Before I get into specifics, here’s a quick review of golf participation in the U.S.
Since 1985, we’ve lost 500,000 avid golfers, who are golfers who play golf 25+ times per year and pay 71 percent of all golf-related expenses. That doesn’t seem like a big loss until you consider that the U.S. population has increased 40 percent since 1985. Looking forward, the population forecast is flat to down so we can discount it as an influencer.
Extensive surveys indicate that golf is “too slow, no fun” and that’s the overwhelming reason people quit the game. Remember, the 4 million or so folks who have left the game since 2000 were avid golfers who averaged two rounds per month or more. They understood that the game was hard and had their own clubs. In the credit card world, they were the platinum members who walked away. The first order of business is to get a significant number of these folks playing at the avid rate again, because the industry needs their revenue.
Looking at the NGF data that I initially referenced in Part 3 of this series, I’m setting a 5-year goal to increase golf participation by 2 million avid golfers. Unrealistic, you say? May I point out that we had 10.2 million avid golfers playing in 2000, a number that dropped to 6.4 million in 2012. I’m only trying to get that number up to 8.5 million, which is still 1.5 million less than we had in 2000.
Where will those golfers come from? Surely we can’t recruit 2 million new bodies who will play 25 times a year. Agreed! It breaks down like this: Golf has 7.6 million golfers who play more than 8 times per year and another 11.3 million golfers who play once annually. They play, but not enough to be considered avid golfers. So we have a pool of 19 million who have shown enough interest to try the game, own clubs and fondly look at courses as they drive by. Our goal is convert 10 percent of these golfers to the avid category, and between us we’d settle for 5 percent and let momentum do the rest.
This is a specific approach; all the junior programs, women’s programs, whatever, are ongoing and have been for years. We’ll assume they have some positive value and welcome any successes but they are not the focus.
So there is the approach. It’s clearly defined and with a specific goal. How do we make it happen?
Decree No. 1: Czar Barney assigns the first project to The PGA of America. They have a vested interest and more importantly the organizational structure with their regional offices. The job is not a simple Tee It Forward message but one of education, where they show amateurs that some 90 percent of them are making the game too hard on themselves because of the way today’s courses are set up. We have a broad range of the type of holes they should be playing: The objective will be to show that a proper setup can be fun and still a challenge. Since programs seem to work better with names, it will be about instituting the “Challenge Tees.”
The PGA of America then goes to NBC/Golf Channel and partners with them to underwrite a multi-year series designed to help educate the amateur golfer on playing the “The Challenge Tees” so the “too slow, no fun” issue becomes a non-factor. The Czar defers to available creative minds in this endeavor.
Why the multi-year contract? Golf is played by adults who have shown to be fairly stubborn. The target market is the same demographic who have abandoned the game. They do not change easily; it takes time and a constant message.
The PGA of America would establish regional goals and bonuses accordingly. The more regions the better: divide and conquer. As some regions outperform others, the door opens for deeper analysis and adoption of successful local efforts.
I am Golf Czar, not an analyst for society and its effect on human nature. The societal issues are many and worthy. As has been written, this is a focused effort on the folks who left the game citing that it’s “too slow, no fun”
It’s been written that to combat today’s time pressures the golf industry should focus on speeding up play or cutting play to 9 holes. I don’t care if you play 7, 9 or 13 holes; if they are 430-yard “signature” par 4’s they are wrong for 90 percent of the amateurs playing.
The same goes for the 15-inch cup, non-conforming clubs balls and all the other easy, pop fixes that do not relate to the real game. The majority of golf courses are unfriendly, so rather than change their character let’s concentrate on them as a value proposition. Remember the restaurant? If the food is the issue fix that first.
Let me be clear on one point. I know the middle and front tees are already there. I also know the vast majority don’t use them relative to their personal skills. The entire program is to make distance relative, create fun holes and educate the golfing public that the fun of golf is back.
Decree No. 2 goes to the USGA. On many occasions I’ve been told, “We don’t want to move up because our handicaps will drop; then when we play back in the member guest we’ll have no chance.” Let me emphasize that I’ve heard this on dozens of occasions and it absolutely is a roadblock to playing a more distance-friendly course.
