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Can a new app bring people back to golf?

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The game of golf is in trouble.

This is what organizations like the National Golf Foundation and various members of the national media have been drumming into our collective psyches over the last several years.

Whether or not you’re willing to buy what they’re selling, it’s hard to ignore the obvious: participation is down and golf’s leading organizations are working overtime to convince the iPhone generation to take up a game that’s been historically slow to embrace new technologies and changes in societal behaviors.

Peter Kratsios is the CEO of a tiny tech start-up with a huge idea. And on Memorial Day, he was also my partner at Eisenhower Park. We were playing the Red Course, one of three championship-caliber designs open to the public at this massive property just 28 miles east of New York City. We got paired with a couple of guys who would have gotten escorted out of any halfway decent country club. One of them was decked out in cargo shorts and a wife-beater; tattoos decorated his arms like sponsor logos on a Nascar driver. His companion was flicking ashes from what little remained of his cigarette and was disparaging the slow group in front of us in a tone guaranteed to offend the esteemed members of Bushwood in Caddyshack.

Barely out of the gate, I began thinking about the long day in store for us. Words like misery and agony were running through my head. Peter, on the other hand, was probably thinking about opportunity and conversion.

Kratsios is the man behind a product called GolfMatch that is available for Apple devices. The recently-released application comes at a time when the marketplace for golf-centric apps has become increasingly crowded. It seems like everyone and their cousin has an idea about how they can leverage technology to augment the game. Competition is stiff for anyone introducing yet another scoring device, GPS tracker or swing aid.

GolfMatch is uniquely suited to succeed because it’s none of those things. The app allows a person to discover other golfers in their area who are compatible with their playing style, handicap, age and other criteria. Essentially, it helps a golfer fill out their foursome from players with a common set of interests, eliminating the concern most people have about being randomly paired up minutes before a scheduled tee time.

[quote_box_center]“It all starts with the golfer,” Kratsios said. “You have to create a better experience for them. There’s a lot of tee-time aggregators out there, but what do they actually do to create a better golfing experience? Golfers want to play with other golfers at times that are convenient for them at courses at their price range. They also want to feel comfortable with someone their age or handicap and want to play from the same set of tees, because if you play from a different set of tees you already introduce a bit of disconnect.”[/quote_box_center]

GolfMatch got its start, ironically, through a series of random events. Kratsios took a job in digital advertising just after graduating from college in 2011. The idea for what would eventually become the GolfMatch app began gnawing on him shortly after he began working on an ad campaign for Nike Golf.

[quote_box_center]“They were coming out with a new glove and they wanted to target women, the ages of 36 to 50 in the Northeast between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.,” Kratsios said. “I was looking for more golf publishers for this campaign and I realized that there was nothing really being done to grow the game of golf from a technology standpoint. So I started to think about what I can do to bolster participation.”[/quote_box_center]

He met his first partner purely by accident when he tried to sprint to the train station from his office in the pouring rain.

[quote_box_center]“On the train, I sat down and saw this young lady sitting across from me laughing cause I looked ridiculous,” Kratsios said. “We started talking about what she did. She actually came out with an app for her company the day before and I mentioned that I had an idea for an app as well.”[/quote_box_center]

Kratsios and Jessica Brondo met for drinks the following day and began working on concepts. The third member of the company, Julio Rivera, was discovered through an acquaintance. At the time, Rivera was a mobile developer at Priceline.com. As coincidence would have it, Rivera was developing a similar idea in his off hours. Kratsios recognized the situation for the opportunity that it was and brought Rivera on board as the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer. Together, the pair have complimented each other and Kratsios credits Rivera’s insights as a novice golfer as being a critical factor in helping to bring the app to market.

golfmatch-img1

[quote_box_center]“I spent six months putting together financial models and go-to-market strategies,” Kratsios said. “I really knew what I wanted to focus on while still working at 24/7 Media. I was offered a promotion to join the media sales team as an account executive. I turned down the promotion, quit my job and moved home in the same day. I really took a risk.”[/quote_box_center]

Eisenhower

It took me a good 20 minutes to navigate the maze of parking lots flanking both ends of Eisenhower Park. I thought I was lucky to find a prime spot near the driving range, but I barely had a chance to stretch my legs when I was told the clubhouse was across the street and that I needed to drive back into the busy two-lane road that cut through the property like a major artery.

Kratsios arrived a few minutes later. It was my second time getting together with him and I was starting to recognize the signature spring in his step, the relaxed posture and the easy-going vibe.

We made our way inside a red-brick building that wasn’t much of a clubhouse, even by public muni standards. The old-fashioned ticketing counters where customers made tee-time inquires and paid their green fees conveyed all the warmth of an off-track betting site.

