What Golf Needs Isn’t Found in “The Woods”

The 102nd playing of Canada’s National Open Golf Championship returned to Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club last month with all the fanfare one would expect – accolades about the stunning tree-lined course, the wealth of spectators and quality of field.

But as I walked the fairways and watched the players, volunteers and fans, I couldn’t help but reflect on the disturbing state of the golf industry – since 2000, the number of golfers in North America has been steadily declining, despite the Tiger affect . There just aren’t enough young people taking up the game.

So although the grandstands were full and fairways lined with spectators, the demographics of those in and outside the ropes reflected a typical day at most golf courses – ~70% male, marbled like fine prime ribs – well aged 😉

Now I’m the first to encourage people in their twilight years to take up this lifetime sport and I was happy to see so many retiree-hopefuls enjoying the event. But the fact remains that we baby boomers cannot sustain, let alone grow this industry, if we keep doing what we’re doing.

We need to attract young men and women to the sport early and keep them interested throughout their teenage years and beyond. To do that we need to think like them and evolve the sport so it fits their style, attitudes and needs.

We have to stop pushing the “traditions of golf” and recognize that the times they are a changing — golf needs to keep up with the times.

Thankfully at this year’s Open, I witnessed a glimmer of hope in a few players, a few fans and a few fanatics that made me think we might be on the verge of something great.

I saw in this year’s Open, what golf needs…

1. Rule Breakers
2. Audacity
3. Twits
4. New Blood

Rule Breakers
Imagine if these 3 juniors walked into your golf club dressed like this, backward hats and all? Would you let them play that way?

And what would you say to this couple looking to tee off with their Canadian flags waving from cheek to cheek?

What about these colourful gents in their fancy pants. How many jaws would drop if they showed up at your next club championship?

Sad to say, but the dress codes at many courses are archaic. No wonder kids don’t want anything to do with their parents’ stuffy old clubs with their dull duds!  Who wants to play at a club that won’t let them wear their hats the way they wear them everyday, or their Canucks jerseys during the playoffs?


“Golf-speak” is getting out of control. Reporters don’t even have to attend press conferences anymore because they can quote players without ever hearing them speak. The “one shot at a time”, “I need to be patient out there” and “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing” clichés are as much of a player’s repertoire as their pre-shot routine.

What golf needs is some respectful honesty. At this year’s Open, as much as I felt a tiny bit insulted at what Geoff Ogilvy had to say about the Shaughnessy Course, I am so happy he had the audacity to say what he thought, just as Bubba Watson did in Paris at the French Open a few weeks ago.

“This is a beautiful property,” said Ogilvy, “The greens are cool. But the bunkers are in the wrong places and the rough doesn’t allow recovery shots.” Ouch!

I know it’s tough to hear, but I find it a lot more refreshing than what the rest of them said, “It’s a great test of golf.” Ya ya ya…


Golf media is ripe with curmudgeons. Walk into any media tent and you’ll find an old boys’ network that believes that micro blogging is for twits and Facebook for fools.

Being the only female around, I wasn’t about to tell them social media was a more powerful communication tool than the newspaper they write for, with enough users to create the 3rd largest country in the world. That would likely have resulted in there being one less woman golf writer inside the ropes, making that a total of zero.

Sadly, most media outlets haven’t figured out how to engage with readers who embrace social media – many of whom are players and their fans. We must always remember, the game is more important than the media.

Ian Poulter, Stewart Cink, Rory McIlroy and yes, Rickie Fowler (with over 175,000 followers) are avid tweeters. It wasn’t long after today’s round that Rickie was tweeting about it.

Social media and citizen journalists (aka bloggers) are not fads and freaks, but fantastic opportunities for golf media. It’s time to learn it, use it and then exploit the heck out of it to grow this wonderful sport!

New Blood

For years it was like there was only one golfer on the planet – the world revolved around Tiger Woods. People believed that golf couldn’t exist without him and that we needed him to grow the sport. That’s just not true.

