A solution to one of Golf's biggest problems?

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Here's what the Wall Street Journal calls "the scariest number for the golf business," and it comes from the National Golf Foundation's most recent report on golf participation: between 2005 and 2008, the number of U.S. golfers aged 6 to 17 declined by 24 percent, from 3.8 million to 2.9 million.

Yes, while celebrity architects and PGA Tour officials roam the world to "grow the game," the game of golf is dying here at home -- and has been for years.

Matthew Futterman of the Journal addresses this issue in "Golf's Big Problem: No Kids." He recommends that golf take a cue from tennis, which is experiencing a revival among children. From 2003 to 2009, Futterman says, the number of U.S. children aged 6 to 17 playing tennis increased from 6.8 million to 9.5 million.

Why is tennis flourishing while golf languishes?

Because the people who run tennis made their game "easier to learn and easier to stick with," Futterman writes. And they did it with solutions that "were so simple and inexpensive that in retrospect it seems downright silly that no one had pursued them before."

"When it comes to kids," Futterman concludes, "tennis clearly knows something that golf does not."

Here's a link to "Golf's Big Problem: No Kids."

Comments

I believe part of the problem is that the modern pro game of 300+ yard drives has seduced many designers and course owners into making sure that their courses play longer and harder. It only serves to challenge the top 10-15% of better players. Too many courses are just too difficult for the average player. Greens are too fast, often elevated and protected by cavernous bunkers. The net result is that many retirees who dreamed of playing golf in their latter years are turning to other activities due to the difficulty of playing on many of these courses. I belong to a club in North Carolina called Champion Hills. We have a beautiful course designed by Tom Fazio. Our members are almost all retirees. We have a very active member's green committee which serves to represent all of our members regardless of skill level in setting maintenance practices for the course. We have made sure the fairways are the widest at the landing areas for average golfers while narrowing them for the longer tee shots of the better players. We keep the greens speed moderate, and we keep the areas adjoining the course cleaned out of debris and weeds to help balls to be found a bit easier. With all of these practices and a wonderful design, and at a "tips" yardage of around 6,500 yards we have managed to keep our golf course as enjoyable as possible for as many of our members as possible. On top of that we are ranked #5 in North Carolina by Golf Digest. It just shows that you can develop a golf course that is enjoyable for a wide constituancy without having a 7,500 monster or losing the challenges that are inherent in this wonderful game.

Golf courses are going bankrupt in record numbers, so this article is timely. Considering the high sunk-costs and the intrinsic value many of these courses bring to local residential communities, it makes sense to consider creative ways to utilize these assets before they get plowed under for big box stores, franchises, and parking lots. What to do? Other comments correctly state that cost, access, difficulty, and parochial attitudes are major impediments to growth of the game. Since the daily tee times at many courses are only 20-50 percent utilized, it should be possible to bring kids and other beginners out at low cost for partial rounds at slow times of the day, often in the late afternoon. This time could include some of the ideas mentioned such as disc golf and speed golf at reduced prices. What about the difficulty of learning the game? The problem is average people are trying to play the same game world class amateur and professional golfers play. Here we need a new and different, "entry-level" version of the game, not unlike tennis' Quick Start concept. Consider baseball/softball; snow skiing/snowboarding; gutter bumpers in bowling, etc..The many fine initiatives aiming to lure new players to golf would have more success if folks were being introduced to a game that provided more pleasure than pain in the early days. The entry level game should have 1) simpler (one page) and easier rules, i.e. use a tee anywhere on the course; take a free drop from hazards; throw the ball if you want to; etc. 2) "illegal" equipment such as bigger balls and more forgiving clubs (a boon to the equipment sector); 3) fewer clubs in a set; 4) shorter holes and much bigger cups (8-10 inches in diameter, on the same greens); 5) more forgiving definition of par (six instead of four); and 6) STANDARDIZED instruction on a simple swing such as Natural Golf, Stack and Tilt, or the Effortless Golf Swing. With an easier, entry level game, kids, spouses, retirees entering the game, and other beginners could enjoy the beauty of being outdoors close to home (instead of staring at a computer screen like we are at this moment), and have FUN playing an easier, but still rewarding, game. What about the parochial, stuffy attitudes golf traditionalists are criticized for? Well, those who continue to play the classic game of golf can insist on dress codes, cell phone silence, men-only grills, and the like, but let's loosen the rules for players trying the Quick Start version of the game and let them just be themselves on the golf course. Yes, it is fine to embrace traditions, yet not to the point that it pushes people from the game. It is one thing to see a tennis court sitting empty in a local park; it is quite another to see a beautiful local golf course turn to weeds and vandalism.