I was beginning to wonder how a place like this could have hosted the 1926 PGA Championship won by none other than the legendary Walter Hagen. In a friendly gesture, Peter placed a hand on my shoulder and told me not to judge the place until we were on the course. Growing up on Long Island, Eisenhower belonged to a rota of courses he competed on as a junior golfer.

His introduction to the game came at age seven when a neighbor offered to take him to the driving range. Naturally athletic, Kratsios found the act of hitting a golf ball easy from the get-go. For a while he juggled baseball, basketball and golf; eventually, golf won out. He excelled at it first in high school and then at Gettysburg College, starting all four years on the school’s NCAA Division III varsity team.

These days, he channels his competitive nature into running his fledgling start-up. Although he belongs to a private country club on Long Island’s North Shore, more often than not he comes out to places like Eisenhower, Bethpage or Van Cortlandt where he can get his company’s product in front of course owners and potential customers.

Relationship-building, Kratsios told me, is the key component for making GolfMatch a success. The software app that he and his partners have built can help course operators better identify golfers who have either played their courses or are considering playing them in the future. To put it plainly, a lot of munis need all the help they can get. Within Long Island alone there remains a handful of clubs that don’t take advantage of an automated tee-time reservation system. And even among those facilities that are technologically in step, most use a trial-and-error approach to find ways to incentivize people to come back.

[quote_box_center]“We’re providing a value-added service for every organization and every course that we work with,” Kratsios said. “We want to allow [course owners] to be in the drivers seat to keep their community and target them. Everyone loves that. Nobody is saying we’re hesitant to work with you. Everybody wants to bring more people to the course and to sell more tee times.”[/quote_box_center]

For a small service fee, GolfMatch helps course owners design and distribute bi-monthly marketing campaigns to a targeted list of golfers who have played or wish to play that course from data collected in the app. For course owners, these campaigns drive awareness to their properties, increase retention among existing customers and ultimately lead to additionally sold tee times.

There are about 2,000 active accounts on the GolfMatch platform. Rather than spend money on traditional marketing, Kratsios has leveraged social media, specifically Instagram, to connect with early adopters.

“We really pride ourselves on the community we’ve built on a social basis,” Kratsios said.

The GolfMatch Instagram account has over 8,000 followers and each post generates hundreds of likes. It’s a simple and effective way to connect with a broad spectrum of golfing enthusiasts.

golfmatch-img2

Like other entrepreneurs in the golfing industry, Kratsios is passionate about increasing participation in the game. Although he’s young and tech-savvy, Kratsios has some old-school views about how the game should be played. He applauds any effort by an individual or organization to get people interested in golf, but he’s not personally enthused about courses altering their greens by cutting holes the size of dinner plates, as TaylorMade’s “Hack Golf” initiative has supported.

He conceded that the game can be outlandishly expensive at times, and it’s certainly difficult to play at a high level, but those factors on their own aren’t driving people away or keeping new ones from taking it up. But combine those things with individuals consistently having lousy experiences on the course and you have the makings of a mass exodus.

Over the course of five hours, our playing partners turned out to be reasonably good companions, offsetting what they lacked in playing ability. Although they didn’t look the part, they were no less enthusiastic about the game than any of the old-money members of Shinnecock. With all the holdups we endured between holes, there was plenty of time to make small talk about golf (do fans really miss Tiger?) and about courses (how tough is Bethpage Black?).

As we all know from experience, a blind pairing works out fine on occasion; most times it doesn’t. If you’ve ever teed off with a golfer who hits a 5 iron farther than you hit your driver, then you know what I mean. A better player hangs out in the middle of the fairway waiting to play their approach while you spend a chunk of your round communing with squirrels.

Sometimes it’s not a mismatch of skill, but of attitude. You can’t expect a foursome to function if half the players show up to the course to play for bragging rights while the other half are there to socialize, chug beers or smoke blunts.

Insofar as the GolfMatch app is concerned, it might not always suggest a perfect foursome, but it has parameters in place to help an individual discover other golfers who view the game as a way to compete or a way to have fun, or anything in-between.

[quote_box_center]“I think everybody understands that the game needs to change; we need to innovate in order to get back some of those golfers that have left and to bring new ones into the game,” Kratsios said. “People at first might be a little confused about how we’re going to bridge that gap. But after we explain our story, it’s eye-brow raising.”[/quote_box_center]

Bridging The Gap

There wouldn’t be much to the GolfMatch story without the actual software app that Rivera, the company’s technology partner, coded entirely on his own under the duress of high expectations and demanding time constraints.

Given those circumstances, the initial release was naturally light on features. The app allowed a person to search for other golfers using a limited set of filters. The same approach applied to finding courses nearby. If you wanted to connect with a golfer, you clicked a button to follow them and crossed your fingers. Attempting to schedule an outing with other GolfMatch users was a crapshoot: a message to your followers may or may not have gotten noticed. Still, even with limited functionality, Kratsios was able to get members of the golf industry and investors excited about the app’s potential.