The Golf Czar, as I was named in my previous article, realizes that not all golfers bother to establish and use a handicap, however, enough do that it is incumbent upon the USGA to make the handicap system part of the solution, not part of the problem. I look forward to The USGA taking a leadership position on this issue.
USGA continued. Czar favors two sets of rules. With this statement, all the purists are granted time to vent. The other day when I played my group took a mulligan off the first tee and gave putts inside the leather. We also rode carts and used rangefinders. When we finished, we turned in scores for a USGA handicap. Let’s not kid ourselves, the average golfer, avid to occasional, does not play strictly by the rules much less understand them.
Czar is a realist. He understands that professionals and elite amateurs have benefited from technology more than the average amateur. I don’t want to ruin the game, I want to protect it from 15-inch cups and the non-conforming clubs that will be offered by manufacturers. Yes, Czar is aware that some think the ball goes too far and the first thought is for whom? The entire subject of equipment and golf balls is worthy of a separate discussion (or two).
A Czar decree to all private clubs. “Thou must employ caddies.” I’m not interested in your problems, work it out. Those that fail to conform become public and Czar will set greens fees.
Decree No. 3: All public facilities are to set aside specific times where Juniors play free. It could be an evening or afternoon and the courses can work it out. Accompanying parents pay minimum greens fees.
Decree No. 4: Funding for course changes. The USGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and any outside corporations wanting the association need to establish a fund and keep an ongoing minimum of $100 million. This will be available for courses to hire architects who will be making creative changes while keeping back tees for elite players. Czar will appoint a credentialed committee to approve plans (30 days or less) and the payback is at 1 percent simple interest over 20 years. Czar is so enamored of this idea he promises to keep his greedy hands off the money.
You’ll notice nothing was specifically directed to the issue of slow play. Unless golfers move to relevant tees, why bother? The Czar is borderline apoplectic about slow play and plans a future column on the subject.
More upcoming columns that will be published after this series; one specifically on cost. It’s too significant and too complex to cover fairly in a few lines here; water usage, equipment and Czar is open to reader suggestions.
There you have it; simple, doable changes with specific goals attached. When participation trends back to the glory days, I want nothing. OK, maybe my likeness on every sprinkler head in existence, but modesty precludes saying more.
Time is the next element. The various organizations must be given adequate time to respond. Czar is watching carefully.
In the interim, all this effort was exhausting for Czar; I just voted myself a significant raise and bonus, no specific justification, after all I’m officially a non-profit.
The coveted FedEx Cup Top 30: Why making it to the Tour Championship really matters
This week at the BMW Championship held at Medinah Golf Club in Chicago, the top 70 players left in the FedEx Cup Playoffs are looking to seal their spot in the top 30 and get to East Lake for the Tour Championship.
Not only does getting into the top 30 mean a chance at winning the FedEx Cup and a cool $15 million bonus for winning the event, but heading into the 2020 season, being in the top 30 comes with some big perks. This top 30 threshold allows players the opportunity to build their schedules around the biggest event in golf.
Let’s take a look at what punching a ticket to East Lake really gets you
- An automatic invitation into every major in 2020: The Masters, PGA Championship, US Open, and The Open Championship. For many players qualifying for these events, especially The Masters in a lifelong dream.
- Invitation to all the WGC Events: There are only a few event on tour that get you an automatic paycheck and FedEx Cup points. Being eligible for the WGCs shows that you are a world-class player, and with these events on the schedule, you don’t have to worry about qualifying through world rankings.
- Invitation to all limited field events: This includes the Genesis Invitational (formerly Genesis Open / LA Open), The Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Memorial, and The Players Championship.
If a player was to play every one of the qualified events that would put them at 12 events for the season—to maintain a card for the next year a player has to play in at least 15 events. If you conclude that many of these are also winners and will play in the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii that would put the players at 13 events.
