Takes on Industry Happenings

The idea to grow the game of golf must have been hatched deep in the fetid bowels of the marketing department at Titleist, Nike or the PGA TOUR.

You know who didn’t come up with the idea? Golfers.

“Golfers don’t need the game to grow, the golf industry does, i.e. those who stand to make a buck,” posted noted Irish golf writer and author Ivan Morris on his Facebook page not long ago.

It was a wonderful, concise rant. The best part about it, he’s right.

Nobody is clamoring to grow the game of tennis or softball or street hockey, are they?

It’s the golf industry – the same one that has driven away players and potential players by selling golf balls for $60 a dozen and drivers that cost $500 – that wants the game to grow, and by grow they mean sell more stuff.

You want to grow the game? Make it cheaper or free. Give away rounds of golf, tens of thousands of rounds, to anyone that wants to take advantage.

Here’s another idea. Every course owned by the PGA TOUR, even the private ones, has to have one affordable golf day a week. The green fees will be the exact same price as the nearest muni. There will be no gouging on prices for golf cars or golf balls, no $17 hamburgers, no attitude towards the great unwashed when they show up.

How about taking the money spent trying to convince golfers that the best way to lower their scores is by using this golf ball, that driver, this set of irons, and instead tell them the truth? Create a television ad where an unnamed woman standing in the middle of a fairway looks into the camera and says, “You want to lower scores? Take lessons and practice.” She then turns and “pures” a shot with an old hickory-shafted club.

Then, give away thousands of lesson packages, not 15-minute group affairs – honest to goodness individual lessons from people who know how to teach.

That will help the game. People will go to courses for instructions, to use the driving range and the practice greens.

I know it’s a pipe dream.

Now, the United States Golf Association is hinting that it wants in on the growing the game movement.

During his Feb. 8 remarks at the annual meeting, new USGA President Thomas. J. O’Toole Jr. said, “The golf industry is vast and multifaceted, and it comprises countless dedicated individuals … who possess the skills, experience and drive to grow the number of golfers participating in the game.”

Dedicated to what, taking the game of golf they love and sharing it with the world? No, dedicated to making more money.

He later said: “Growing the game is not our primary responsibility; rather, it is to ensure that the game they are marketing and selling to consumers is consistent with the very spirit and principles of equity upon which the game was founded.”

In fact, the argument could be made that growing the game is not a primary, secondary or any other goal of the USGA.

O’Toole then used a tried-and-true tactic to bolster his proposed embrace of the industry – fear. The apocalypse is nigh.

“But if we are not also committed to the services that support the game’s health, it begs the question: ‘Will we have a game to govern?’ ” he asked.

First of all, that’s an incorrect use of the phrase “begs the question.”

Second, let me answer the question: Yes, you will have a game to govern.

There are about 26 million golfers in the U.S., barring a catastrophic deadly blight that only affects those who play the game, it is highly unlikely golf will disappear in the foreseeable future.

On the positive side, O’Toole did say the USGA “will commit significant resources and energy in 2014 toward the creation of a comprehensive strategy for the association to help open up the game to audiences that have historically been underserved by our industry.”

That’s great, but as Ron Sirak pointed out in Golf World about the 15-person USGA executive committee, “Not only are all the current members affiliated with private clubs, they come from the most elite clubs in the country.”

It’s still a step in the right direction, and if done right maybe those groups that have not felt welcome on a golf course will soon find that they are. Maybe then they’ll fall in love with golf, buy stuff, play often, and before you know it the game will have grown.