One of the things I remember about the national golf summit held in Toronto in 2005 was media complaints that they weren’t invited, ostensibly because the participants didn’t want statements they made during the conference quoted or taken out of context.
The media had a legitimate beef. If somebody is willing to take an interest in the faltering state of the game, which is even more magnified six years later, then why shut them out?
Many in the media who wanted to attend had been around the industry for years and one assumes their interest was the best interest of golf, even if the paranoid participants feared something controversial leaking out.
Something controversial did leak out and here it is – six years after that conference, golf is no better off than when that summit was staged. In fact, it’s in even more dire straits than it was back then and golf is still aimlessly walking into the horizon without any kind of plan at any level, be it regional or national.
It’s doubtful the media’s presence would have changed that, but we’ll never know.
Commentators on the game weren’t the only people excluded from that conference. One group that was missing included people who really could have shed some light on why golf wasn’t drawing newcomers was also absent.
Out of sight and out of mind at that meeting of the industry’s great thinkers were the potential golfers whose opinions should be paramount to the golf industry. For whatever reason, golf doesn’t listen to the very people it’s trying to attract and I suspect it’s because we can’t see them from inside our own fiefdoms.
Golf is more inclined to speculate on what those people want than listen to them.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some great ideas floating around within the industry. During a conference call that I wrote about in my previous blog, Hank Haney offered several jewels, including more forward tees, dividing courses into three groups of six holes instead of two nines and bigger cups for beginners.
He also suggested that golf has to get away from the idea that perfect conditions are the benchmark for greatness among golf courses, which is emphasized in the endless supply of bogus golf course rankings. Maintenance of such courses leads to rising costs and ultimately to the opinion that golf isn’t affordable.
Of course, there is concern for the core golfers who are still contributing to the bottom lines of golf courses, but those same core golfers will happily play a less-maintained links course on a trip to Scotland or Ireland, where golf is a different, and some would say better, game.
Many golf courses routinely seek comments from and hold focus groups with core golfers, which makes sense since this group is a revenue foundation, but is it enough or will it start to erode as time marches on?
The core golfers are right in front of us, which makes them easy to see, but greater vision is required to spot somebody off in the distance. The question golf needs to ask itself is why is that person a dot on the horizon outside our gates, instead of somebody swinging a club at our ranges or on our fairways?
Why is that critical 25 to 45 age group in such short supply? What is it about golf that makes it not cool to juniors? Is golf intimidating to women? Can seniors afford to play on fixed incomes? Why is it that with all of the immigrants coming to Canada, golf hasn’t been able to capitalize on that group?
Sure, we know many answers to those questions, but focus groups with people who aren’t playing the game might not only provide us with reasons we’re not familiar with, but also offer advice on how we can actually fix the problems instead of speculating.
In few other industries do businesses not listen to what its potential customers are thinking and such an effort would cost far less than having people from all over the country fly in to flap their gums about their own perspectives from inside the industry about those who are outside the industry.
Talking to the very people the industry is attempting to attract could be done at the golf course, provincial or national levels and compiled. With that as a foundation, then it may be time for the industry to gather and discuss initiatives based on the opinions of the very people it needs so desperately these days.