as published on www.phillygolf.com
By Laurence Hirsh
If we want to grow the game of golf, I’ve got a couple of ideas: If a Mom or Dad shows up at a golf course with their kid in tow, let the kid play for free. I’m betting they’d have fun and come back again, and again.
Also, during slow times at courses when tee times go unfilled, why not let kids play for free? Let them fall in love with the game.
I offer these suggestions because, as a golf industry consultant, I spend a lot of time around golf courses. I see what’s going on. Just recently, during visits to five courses, a client wondered whether golf discourages new recruits in a variety of ways? Yes, I think it does.
And just last week, I attended a golf industry conference where the issue of developing new golfers and increasing rounds were the primary topics. For years, industry leaders have talked about growing the game by appealing to women and kids, but only last month an article in the Wall Street Journal explored why many women are turned off by golf.
I believe a more "integrated approach" for growing the game is called for.
Golf’s core participant, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF) is the adult male. Given modern lifestyles – i.e. more family activities -- golf might be well served by not only finding ways to encourage women and juniors but also by promoting golf as a family activity.
As a lifelong, avid golfer who grew up playing with my father and now plays with my two sons, I know that in addition to being a wonderful bonding experience, "father-son" golf makes it much easier for me to play more often. Mom gets freed from the constant responsibility for the kids, I get to play more golf and spend more quality time with my kids. We can even stop and do the shopping on the way home. What could be better?
Between my travels to client clubs and facilities around the country and my quest to play as many courses as I can, I haven’t seen much family golf. I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Most families can’t afford to come up with three or four green fees on a regular basis.
That brings me to my idea about kids playing free with a parent or during slow times at courses. If kids were able to play free (or for a substantial discount) with a parent, I believe that revenues ultimately would be enhanced, because Dad (and maybe Mom) would play more often and kids will be exposed to the game.
Obviously, each course would have to come up with a plan that worked for them, but the idea is to get youngsters hooked on golf when they are young and broke for later in life, when they are working parents with kids of their own.
One area that can be explored is how to attract today’s younger generation. While these are presented only as food for thought, and not relevant to all clubs, ideas for discussion can include the following questions: Are collared shirts essential? Must the bills of caps face forward? Are jeans, cargo pants and baggy pants that offensive? And what about the common ban on cell phones? For many of us, cell phones are now an essential work tool and lifeline to family and office? Times and lifestyles have changed.
As the father of a 19-year-old (college golfer) who dresses much like his peers, I appreciate it that he takes "acceptable" clothes to wear on the golf course. I can’t help but wonder if plenty of kids who don’t grow up in golfing households never give golf a try because of the dress codes and rules.
Let’s face it, to many people, golf is perceived as an expensive, elitist’s game. Country clubs in particular are often regarded as stuffy places with too many intrusive rules. I know of a club that has a sign at its swimming pool with 8 pool rules, each beginning with the word "NO" in bright red letters. That same club has 219 golf rules, as opposed to the 34 rules deemed sufficient by the United States Golf Association (USGA).
Change is always received with some degree of trepidation, but golf needs to reconsider some of its traditions and rules, if it’s ever hopes to revitalize its own economic health.