With the recently-released second iteration of the app, Kratsios and Rivera are planning to blow people away with a bevy of features that expands the software’s capability beyond that of a simple rolodex of golfing buddies.

The new match feature lets users look for pre-existing matches or post new ones to the platform. Once a match is created the owner can fill out the slots in his or her foursome from a list of friends, even from contacts who do not have profiles on GolfMatch. Schedule a day and time for your match and a push notification will be sent out to users who have been invited to participate.

If none of your personal contacts are into golf and you don’t know anyone on the platform, simply post your match to the GolfMatch community at large. A new set of filters help users discover public matches based on location and distance, as well by course name, or type of game (friendly, competitive, wager, family, or networking). If a match catches someone’s eye, they’ll make a request to join.

The experience of creating and filling matches has been engineered to be as seamless as possible. If one of your invitees drops out of your foursome, the match can be resurfaced.

“This allows the match to potentially get filled and to provide revenue for the golf course so that the tee time and green fee isn’t lost,” Kratsios said.

The only way setting up a match could be any easier is with a built-in tee-time aggregator, and if you don’t think Kratsios is working on making that happen, then you’re underestimating his resourcefulness.

If anything is going to prevent GolfMatch from fulfilling it’s potential, it’s the glacial rate of adoption. As Kratsios was quick to point out to me through our closing stretch at Eisenhower, the success of the platform hinges on being able to cultivate a large-scale community.

To that end, Kratsios has struck up relationships with Ship Sticks and the PGA Tour Superstore. These opportunities, and others like it, expose the GolfMatch brand to a highly coveted list of customers. In return, the GolfMatch platform allows these businesses to offer an on-the-course experience that complements their brick-and-mortar operations.

“[PGA Tour Superstore] want to transform their stores into a golf experience,” Kratsios said. “They want people to come in the morning and stay there all day on their simulators. When someone buys something at their store we want to help them bring that customer back in and to transform their consumers into our users.”

Kratsios is unabashedly proud of what his team (which has fewer members than most rock bands) has been able to accomplish in just 12 months. Although he’s only 25, Kratsios has all the characteristics of a classic workaholic. He sleeps with a plugged in iPad by his side, “cause you never know” as he said. Even the golf course, which has always been a refuge for him, now doubles as a place of business. Kratsios keeps his golf bag stocked with extra tees, balls and plenty of GolfMatch paraphernalia. It’s not uncommon to see him attaching marketing materials to the steering wheels of unattended golf carts. He acknowledges that running a start-up isn’t easy or glamorous.

On the teeing ground on the last hole at Eisenhower, Kratsios implored us to bear down and go for par, but it didn’t play out like a scene from Hoosiers. The less accomplished members of our group recorded doubles and triples. Even Peter wrote a bogey on his card. Out of the four of us, Kratsios was the only one who didn’t need advanced arithmetic to tally up his score.

It’s not about what you shoot, Kratsios told me afterwards. Easy for you to say, I said.

Dismissing my wisecrack, he told me the game of golf will be fine. The secret to its longevity and resilience is the camaraderie people develop when they take up the game.

[quote_box_center]”That’s the story that needs to be conveyed to future generations of golfers in all these grow-the-game initiatives,” he said.[/quote_box_center]

It’s no coincidence that GolfMatch is an attempt to do just that.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

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63 Comments

63 Comments

  1. James

    Aug 12, 2014 at 9:08 am

    This app is just another waste. If I go to the course alone I want to play alone. If the course wants me to play with people I do not know, guess what I go somewhere else. I do not like playing with strangers. Being in SC also, we do not have overloaded golf courses like in NY…so this app again is a waste in that regard.

    the app that should be presented is showing people how to play golf faster. When your partner is in the sand trap hitting or where ever, don’t sit there in the cart and wait for him to finish before going to your ball. Grab a club, go to your ball, be ready…your partner once he is finishes comes to you…just this simple thing can speed up rounds a lot.

    And golf is down because disposable income is nowhere to be found. What killed golf was higher gas prices. For example, last year I spent over 3,000 bucks in gas. That amount in 2001 pre 9/11 would have been 800…giving me 2,200 to blow on golf……and back then I made the same thing yet I played 5 times a week, now I play 1-2 times a month.

    • Peter Kratsios

      Oct 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      James,

      I appreciate your feedback, as constructive criticism is the only way our product will get better. That being said, I would like to reflect on a few key points you made…

      You highlighted pace of play and $$ of golf as key contributors for declining play. Aside from our ability to connect golfers, our ability to solve fundamental problems for golfers that are time constrained and price sensitive is what makes our product so valuable to the golf industry. Although pace of play will never be completely solved due to human nature, finding time to play with buddies when it is convenient for you IS important to a large majority of the golfing population. Also, finding golf courses in your price range IS hard if you are not fully aware of the rates at all nearby facilities.

