the one who determines where the “family” will spend their money. Fathers, of my generation, feel a great obligation to play an equal role in raising and shaping our family. If you want me to join, you need to attract my family.

The easiest way to return growth to golf is to change “who” we want to attract and how we go about trying to find new members. Golf needs to institute programs to make women welcome and find a way to make sure they are comfortable. A few private clubs have used a “programmer” who helps them find ways to become an active member. Any club that has more than one league for woman also tends to have a much better gender balance. Women are drawn in by the camaraderie the game offers, while men enjoy the competition against others and themselves. To attract and keep women we must find a process that encourages them as they develop confidence so they don’t get discouraged early on and leave the game. Practice facilities, ladies leagues, social programs and a couple of practice holes can all make it easier for women golfers to find confidence.

Kids need to have fun first. I agree with Joe Guerra’s comment that getting the ball in the air is critical to kids staying with the game. A combination of encouragement, a little instruction and occasionally teeing a ball up in the fairway allows the child to find the fun of watching a ball fly through the air. That’s the moment that first ball goes beyond their comprehension they are partially hooked for life. It then comes down to opportunity and encouragement to turn them into lifetime golfers. We need to mentor the kids and teach them about the game “once they show passion. Eventually as they improve we will introduce the rules.

Golf is getting smarter with trying to attract kids. They have realized the social aspect of team sports attracts participation. The development of junior golf leagues with numbered jerseys, where the kids play two person scrambles against other kids, has been wonderful for making the game more attractive. Kids bring friends and we all know the chance to play with friends (no matter what skill level) is one of the greatest pleasures the game offers.

I think golf needs to be more accommodating. There should be opportunity to make a par or birdie regardless of skill level. We need far greater variation in tee length, but also a greater variety in the challenge so some holes are easier and more encouraging. As Joe Munsch said, “Playing further forward helps make it fun.”

I played nine holes with my boys yesterday. It reminded me that shorter loops for more alternative play work well. I think the kids would play 6 holes late in the afternoon more often than nine because the round finishes quicker. Less time to play would help growth because we could fit this in easier with all the other family activities.

Joe Munsch offered the most brilliant suggestion I have heard in a while. He suggested “family lessons” to teach the game together. My wife has indicated an interest in the game, but won’t play with me or the boys. Family lessons may offer that one opportunity to draw her into the game. That may encourage us to play a family round.

I love Joe Guerra’s idea that we (golfers) need our own Hippocratic oath, where we promise to introduce 5 people to the game over the next 5 years. We are the ones that can create growth if we make the effort.

I want to dedicate this to all the people who have ever run a junior program, fre clinic, introduced other people or go out of their way to help someone feel like they belong.

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