A conference call was held yesterday for a chat with Hank Haney, who had just signed with TaylorMade, but the conversation quickly turned to a topic that is now constant in the golf industry, including here at GNN.
Whether you’re in the United States or in Canada, the health of the game is paramount these days and in order to turn it around anytime soon, golf will need to change its traditional thinking.
“For me, the history and the traditions of the game mean a lot. I don’t want to ever see that change,” said TaylorMade/adidas president and chief executive officer Mark King.
“I think the challenge we have is if you look at the macro trends of the industry, it’s not healthy. That’s not even debatable, it’s obvious,” he added.
“I think we’re in a position as industry leaders that we have to do something to bring new entrants into the game. I don’t think you’re going to bring new entrants into the game with the game the way it is,” said King.
The usual topics of time, affordability and increasing competition for the consumer dollar were all brought up by King, who is willing to listen and consider all options and hopes the entire industry feels the same way.
“Anything that makes the game more appealing, more fun, more enjoyable, whether it’s a new set of rules, whether it’s moving the tees up, whether it’s a 15-inch cup for beginners,” he said.
“I’m not so hung up on any one of those things. I just think we have to find a way to get people who don’t play golf today to try it, have a good experience and then hopefully, evolve to the point where they’re playing golf the way we all play golf,” he added.
“It’s not about destroying the integrity of the game. It’s about finding new people to get excited about hitting a ball with a club,” said King, pointing out that whatever is decided, it needs the backing of the entire industry.
A big part of the challenge is the difficulty of the game, which would seem to be the responsibility of golf professionals such as the renowned former coach of Tiger Woods, who says equipment innovation is more important to growing the game.
Not that teachers aren’t important to the game itself.
“You’re still playing a game where you’re standing to the side of the ball and the ball’s sitting on the ground and you turn your body and you swing your club with your hands and arms and there’s just not going to be some new way that’s invented to teach the game that’s all of a sudden going to make it that much easier,” said Haney.
“Obviously, I’m a teacher and I’m always trying to figure out ways to help people get better and get the message across, but let’s face it, most people would rather buy a game than actually work for one,” added Haney.
The challenge becomes once you do get people to the golf course, how do you keep them interested?
”The problem is that you have a very steep learning curve. It’s just really hard to get to a level where you’re fairly proficient, where you feel like you can go out there and play,” said Haney.
“We have people entering the game, but a lot of them don’t stay because this is such a hard game,” he said.
“You keep trying to teach better. There’s been a lot of innovations in teaching with all the video equipment and motion analyzers and everything else, but it still hasn’t made it remarkably easier to play the game,” said Haney.
While it’s important for teachers to continue sharpening their skills, Haney echoes King’s thoughts that everyone in golf – including owners, superintendents and designers – needs to recognize the difficulty of the game and recognize what needs to be done in order to draw more people in.
“I think a lot of what makes the game even more difficult to play – the golf courses are so darned hard,” said Haney, who had a recent chat with renowned designers Pete and Alice Dye.
“Alice told me, `We just made all these golf courses so hard,’” said Haney.
“The conditions of the golf courses are such where, especially in the United States, if golf courses are less than perfect, people don’t think it’s good,” he added.
“That makes golf expensive. Golf courses, to a great extent, are judged on how difficult they are – can this course host a tournament? Now, you’ve made the game so hard that it’s not beginner-friendly at all,” he said.
“You have to do something. You have to move the tees up. You have to let (beginners) tee the ball up in the fairway. You have to let them throw it out of the bunker. You have to have a bigger cup or something,” said Haney.
“You have to have ways to help beginners stay interested in the game.”