      We strive to solve those problems.

      Helping drive awareness to local courses is also very important to us. Although you may not find the same overcrowding issues that NY courses face, that trend is detrimental to the local courses you play. Without enough golfers, they cannot sustain revenue, and if they cannot keep up with costs, they will be forced to shut down. More than 150 courses shut down last year, while only 14 opened. That is a huge issue.

      We are very passionate about bettering the game of golf and growing participation, so if you could please email me directly at pkratsios@golfmatchapp.com I would love to discuss your thoughts on how to best solve the issues you and other golfers you know typically deal with.

      All the best,

      Peter

  2. Dave

    Aug 10, 2014 at 9:32 am

    If the key to saving golf is more social media gimmicks like this… I have no doubt that giving up the game is in my future…

    Thankfully I am pretty sure this is not the answer… the game needs to be bit more friendly for the average player.. and until it is I just don’t see it maintaining a level of mass appeal the industry would like to have.

  3. AS

    Jun 24, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Rounds are down. Have been for years. As the dollars poured in for new designs and better clubhouses the true sense of the game was diluted in a where it was more of a status symbol then a the wonderful game so many of us innocently played in the day. Looking back Tennis had its run when on a Saturday afternoon there was always a town employee to sign you up for an hour later in the day. Today every court you drive by is always open. The app sounds great. Too bad I have a droid so I can not look for some new faces to play with.

    • Peter Kratsios

      Jun 25, 2014 at 9:25 am

      AS- I like the comparison to Tennis because there are many parallels between the two, and I’m also a huge Jets fan, so I love your profile icon! The Android version will 100% be released at some point this year…stay tuned!

  4. KK

    Jun 19, 2014 at 10:58 am

    American values are becoming more and more distant from golf values. That’s the big problem, IMO. It’s ok. Let’s just all move to Australia.

  5. Adam

    Jun 19, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Not sure what your point in giving digs to Eisenhower is. The app has nothing to do with the course you played. Many people don’t have the privilege to belong to North Shore, private clubs. They have to endure the old brick clubhouses of the muni. It’s odd that we all bemoan the decline of golf, but in the same breath act like royalty when we are paired up with people we judge to be beneath us. I have been playing golf all over Long Island my entire life and have rarely if ever, had to play with people who ruined my round. It’s a joy to meet new folks, not a burden.

    • Peter Kratsios

      Jun 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Adam,

      I too find meeting new folks on the golf course to be an absolute pleasure. It is important to note that GolfMatch was not created to eliminate the idea of meeting new folks, it was created to help golfers find their ideal experience with golfers they want to play with at the courses they wish to play at.

      It is always nice broadening your network of golfing buddies.

  6. JDB

    Jun 19, 2014 at 5:42 am

    I think I would rather pair up with 22 year old hackers than 70 year olds who can still play decent. Pace of play is better with the young guys and they don’t piss themselves during their round. Honestly, that happened to me when I got paired with a 73 year old last year. I don’t think he knew he pissed himself, but he did. And just because you’re 100 years old doesn’t mean you don’t have to let me play through. When the old stop playing the young will start. Until then, I will have to suffer watching the elderly line up a six inch putt because it’s worth a buck!!!

    • Dan

      Jun 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      You mean the 22 year old hackers that don’t know when to be quiet, hit it all over the place, cant get out of the sand, wait for the green to clear when they are 235 yds out (but can only drive it 200 off the tee), spend the day on their cell phones and have no clue about etiquette????

      I’ll take the old guys and the Asian women at Bethpage, both of whom play pretty fast, b/c they don’t wait to hit their 2nd shot, have decent short games and dont f*ck around on the course

      • Mark M

        Jun 19, 2014 at 5:24 pm

        I’m not saying your wrong, but we all have to recognize that golf is a recreational activity. Not everyone will take it seriously and that’s ok. Hacking it around and screwing around on the course is someone’s idea of how to enjoy golf, and sorry but if you are not a professional that is relying on golf to feed your family you can’t criticize them. Also, the hackers are subsidizing your play because their green fees and beer money is helping to keep the course running. I don’t want to argue this, and I’m not saying your wrong, but this is the reality. Golf has long been in trouble because the attitude of the avid golfer to the casual rec player has always been one of contempt and smugness. It turns people off fast and scares those who might become serious players away before they even realize how much fun it can be.

        Join a private club and you’ll have a better chance of finding like minded players. Or play off hours (times when you only find avid golfers) at muni or public courses.

        The app is a great idea, by the way.

        • Dan

          Jun 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

          @ Mark M

          Not sure where you live or play, but luckily at Bethpage, even as a public facility is known to attract the better player and it shows. And while there are plenty of long rounds out there and no real marshals, the folks that play here luckily are not the 22 year old hackers, likely due to the demographics of Nassau County and Western Suffolk. Mostly 30s and up and most people can play, pretty well. And the ones who cant are usually marshaled by the group they are in. I dont care if you are a bad golfer, just dont be an idiot. IS that too much to ask?

