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ten ways to change the golf model

I’ve been out on the road a good bit the past couple months. I’ve had a chance to attend both the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

These events have given me the opportunity to visit with a wide range of golfers and it’s been a real pleasure. In my conversations with all these golfers I’ve tried to get a feel for “the state of the game.” What I’m hearing bothers me. Participation in the U.S. is flat and it feels like enthusiasm is waning. I know much of this can be blamed on the economy, but I get a feeling there’s more to it than that. I get the sense that, for many people, the current golf model is broken. I know that many owners and operators are struggling. Many have have not survived and even more are teetering on the edge of solvency.
We need a new model for golf. The old model isn’t going to cut it in post Great Recession America. Albert Einstein suggested that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. We need change. I think it’s possible to to be progressive on some fronts and still be respectful of the game’s history and traditions. Golf needs to increase the “fun factor” to attract more youth, decrease the “time factor” to accommodate a stressed out and pressed-for-time middle age population, and increase the “fitness and socialization factors” for seniors. I’ve been collecting ideas that can help to accomplish all three of these goals.

I’d appreciate your feedback and any other suggestions you might have.

1) It makes no sense that recreational golfers (especially beginners) play by the same rules that professionals and elite amateurs play. Simplify rules for everyday recreational play. Would you ski off a double black diamond hill after your first ski lesson?

2) Players choose which tees they play from. They should also be able to choose the size of the hole they play to. Courses should have a regulation hole and a 10-inch hole on every green. This would have a major impact on pace of play and enjoyment.

3) Get the pros out from behind the counters. Golf can be intimidating and confusing. Pros should meet, greet and make golfers feel welcome. Let the grumpy rangers collect the cash. Quick tips on the range and advice on how to play the course should be the priority for pros. Who knows? This might even bring back pro shop customer loyalty and give those grumpy rangers more cash to collect. Golf pros don’t need to be general managers. They need to be golf pros. Deal with the golfers, not the computers.

4) Find ways to let seniors and juniors play 3-, 6-, and 12-hole loops walking. If regular play starts at 8 a.m., let juniors and seniors tee off the 12th or 16th tee at 8:30.

5) Widen fairways and lower rough cuts. Nobody wants to have an Easter egg hunt on every hole. And more importantly, nobody wants to stand on a tee watching the group in front of them have an Easter egg hunt.

6) Educate golfers on the economic reality of high green speeds. Golfers need to appreciate healthy turf more than greens that roll 14 on the Stimpmeter. Not only does this take pressure off the golf course owner but it also helps with pace of play.

7) Learn from bowling. Bowling was withering on the vine in the 1970s and early 1980s. People couldn’t figure out how to keep score and gutter balls just weren’t that much fun. Automatic scoring and retractable bumpers helped revitalize the sport.

8) Push the physical activity and socialization button with seniors. Movement and activity helps fight heart disease and diabetes. Socialization helps depression and overall mental health. Nothing brings these factors together better than golf. Especially on a golf course with less rough and a 10-inch hole. Find creative ways to get seniors on the golf course.

9) Base handicaps on scores shot in competition and on designated medal play days. Illegitimate handicaps discourage many golfers from competing. The current system doesn’t provide incentive for many golfers to take pride in their handicap.

10) Have golf courses prepped and ready for play at first light on weekends. This gives parents the opportunity to get in some golf and still have time to spend with the family. Recreational time can’t compete with family time in this day and age. And rightfully so.

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