Many of us have been lucky enough to make a living in the great game of golf. At a time when the game has taken a beating from the economy, it is the duty of all of us in the industry to give back to the game to make it healthy and growing again.
As I sat in the front row of the audience at the January PGA show in Orlando listening to the great Jack Nicklaus speak, I couldn’t help but be moved by his words. It wasn’t only his words, but the tone in his voice and the obvious concern you could see on his face. Here was this die-hard traditionalist talking about how he had to revisit his beliefs and attitudes in order to realize that the game was falling behind other sports with kids and the public in general. On the big screen behind him, he played a video of a focus group session. Some of the comments about the game, its representatives (us!), and its image were not very positive. As a matter of fact, it was startling to hear “outside voices” from average people who have either left the game or never played talk about their perceptions of the game. I was squirming in my seat.
At Jack’s beloved Muirfield Village course in Columbus, Ohio, Jack hosted some “out of the box thinking” outings. He was proud to show the pictures and videos of the interviews recorded during and after each event. One was a tournament with the hole being made three inches bigger on every green. Another event featured more than one hole on every green. Another set of pictures and participant interviews focused on his initiative of shortening the course significantly for a large outing. To say the least, the feedback was wildly popular and positive. And, all of this came from someone I always considered one of the hardcore traditionalists in the history of the game.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, golf was riding a wave of popularity. Golf schools were packed, and courses were being built long and difficult – and a lot of them were being built. Equipment manufacturers were thriving. Tiger Woods was seemingly the lead on ESPN every day. Television ratings were setting records, and there were new golf shops everywhere. Since then, we have lost over 9 million golfers.
Think about that number for a moment. Jack’s message was basically that it was up to all of us to promote the game, not just in our traditional close-minded way, but with “new thinking,” as he called it. He called on everyone listening to get kids involved, give some free lessons and change the way the game is introduced to new players. Change the game somehow to make it more fun.