Future of golf can be bright, but some changes are necessary to grow the game, according to experts
by Gary Baines
The annual G4 Summit celebrates collaboration among golf industry leaders in Colorado.
That hits home this year particularly with the recent unification of the CGA and the CWGA. Also, there’s the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado, established by the CGA and the Colorado PGA; the combined effort that’s gone into the Colorado PGA Golf in Schools Program; and the JGAC recently adding the national Youth on Course program to its list of offerings for juniors. And the list goes on.
But the G4 also serves another purpose, which is to bring up pressing issues which golf needs to address to grow the game.
There was plenty of both celebrating the successes and working on shortcomings included on the agenda for the fifth G4 Summit, attended by approximately 175 people Wednesday at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
Growing the game of golf in the U.S. is a constant topic of conversation in the industry. That comes with the territory given that there are roughly 20 percent fewers golfers in the U.S. now than when golf was at its peak, popularity-wise, in 2005.
On Wednesday, speakers at the G4 addressed several issues in which golf could help its cause: being more intentionally inclusive when it comes to women and people of color in the industry and the game; more effectively embracing digital media to lure and retain younger demographic groups; and making golf appeal to a broader base by reducing the time commitment to participate and by making clubs places where people love to do everything from socialize to work out, to indoor training and even playing in golf simulators.
Here’s some of what was touched upon at The Broadmoor:
— Diversity. Dr. Michael Cooper, chairman of the Golf 20/20 Diversity Task Force, who appeared recently on Golf Channel to address the topic, cited several statistics that noted the problem. According to the National Golf Foundation, only 19 percent of golf participants in this country are non-Caucasians, and just 24 percent are females. In addition, he said 10 percent of the golf workforce is female and 12 percent minority.
But the goal of the Diversity Task Force is to “make golf look like America,” Cooper said. “Imagine how great the game could be if we caught up to the rest of America.”
“Golf has created enough programs for diversity,” he added during a panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon. “I wish the golf (industry) instead of doing programs FOR these communities would do things WITH these communities” who often have programs of their own in place.
But as things stand now, Cooper encourages golf facilities to hire more people of color and women, and/or do business with more vendors who fall into those categories.
“There are people out there begging to be included,” he noted.
“We heard today that people are just waiting to be asked,” Colorado PGA executive director Eddie Ainsworth said after the Summit wrapped up. “That’s the biggest message for me today. We have the right people to do the asking — with our club managers, PGA professionals and with our (other) partners because we all believe that golf can change people’s lives.”
Added Juliet Miner, who attended Wednesday’s G4 along with fellow CGA co-president Joe McCleary: “What Dr. Cooper brought to my mind is that we need to get more women into pro shops. Every pro shop should have a female in there. It’s up to us to make that move to be visible.”
— Appealing to a Broader Base. The days of golf facilities simply needing to unlock their doors in order to keep their tee sheets full with willing customers are a thing of the past in many cases. But Frank Vain, president of McMahon Group, said that facilities can be hubs of activity and clubs can have golfers eager to become members if they give those customers what the want:
They want activities that make the best use of their limited time. They want facilities that include things like fitness centers, indoor training, golf simulators (even simulation leagues); places they can watch sports on TV, eat, drink and socialize. Places like Topgolf, which has a location in Centennial and another in the planning stages in Thornton. Or, as Vain pointed out, the amenity-filled new clubhouse at Columbine Country Club in Columbine Valley. And a staff that will engage its customers.
“They tie it all together in terms of socialization,” Vain said of such facilities. “And the club of the future has a lot (for members) to do on a year-around basis. Investments in non-golf experiences always lead to more golf.
“Golf is not going away, but you have to be more innovative.”
— Embracing Digital Media. If there’s one thing Joe Steranka learned when he was the CEO of the PGA of America, it was “how to peak around the corner and see what you need to do next.” And one of those things now is for golf facilities to embrace digital media in order to thrive in the 21st century.
“Social media is the old word of mouth,” Steranka noted in his presentation. Social media helps a business — golf and otherwise — utilize customers who can often be very effective marketers for that business” and brag on the brand.
That’s especially true of younger customers who tend to embrace social media fully.
But keep in mind, Steranka said, “Content is king, curation is king, and content never sleeps.” In other words, content has to be relevant, has to resonate, and has to be real time.
“People (Generation X and Millennials) like hearing about themselves,” Steranka added, noting examples like someone who won the club championship or made a hole-in-one. “They are the future, and they grew up on this.
“Investing in digital media can help grow the top line” for a golf facility. “You better learn how to embrace social media. That’s a great opportunity for golf.”
All told, G4 speakers provided plenty of food for thought for an industry that would love to bolster its base and remain healthy for decades to come.
“I thought we had a really good range of speakers,” CGA executive director Ed Mate said in looking back at this year’s Summit. “In the past I think we’ve had some redundancy. But there was really no overlap (today). The messages were very distinct.”
Elway Taking Aim at U.S. Senior Open Spot: Among the other topics addressed on Wednesday was one apropos for the site — the 2018 U.S. Senior Open that The Broadmoor will host June 25-July 1.
Doug Habgood, a key event organizer for the Senior Open, noted that 2,412 people have volunteered for the event — and that’s all that’s needed aside from some junior standard bearers. He said there have been tickets purchased from buyers in 48 states.
“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of support and pent-up demand” for a major golf event in Colorado, Habgood said.
Habgood added that John Elway, honorary chairman for the U.S. Senior Open, plans to try to earn a spot in the championship field via a Memorial Day qualifier that’s set for The Broadmoor.
A lifelong golf amateur, Elway has finished as high as 19th in the Colorado Senior Open, has made the cut once in the Colorado Open, and has placed in the top 10 14 times in the nationally televised American Century Championships celebrity tournament in the Lake Tahoe area. He and Tom Hart won the 2009 Trans-Miss Four-Ball at Cherry Hills and tied for second in the 2010 CGA Four-Ball.
Also, a Drive Chip & Putt Local Qualifier is scheduled to be held at The Broadmoor on Tuesday of tournament week (June 26) and the hope is that Elway and/or some U.S. Senior Open competitors will drop by for the event.
In addition, a junior golf tent will be in place all week on The Broadmoor’s West Course. (The Senior Open is being played on the East Course.)
JGAC Plans: Mate gave G4 attendees an update on the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado’s addition of the Youth on Course initiative starting this year. Youth on Course makes golf more accessible to juniors by capping their cost for a round at $5 at participating facilities, possibly with some date/time restrictions. Then a subsidy of a similar amount ($6 in Colorado’s case) per round is paid to the participating course. (READ MORE)
“I really think this is a game-changing program,” Mate said.
Overall, the JGAC had 894 members in 2017 and 110 events were conducted by the alliance.
This year, the JGAC has a three-tier membership — Introductory, Series, and Tour for the advanced players. All come with Youth on Course benefits.