          But perhaps its different where you play. As far JDB’s little story (as off color as it is), he’s dead wrong about the pace of play, for the reasons I described above. If you think that embracing the golf customer that “Hacking it around and screwing around on the course is someone’s idea of how to enjoy golf” is the future of golf, then say hello 6+ hour rounds and fights on the golf course. Bright future…………

          No I’m not a professional golfer, but I am someone when expects to finish a golf round in 5 hours, and its not my job to make sure that people who are learning the game can “screw around” on the golf course feel welcome. I play with good and bad. But they are mostly all “golfers”, not hacks who disregard the etiquette of this great game.

      • palboheitmeyer

        Jun 20, 2014 at 4:32 pm

        +1

      • Don

        Jun 24, 2014 at 2:09 pm

        Amen brother!

    • Jack

      Jun 20, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      Wow. That’s disheartening to hear. I’ve played with senior golfers and they usually teach me a thing or two. Very pleasant and usually shoot a better score than any young hacker out there. Pay attention and you might learn something.

  7. paul

    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:24 am

    I will stick to playing silly early in the morning with random strangers. In two years I only met one group I didn’t like. Lots of interesting people play at 6:00am.

    • Matt

      Jun 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

      Agreed Paul, I love walking up and meeting new people. You never know who you are going to meet and I have rarely played with someone that I didn’t enjoy getting to know. For the guy that gave the 70 year old a hard time, I have to say that one of my favorite rounds this year was with an older fellow how was a blast to play with. He didn’t hit it 300 yards but was great to talk to. In my experience, these are the guys that hit it straight and play faster than the younger guys who spend more time drinking and looking for their ball in the woods. Give him a break and show some respect!

  8. Neil

    Jun 18, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    The same idea was made years ago in Japan.

  9. Joe S

    Jun 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    This app has worked out great for me so far. I always had the problem of being paired up with people of different skill levels than me and its not fun for anyone. Last week GolfMatch paired me with a a foursome of people I did not know, and now were planning another round. I highly suggest using this app

  10. blink3665

    Jun 18, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Great idea. I often end up playing on my own because my friends can’t golf at the same times as I can. This would make getting paired up with like minded/skilled golfers much easier. That being said, usage will have to increase significantly before this app will gain any traction. It doesn’t do me much good if there are only 100 people in my area that use the app and only a percentage of them match up with me.

    • Peter Kratsios

      Jun 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. It is definitely a product that works better with more users. We have made it a priority to partner with some of the largest golf organizations in the United States to reach critical mass not only on a National scale, but also on a local level.

      The match feature allows you to invite your buddies via text or email to help organically create matches with golfers who have yet to download the app.

      Hopefully we can play together at some point this summer!

  11. Philip

    Jun 18, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    I pair myself with random golfers every time I play on the weekend. Love it! Play with women, play with men, kids, older and younger people. Never had any issues – maybe because I just go with the flow and focus on enjoying myself.

    The only thing wrong with golf is 5 1/2+ hours rounds – a shrinking golfer base will help correct that issue and prices. Only the manufacturers/courses need a growing market – because that is how owners/shareholders think. If they are not growing, they are dying. Why are prices are always increasing? It is an artificial way of increasing sales without actually selling more.

    • Peter Kratsios

      Jun 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Philip- A shrinking golfer base definitely hurts the manufacturers and the courses, but the real shame in the situation is that if courses continue to lose golfers (aka revenue) they will slowly but surely close. Less golfers, means less wait on the course, which means a faster round….but that is a slippery slope!

      • Philip

        Jun 18, 2014 at 9:59 pm

        For sure, especially when our western business culture only knows grow or die. That being said, what I see really helping golf would be for people to play off the proper tees, which is never going to happen as long as the forward tees are referred to as woman’s tees.

        Another thing that could help and would work well with your app is for courses to set up times for playing based on handicap (official or just copies of a players last 5-8 rounds) and give priority to the better players. If the times do not fill up than higher handicaps can fill the slots. This would tend to put newer players at the end of the day when rates are cheaper and would maximize the number of rounds played in a day as the better players would tear through the course.

        A day could get divided into 3-4 blocks and as long as say 3 players were at the specified handicap level they could add a 4th person of any handicap as they would help to show the newer person that golf can be fun and not to long to play.

        Food for thought

      • Dan

        Jun 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm

        I believe courses should have a limit on how long a group can be on the course. For example say 4 hrs. If your 4 hrs is up and you only completed 16 holes, it will teach you to play faster.