These are wonderful ideas for making the game anyone's game. I am interviewing people about the well-being aspect of golf, about their needs in terms of physical pain, range of motion, fear of challenges, and any other aspects that affect enjoyment. Would you be willing to chat....say on facebook?

The solution (in the form of an innovative venue) is about to enter the market. ALL of the issues mentioned in the above comments, and which the golf industry has cried out for many years, are resolved. The result is the growth of the game on the scale of many millions through the ranks of the youth, women and seniors. Families and entertainment-outings by couples are included, as well. It's all about 'next-door neighbor kids' (5 to 17) having the availability to play on a golf league for ten years of their youth life, as they do with Little League/Softball/Soccer/Basketball/Tennis. This venue is the ultimate 'feeder' to longterm adult participation. Coming Soon.....Watch for it!

First, I really object to people posting comments as "Anonymous." If you have a point and think it important or pertinent, put your name on it. Next, the point is made that golf is losing youth. Pellucid reported three years ago that golf had lost at least 50 million rounds since 1990 from the 18-34 year old age group. Today, half of all rounds played are played by people 55 and over. Let's stop looking for the PGA Tour and the USGA to help build the game. That is not their mission. That is not how they make money. The most at risk of a shrinking game and business are the PGA of America (jobs) and the National Golf Course Owners Assoc.(money). They need to figure out how to effectively teach a simpler method of hitting a golf ball consistently; and provide a time-sensitive, fun and easier way to play the game. I went online to WGT.com to play the Ocean Course at Kiawah. After taking a couple holes to figure out how to hit the ball, I parred 6 of the next 7 holes. It was fun, but only held my interest for 9 holes. I then played the real course a week later. Par? Yeah, right. I'm definitely better with a computer mouse in my hand than a driver or putter. This is an extreme case. But as WGT, Wii, and other games build participants, golf loses because it is just a tough game. I would never expect an Ocean Course, or Bethpage Black, or Whistling Straits to reconfigure their courses to appeal to the 100+, time constrained golfer. But do we need muni's with a 135 slope? Can't we figure out a way to let more people play nine holes rather than 18? Can't we have days when the tees are up and the pins in easy positions? Bigger holes? Absolutely! Why? Scores would drop. People would feel better about shooting 97 than 104, and maybe would come back to play more often. What about equipment? Finally someone from TaylorMade spoke up at the ING conference about bifurcating equipment - one standard for the casual golfer; another, conforming standard for the serious and competitive golfer. (By the way, Pellucid wrote about bifurcating equipment and rules three years ago, and got blasted for heresy). Maybe I'm part of a lunatic fringe, but from the fringe looking in I don't see much that encourages me about the survivabilty of the game and business of golf as we know it. Skiing accepted change. So did bowling. And tennis. But golf? Despite all the advances in technology, teaching methods, fitness, etc. the average score has not changed more than one stroke in 20 years. And there lies the crux of the problem. I am not "anonymous" because I want to make a difference.

I see a few ways that junior golf (ages 6-17) can be improved: a) Allow juniors to play for free (or a much reduced fee) with a paying adult, b) Have one or two sets of forward tees that provide a good starting point for a younger child to be able to play, c) have junior golf tournaments that begin with clinics on the basic fundamentals and rules and offer flights and trophies for players of all levels- in the early 1970's in Austin TX, we had 320 players enter the Austin City Junior Tournament-, d) like tennis, have golf teams at the high school and junior high levels that offer "no cut" participation, with A Team and B or C teams to give everyone a chance to compete. Local private and public courses should be reaching out to their members, guests, area schools and communities to encourage more families and youth to learn and enjoy the best lifetime sport in the world.