There are new kids in town who are turning our youth on to golf. And they’re not afraid of being themselves, shouting out loud with their own unique personalities, style and talent, “Hello World!”.

Move over Tiger… Orange is the new Red!


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  1. James Ross (author)

    Interesting observations about young people needing renewed interest in the game. I agree with a lot of the comments but I feel the economy probably has contributed a lot to the downturn of the game. Golf is unlike soccer. It is an expensive game to play.

    I also think that the traditions should stand the test of time. New energy, perspectives and lifestyle changes are needed but golf is the last remaining “true” sport where players call penalties on themselves and are not guaranteed paychecks each week.

    An enjoyable blog post.

  2. Hey James
    What a pleasure to see your comments! Thanks so much.

    You make excellent points – as I would expect. The traditions and values taught in first tee programs are good examples of what needs to stay the same in this sport.

    Now if we could just bring the costs down…

    Thanks again James!

  3. Ballman@sweetspotgolf.net

    Gayle, this is great content and your observations are spot on. This is the beginning of a discussion not a right or wrong position. Golf is in trouble and HOW CAN WE MAKE THE GAME MORE ACCESSIBLE TO YOUNG PEOPLE is a question every golf professional, in every area should be asking themselves on the way into work each and everyday! While I believe in many of the traditions of golf, I feel most strongly about what it can teach a person in regard to character, personality, honesty and their ability to be true to oneself. Golf needs new ideas and open minds if we are going to keep the game we all love vibrant and fiscally sound and with golf being a part of the 2016 Olympics NOW is the time to encourage change. thanks for your continued relevant discussion on the state of the sport…

  4. Hi Brian!
    So great to hear from you. I am also very attached to the values taught through golf and don’t want those to change.

    So many golf clubs are closing or losing money. Today, kids are taking up snowboarding and moutain biking instead of golf and those are expensive sports too. So it’s not just the economy. We need to make golf “cool” and “kid-friendly”. 18 hole, 5.5 hour rounds aren’t helping.

    New thinking is needed from golf pros and GMs of clubs.

    Such a big topic! Do you think anyone is listening? 🙂

    Thanks again Brian!

  5. Gayle:

    We like your “straw that is stirring the drink!” We acted on our talk which was to change the game and bring more people into the game by allowing golfers who see all these wonderful venues an opportunity to experience them. Like fine art, sharing a masterpiece will keep those in the game and attract those as new opportunities exist. Private clubs don’t need to fail. They need to adapt their message to a new generation of golfers. We are now over 6000 golfers and nearly 400 private clubs in the Boxgroove.com network. If you are out playing 18 holes then you are still in golf. If you welcome more people with an opportunity…then you are growing the game!


  6. Very cool article and accompanying photos. As someone who teaches what some folks have called a radical golf swing I can identify with people in golf who are “different” and welcome more of it. F the old boy network, I read you more than I read them so there….

  7. Hi McRedmond. Thanks for your comment! It sure would be great if Shaughnessy were to join your network. I think many people would play it (after they cut the rough :)).

    Hello OTTG, Great to meet you! Thanks for your nice comment. Much appreciated 🙂


  8. Gareth @ Beginners Golf

    The reason more people are getting into the game is simply because it is more possible than ever before.
    1 – You have golf equipment cheaper than ever before. Plus lots more manufacturers than ever before.
    2 – Golf courses are cropping up all over the world.
    3 – Golf courses are less lenient with rules meaning you can dress casually.
    4 – Golf is seen as a social sport
    5 – There are more learning and start up programs than ever before.
    6 – It is promoted through various media both tv and internet being the biggest.

    Thats just 6 I can’t think of anymore reasons right now but those are the ones off the top of my head.

  9. Hi Gareth! Thanks so much for your comments. I hope you are right.

    We need more young people out there on the links instead of in front of their XBox 360s 🙂


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