Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No Golf 20/20 Conference

It will hardly be noticed by the golf public next weekend, but for the first time since 2000, the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremonies won’t be preceded by the Golf 20/20 Conference. Instead there will be a Board of Directors meeting where decisions will be made concerning the future of this tremendous undertaking.

For those of you who have never heard of Golf 20/20, it is an undertaking in which the world golf organizations, the golf club manufacturers, course and club owners and developers and the media collaborate in trying to find ways to preserve and grow the game and industry of golf. They’ve been at it for a full six years and while there have been some seemingly worthwhile programs; these efforts have been punctuated by seemingly interminable wheel spinning.

It would be pure folly to pull the plug on Golf 20/20; however it would be worse to continue on its present path. Thus far, figures have been produced on how the game and industry has flat lined. Programs have been formulated to enhance the efforts of the First Tee which is good for future of the game.

A program called Link Up 2 Golf that encourages adults to begin playing golf has been incorporated into the PGA of America’s Play Golf America program and has yet to yield noticeable numbers.

Basically, Golf 20/20 has taken note of the lack of country club golfers and not necessarily the grass root golfers. I’ve never seen it and I doubt anyone has ever seen a questionnaire asking what golfers want to see in the game and industry.

Although hardly a scientific poll, I have asked in the course of golf conversation what people would like to see. Here a few general responses.

Cheaper Golf. This has been the most common refrain. People are tired of paying upwards from $50 for a round of golf. Good luck. On a worldwide basis the price of golf is going through the roof. Maintenance costs have escalated, but the real culprit can most often be found in design fees. Tour players turned golf course architects provided a great growth spurt in the game, but enough is enough. Two million dollars will get a developer a great course designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, et al. It will also give green fees or membership dues a real boost. Who did you think was going to absorb the cost? The developer? Get real. Just wait until the Tiger Woods designed courses start to pop up at a $20 million design fee. These golfers-turned-designers had a tremendous effect on the growth of the game, but the lingering effects are beginning to stifle it.

The Game is too Difficult. This goes back to the expense of playing the game. Developers are hung up on getting their courses on a “Best” list and this means making it a real challenge with aesthetics thrown in for eye candy. Somewhere along the way, difficulty became synonymous with great. A challenging course must first be fair. If a golfer is rewarded for meeting the challenge with something better than another more difficult challenge, chances are he’ll come back. There are too many courses being built where golfers play once just to say they played there. That’s not a solid base on which to build a game. By the way, these fair courses can be designed and built for less, thus providing an answer to the first problem.

There are a few more ideas that I’ve gleaned during these conversations and we’ll get into them down the road.

Right now, I’d appreciate it if the bartender would pour me another tall, cold draught beer. I might as well go straight for the suds. What did you expect from a guy on a soap box?

See you on the first tee.


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