Golf is tough...My students do everything in life great and they are successful at school...When it comes to golf, they are beat up by the game and quit...Or, they have so much going on in their lives they can not devote the time that is required to get this game managed...They think it's like reading a book...

I have been following the various comments with great interest, and I like to share my ideas with you: Junior golf – during last years summer holidays we started a program for kids. We offered a 2 week program running Mondays-Fridays from 9 – 12 for a moderate fee, which also included a light lunch. Parents were happy to know that their children were taken care off and kept busy in a secure environment. In no time more than 50 kids were signed up, some of them as young as 5 years old. In total we ran 4 classes over a 2 month period. For this we employed the services of a young assistant pro, whose sole job it was to look after the youngsters. For the little ones we used oversized plastic clubs and large balls, for the other ones cut down and second hand clubs or junior sets. It all started on the putting green and from there we gradually moved on to the chipping green and to the driving range. The kids were then divided into groups according to their skills rather than age. To keep it more interesting the kids then went on to play on our academy course, where the length of the holes varies from 20 (par 3) to 300 yards (par 5). Some of the kids are now so crazy about golf that they stayed on. During school time we now run classes on Saturdays from 9am-4pm for the various groups. We also have a golf 4 girls class, which is very popular. We regular hold tournaments divided into chip & putt, 3 holes, 9 holes and 18 holes. For the youngsters we move the tees forward. This we do in the afternoon, so there is no complaining from other players. Parents and club members are helping out and accompany the kids on the course to give advice and guidance. After the tournaments they have their own prize giving, and points are collected for the eclectic. It works like a charm. We have increased our turnover in the pro shop and in the restaurant. We also send stuff on a regular basis to the local press to keep the community informed. And would you believe it – some of the parents have now started as well.

One of the best feeders to golf has gone away, in the form of young caddies instead of carts. Blame it on revenue needs, child labor laws, independent contractors versus employees, etc. Whatever the reason, many of the golfers now in their 40's and older were introduced to the game through a caddy program somewhere. They learned to play, how to behave on the course, etiquette, and a general respect for the game. Today, courses cannot afford to not have cart revenue. The carts were supposed to improve the pace of play from the old "slow" of four hours. Try getting off a public course in less than five, and the PGA Tour cannot seem to complete a round in less than six hours some weeks. Our youth do not have the time any more to devote to the game, bot to practice to improve or to play.

The industry must address the Jr Golf issue. Perhaps these 20 largest companies need to present their plans to keep our great game alive.

Culture is changing offers a serious potential problem for the game. It may be that golf will become Tennis where it has no significant financial viability.Let's hope the leaders of the game can reverse the trend.

I'd like to see us expand the game of golf to be inclusive (vs. exclusive) without losing the true essence of the game (you know, the reason that those of us who love it fell in love with it in the first place, challenge, discipline, personal achievement). Reading the comments, I'm not sure that's everyone's goal. I'd hate to see golf become a dinosaur.

The current problem with golf is the length of the golf course. Adams golf company ,CEO, pointed out golf course are too long for the average golfer. The golf attendant at the course should ask all incoming golfer their handicaps or what score they normally shoot. From,there HE should tell the starter have them start at the correct tee. And golf courses should move all the tees forward, per Adams Golf CEO..once golfer began to shoot lower score they than the will began to play more and enjoy the game...that's how you improve the game

The current problem with golf is the length of the golf course. Adams golf company ,CEO, pointed out golf course are too long for the average golfer. The golf attendant at the course should ask all incoming golfer their handicaps or what score they normally shoot. From,there HE should tell the starter have them start at the correct tee. And golf courses should move all the tees forward, per Adams Golf CEO..once golfer began to shoot lower score they than the will began to play more and enjoy the game...that's how you improve the game

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