Just a couple years into my career of teaching golf (nearly 20 years ago now) I was told that the National Golf Foundation declared that golf was declining. Comforting news, when you are a young apprentice feeling blessed that you are actually making a living at something you love. Tiger had just come on the scene and yet the golf train we had all boarded was derailing.
Every year people like me in the industry scramble to try to figure out what can be done to get this train back on the tracks. It’s really not so much instructors like myself that suffer (because let’s face it, golf is hard), but golf courses and equipment companies. In my opinion that’s because they over produced and based their projections on “fad golfers”. So the question always remains – How do we get “real lifelong” golfers into the game?
Any business that plans on being around long term puts a considerable amount of focus on youth. The key is too hook people when they are young and develop lifelong customers. Children are more impressionable and believe what they see, so they SEEM to be easy targets.
It starts with Duplo, then goes to Lego, then Bionicles. Or maybe it’s Nintendo, then it’s Wii, then WiiU and on to apps for Ipad. Big business finds ways to keep making money and making money off of kids. Golf pros are told to help grow the game and offer inexpensive and fun ways for junior golfers to enter the game and we do, but why don’t they keep playing and why aren’t they easy targets in golf?
ONE THING WE DO TERRIBLY WRONG
We shove it in their faces that’s why and therefore it’s lost some of it’s mystique. Now a days people love to blame the fact that golf is exclusionary as a reason for why it turns people off. It was that exclusionary attitude that drove me to want it. I grew up in a time where juniors and women where greatly restricted on tee times. Being both a female and a junior golfer I was driven to play when I could and wanted to get good enough to earn respect. My kids’ grandfather wouldn’t take their dad out to play when he was young. He was told at first he could come along to watch, maybe even caddy, but couldn’t swing the club. It was that restriction that put a burning desire in him to not only play the game, but eventually become a professional.
I hear the old Smith Barney commercials in my mind “They make it the old fashioned way. They earn it.” Not only do kids these days not have to earn it, we buy them custom fit clubs with bag colors of their choice. We buy them $65 shirts, microfiber shorts, comfortable high end shoes, Oakley sunglasses, range finders (God forbid they should have to walk to a sprinkler head) and even push carts! They can even find courses that will let them play on a Saturday morning when “the men play.” They have everything they want and everything to make the game easy, yet they quit. Why?
It’s hard and they don’t appreciate the game. We can blame video games, but guess what. I had video games. It was the sound of the hard spikes squishing on the cart path, the smell of the freshly cut grass, the swoosh sound of the sprinklers and the smell of the grips that enticed me. I had my dad’s old leather Michelob golf bag and Gene Sarazen irons that were too stiff, too heavy and too long. I didn’t have suglasses and walked a tough, hilly course in the extreme summer heat and humidity of St. Louis carrying my bag (we wouldn’t be caught dead with a pull cart). I had one pair of real golf shoes and wore them even when they were too small because they made “that spikey sound on the path.” I didn’t care about the gear. I cared about the game,the mystique and the culture.
Now please understand, I did grow up in lower middle class so there was more of an opportunity for me than for most kids in this country. However, now there are more public courses for those that can’t afford private clubs,there is golf in schools, there is The First Tee Program and the LPGA-USGA Girls golf program, and there are a lot more junior tournaments available.
SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
The fun part about an opinion piece is it’s just that – my opinion. It’s not right or wrong. There are many golfers out there that will disagree and that leads to great conversation. I do know there are many true players out there that will know exactly what I mean when I say we need to find a way to bring back the mystique and emphasize the class and history of the game instead of all the short lasting junk that’s marketed along with it if we want to build life long players.
We need to market better, yes. Most other sports do a fantastic job of marketing to the young and we don’t (think about baseball, football, soccer and basketball commercials compared to golf), but let’s find ways to make them want it. To make them want to earn the right to play such a great game.
Let’s stop jamming it down their throats. As parents we shove things at our kids to try to keep up with the Jones’ and satisfy our own desires. Don’t you remember when you were a kid begging your dad to let you play baseball or take you out the course? Remember hounding your mom for guitar or drum lessons?
When parents call me about lessons for their 7 or 8 year old the first thing I ask is – “Did they ask you for lessons?”