        I gre up caddying and while the course was packed rounds were always completed in under 4:15

  12. terry

    Jun 18, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    not a bad idea. but as golfers, who are we saving the game for? what is our purpose in all of this? why should we be concerned with “saving the game?” what are we saving? it sounds to me like this game grew at a very rapid pace in a short amount of time and now everyone that’s heavily invested in it is scrambling to not let the market shrink more than it has. they are trying to scare golfers into thinking this is a life of death situation. when in reality, i would prefer a market correction. i would prefer for club prices to drop. i would prefer there to be less club companies. i would prefer to pay less for golf. i don’t need a $500 shaft to add 20 yards to my tee shot. professionals don’t need to make $1 million dollars for winning a pga tour event. the game was simple 20 years ago. it was fun and easy to enjoy. now its a chore. now its a headache. now you feel like a dumbass when you shoot 90 after investing $2200 into a new set of custom fit clubs. let the market correct itself.

    • chris

      Jun 19, 2014 at 12:33 am

      Could not have typed it better myself…

      Its like the housing crisis of sports, she will bounce back

    • Justin

      Jun 19, 2014 at 9:51 am

      +1

  13. Jeremy Beale

    Jun 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    This is my very problem. As much as I like playing with older gentlemen, sometimes I just want to play with a group of young 20 somethings like myself.

    However, where I think this App would help find my target demographic, I don’t think it would help grow the game for my benefit.

    Sad, truth Golf is an oldman’s sport.

    • Tony Lynam

      Jun 19, 2014 at 10:04 am

      I am 51 years old and play to a 5 handicap. Having spent 30 years in the Marines, I am still in great shape and have remained very athletic. Recently played with a friend in his early 30s (who has won the Outback Pro/Am and club championship) and the assistant pro in his late 20s, at his course. Played from the tips at 7000 plus yards and I out shot the assistant pro and hung with my friend for the most part. I like playing with people at any age as long as they have a game at my level, I will take that over playing with old or young golfers who are just hacking up the course. I hate when starters pair you up with golfers when it is pretty obvious our games are at different ends of the spectrum. Socially it all works out, but when you are their to play at a high level, it is a burden.

      • Jeremy Beale

        Jun 19, 2014 at 11:28 am

        Yea, I am a military kid born and raised and I also have been playing golf since I could remember(2 Handicap). The tips are my friend lol.

        But, I seldom ever (if at all) play with any young adults. Especially my friends because they are intimidated by my game. All I want is to do is have fun. But, like I said golf is not a huge sport for 20 somethings. The major golf demographic is between 35 and 55.

        I just want to play with the young adults who talk about everything, but the “real world”. Skill level/Handicap is not everything and if it is well golf is no longer just a game.

        • Jack

          Jun 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm

          Your friends are intimidated? I love playing with friends who are better than me. Lots to learn.

        • Dan

          Jun 22, 2014 at 12:44 pm

          20 something’s can’t find jobs to pay for golf

  14. John-Russell

    Jun 18, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    As a fairly new golfer, one of the biggest issues I came across was finding people with similar skill level to myself to go out and play with. GolfMatch has alleviated this problem for me. I have been able to set up multiple pairings with golfers in my area, with similar skill sets to myself which has resulted in a much more enjoyable round of golf for myself and the people I have met and played with from using GolfMatch. Just an all around great idea! I would recommend GolfMatch to anyone who is looking for that perfect pairing for a great round of golf!!

  15. William Wente

    Jun 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Great Article!! Love what GolfMatch has done, and I’m excited to see where this App can go. This App can be extremely beneficial for golf courses.. It seems ridiculous that with the technologies avaliable today, I can still struggle to find pictures or information on golf courses, and this often leads to me playing elsewhere, or courses I’ve played. Keep it up guys!!

  16. Anthony

    Jun 18, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Maze of parking lots?????
    Did you miss the sign that says golf course/2nd left (if coming in from Merrick Ave).

    This is my home track… You just need to know when to play Eisenhower to play rounds under 4 hours like we do every Saturday and Sunday morning. Get there between 3:30A-4A to be one of the 1st five groups out on the Red.

    And that will back up the argument why golf is not growing.

  17. Ken

    Jun 18, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    GolfMatch makes so much sense! I frequently play as a single and would jump at an opportunity to check GM before heading to the course. I can see that the app might also serve to organize tournaments and generate additional interest. Nice job!

  18. sgniwder99

    Jun 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    “As we all know from experience, a blind pairing works out fine on occasion; most times it doesn’t.”

    Now there’s an unfounded assertion if ever I’ve heard one. This is far from being something “we all know from experience.” It’s not true at all in my experience. The vast majority of people I’ve been paired with have been friendly and enjoyable to play a round of golf with. In fact, I can only remember a couple of problem pairings at all, and I’ve been playing golf as a single for most of my life.

    Rather than an app to make sure you never have to play with someone who’s not just like you, maybe some people need to learn to get along with different types of people a bit better.

  19. JOEL GOODMAN

    Jun 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    GOLF IS IN DECLINE FOR A COUPLE OF VERY SIMPLE REASONS. 1. THE COST TO ACQUIRE EQUIPMENT IS HIGH-MINIMUM $500 FOR ANYTHING USABLE, 2. GREENS FEES ARE HIGH ALSO-, IN FLORIDA IMPOSSIBLE TO PLAY FOR LESS THAN $25 AT ANYTIME. $100+ FOR THE NICE COURSES IN SEASON. 3. A ROUND OF GOLF IS 4 HOURS MINIMUM WITH 5 HOURS BEING NOT UNCOMMON. FIX ‘EM ALL AND THE GAME THRIVES..WHEN I WAS A KID WE PLAYED THE MUNI FOR 75 CENTS UNTIL WE REACHED 16 THEN IT WA $1.50

    • Rich

      Jun 19, 2014 at 12:23 am

      I think you need to realise it’s 2014, not 1914……..

      • Tony Lynam

        Jun 19, 2014 at 10:11 am

        Now that was funny! I live in Florida too and he had great points and should have left off the muni comment. He also failed to realize that Florida courses make their money on “snowbirds” coming down in season.

      • palboheitmeyer

        Jun 20, 2014 at 4:36 pm

        haha!

  20. Frank Dee

    Jun 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Great article Rusty, but living in The Villages, Florida, I never have a problem being paired with golfers my age or handicap. With 36 executive Courses and 12 Championship courses, there’s always an opening @ one of the courses. Once the app is compatible with my Galaxy, I might be able to use it during the summer on Long Island.

    Frank Dee

  21. Ryan S

    Jun 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    You guys come all the way out to Long Island and you play Eisenhower Red? You must be a fan of a 6 hour round.

    Next time you should try out some local gems like Tall Grass or Great Rock.

    • Anthony

      Jun 18, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Right…Because nobody has ever played a 5 hour round at Tall Grass or Great Rock during prime golfing hours. Especially Tall Grass when hackers hook the ball off 1 into the trees or slice it right into the fescue grass.

      I guess to play Eisenhower you have to do what my group of buddies do. Get to the course by 3:30A, set your chair down and sleep in your car so you are one of the 1st five groups out on Red. And if not, you will be first out on White. Then you can play in under 4 hours like us, and be home by 10:30…at least I can… I live close enough!

      And if you are lucky enough to be the 2nd group out on Red, because nobody beats that #1 group to the course, it’s like setting the pace with nobody in front. God Bless them.

      I will say Eisenhower has gone downhill since the new groundskeeper took over last year. She has ruined the course at times. It was an awesome track when they played the Champions Tour event there. Unfortunately that was a long time ago. But at the end of the day, they are still my home courses and don’t mind the early wake up calls and overnight sleeps in the car to tee off before 6:20A and be one of the 1st five groups.

      • Ryan S

        Jun 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm

        your friends seriously wake up that early to play at Eisenhower? Its justified to do that in order to play Bethpage Black or Red but i cant believe people do that for Eisenhower.

        If they are up that early why not drive the extra 20 minutes and hit up Bethpage? Even the green course at Bethpage is comparable to the Red course at Eisenhower.

        When i started out i played exclusively at Eisenhower until i realized how slow and infuriating all the courses are. Now i drive out east every weekend just to play a round in 4.5 hours. Better courses and better players.

        • Anthony

          Jun 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm

          I have a family, so it all started out for me as a time issue. The earlier I play, the earlier I get home. Then I became a regular there and got to know the other regulars. Soon enough I find myself in a group of guys rotating ever few weeks who sleeps over. The Red is one of the best courses on LI. I actually live 5 minutes from Bethpage. I drive the 15 to Eisenhower. It’s easier to get on I feel and don’t mind. Every weekend I am one of the 1st 4 groups out and am at the point I actually can’t play in the middle of the day because the pace even if at 4 hours sets me back. I’m so spoiled because there is always a hole open in front and behind with the regulars at Eisenhower. We are almost like a dysfunctional family every Sat and Sun lining up, checking chairs, and looking out for one another.

        • Anthony

          Jun 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm

          One more thing…

          The Green at Bethpage does not even compare to the Red at Eisenhower.

          The Red is a Championship Course that held a Senior PGA Tour Event for many years (The Commerce Bank Championship) that plays 6,400+ from the white tees and over 7,000+ from the tips. The Green maxes out at 6,000 yards with sever elevation changes that allows the course to play even shorter on some holes. It’s basically an executive course equivalent to Eisenhower Blue.

          I would consider any of the Eisenhower and Bethpage Courses my home because I’ve played them so much over the last decade, since moving out to Eastern Nassau County.

          • Peter Kratsios

            Jun 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm

            Anthony,

            I too grew up playing the Eisenhower courses, and continue to do so. The head pro, Mike Wade, taught me to play at an early age, introduced my to The First Tee program, and has been a huge influence in the development of GolfMatch. I would love to play Eisenhower with you and your buddies in the upcoming weeks.

            If you can create the match through GolfMatch, or join the one I organize, even better!

      • kasey

        Jun 19, 2014 at 3:14 am

        Why would anybody get up at 3:30 am to play that dog track? Sounds like a terrible experience just to play golf in under four hours. Sounds to me like the head pro has no clue how to run a tee sheet. Golf match solves a real problem for the majority. Great idea!

        • Anthony

          Jun 19, 2014 at 3:10 pm

          Because the earlier I get out the earlier I get home. When you have a family like I do, getting up when everyone is sleeping and only missing a couple of hours when the kids 1st wake up allows me to basically play as much golf as I want. There is nothing better than being the lead group at 5:40A on the White or Blue, 6:04A on the Red) and playing quick enough to not be waiting on a shot or have a group riding your rear end.

          I’d hardly call the Red Course a Dog Track. Holbrook CC is a dog track. Cantiague and Lido are dog tracks. The Red even though I think it has gone downhill the last year or so is still in GREAT Shape even on it’s worst days.

          The White has it’s issues, the fairway bunkers, and some greenside bunkers are hard and rocky, but overall the greens and fairways are in great shape.

          The White course design can get a little boring with every hold being elevated and almost the same sand trap design, but it’s different from the Red and a nice change of pace. Now if only the idiots that put the pin placements down would stop putting them on severe slopes and crowns it would be a much more enjoyable experience. I swear I want to ring their necks on certain days.

          The Blue Course was once the worst. Quite honestly after they added new sand greenside the course has been fine. The fairway bunkers are similar to the white, rocky and hard, but at least the holes vary and offer a variety of entry points. The only knock on the Blue is it plays only 6,000ish yards from the back tees. If they added another 350-500 yards to the course it would be right in line with all other amateur courses. They were supposedly doing that a few years back where they started to create new tee boxes, but then just left the project undone for whatever reason.

        • palboheitmeyer

          Jun 20, 2014 at 4:37 pm

          No way! I’m barely 1/3 thru my sleep at that time of the morning!

    • Peter Kratsios

      Jun 18, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Ryan,

      We are Co-Sponsoring an event at Tall Grass July 27th. I think this will be right up your alley if you frequent that course! Stay tuned.

  22. Marc

    Jun 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Nice article to see. I haphazardly came across the app on the App Store while looking for a gps app, and I was pleasantly surprised with something different.

    The new match feature is awesome….totally brings the app full circle by grouping similar crappy golfers with myself lol…..kudos to those guys wish them nothing but the best!!!

    Thanks

  23. Max H

    Jun 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

    While on vacation last week in Florida, I used GolfMatch to find a game. Within 30 minutes, I was paired wih three gentlemen with similar handicaps as me and interested in the same type of game; Wager/Booze! GolfMatch is a great app for golfers of all skill levels and interests. I look forward to continuing to use GolfMatch!

  24. AJ

    Jun 18, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Whilst I appreciate this is a USA-centric article, the game isn’t in decline in the rest of the world from what I can make out.

    For me the biggest barrier to golfers in the US is simple: cash. Golf here in the UK is inexpensive (including all the top courses) and therefore the biggest hurdle of all isn’t there.

    There is also a massive over-saturation of the equipment marketplace, which simply didn’t exist even 10 years ago. I play with 6 year old blades and people look in my bag like I’m a freak.

  25. Brock

    Jun 18, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Not available for Android?? The biggest market share OS for smartphones and they only release it for Apple?

    Wow.

    • Peter Kratsios

      Jun 18, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Hi Brock,

      As one of the Co-Founders, I can assure you that we will be releasing an Android version shortly. Per the article, we have a small team and are working on perfecting the iOS platform before we tackle Android and Web. We look forward to hopefully having you on the Android version in the near future!

      Cheers,

      Peter

      • Brock

        Jun 18, 2014 at 12:02 pm

        Fantastic reply! I will definitely try it out when available. Thanks for the reply!

      • paul

        Jun 19, 2014 at 12:22 am

        Its always iOS first in the states because that is all kids want these days. Android is 2nd and maybe some day windows phone will see it to. Maybe…

    • Dan P

      Jun 18, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Most apps are released on IOS first because they don’t need as many iterations of it. Typically takes a few more months for the android app to come out (see Cyberdust a Mark Cuban app) since they need it for different operating systems, screen sizes, etc. I’m sure its in the works just takes lots of engineering.

    • Mat

      Jun 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      It’s always going to be that way. It’s just the reality of development, as Dan mentioned.

  26. Dan P

    Jun 18, 2014 at 11:05 am

    This app looks awesome, a great way for singles to pair up with people before heading out. Downloading it as we speak. As a former BU alum as well, Go Terriers!

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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