This is why being in the top 30 is such a vital line in the proverbial sand—it gives these top players the ability to pick and choose their schedules for the 2019/2020 season without the stress of worrying about what events they are in. Although not to the same extent, this is also why every cutoff is so crucial for each player, whether it be the PGA Tour top 125, PGA Tour 125-150, or those players that gained their cards through the Korn Ferry Tour. Every dollar and every point earned accumulates towards playing opportunities for the next season!
WRX Q&A: NewClub’s Matt Considine
A friend of a friend pointed me to NewClub’s website. Having never heard anything about the effort previously, my first impression of NewClub was a product of its homepage, which looks something like (OK, exactly like) this.
“Sounds great,” I thought. “But what the heck does all of this mean practically?”
To get the answer to that question, I got in touch with founder and CEO Matt Considine, who was kind enough to answer a few questions about the venture.
GolfWRX: Let’s start with a little bit about your background in golf…
Matt Considine: As Lebron likes to say “I’m just a kid from Akron” and like many Midwestern kids, I’ve loved playing games with my friends, especially the game of golf. I grew up working and playing at area clubs, munis, and driving ranges. I always had a club in my hands — my mom will attest to all the divots in her carpet and repaired windows in our house. My first internship in college was with IMG Sports in Cleveland and that was my first formal introduction to the golf industry.
WRX: How did arrive at the concept for NewClub?
MC: Golf societies have been around since 1744, so I’m not sure I can take credit for conceiving anything. We took an old idea and made it new again, something that would mesh with the life of a modern golfer.
The first time I was introduced to a golf society was in 2005, and I haven’t been able to shake the concept since. Like many people I’ve talked to, I was burnt out and frustrated with golf, so I quit my college team and shipped off that summer to study at University College Cork in Ireland for 9 months.
I left to get away from golf but it was my experiences in Ireland that introduced me to a whole new way of enjoying the game. After getting laughed off Cork’s Hurling team (Ireland’s native sport) they found out I could play a little bit of golf and offered me a spot on the club team (league rules permitted one American per squad). My dad shipped my clubs over and I was back in business. Because their University teams operated on a lean budget, we would play matches against local societies and clubs in between the college matches to keep the competition sharp. It was those matches and people I met that taught me a whole new way to look at, appreciate, and enjoy the game of golf. It was a miraculous blessing looking back on it now.
Fast forward 10 years, I was living in Chicago working in business development for a technology company. I kept meeting people who were self-proclaimed “golfers,” but not playing much golf. So a small group of friends took a trip over to Scotland where we had an especially enlightening experience playing the Old Course and hanging out at The New Golf Club of St. Andrews after our match.
It was our experience there that was the final spark that NewClub needed. We enjoyed our lunch while The New Golf Club members file through the entrance, four golfers at a time to reminisce about their game on one of the seven links courses available to them through the St. Andrews Links Trust and their golf society membership.
We met teachers, bankers, architects, grocers, police officers, accountants, and fishermen. We heard stories about legendary members like Tom Morris and Sandy Herd. The New Golf Club of St. Andrews is a magical place where any golfer in their community, anyone in good standing with a passion for the game could make their golfing home.
When I returned to Chicago from that second pilgrimage in May of 2015, I decided it was time to start enjoying golf again. Just like the way I used to as a kid, the way those clubs and societies did in Ireland, and the way those members did at The New Golf Club of St. Andrews. That summer I started a standing game every Saturday at any compelling course I could find and my golf society was born. Then in 2017, we made NewClub official with 50 founding members and 5 clubs in Chicago willing to host the society.
WRX: What’s happened since launch and where you are now?
MC: The society has grown to over 300 members and we have relationships with over 50 private clubs and golf courses that we find fun and compelling places to play the game. We have standing tee times every Wednesday to Sunday throughout the golf season and host five tournaments and three trips every year. Next Spring, we have our first NewClub trip scheduled to back to Scotland.
We’ve also introduced an ambassador program for people from all around the country. It’s been amazing how many people we’ve met who are eager for something like this in their own community, a golf society that they can genuinely be proud of.
WRX: Anything more about what members are saying and what the feedback is been like?
MC: In a lot of ways, we’ve set up this really unique society golf experiment, so we’re not afraid to try new things and see how people respond. Our members have been incredibly helpful with feedback. We’ve been listening a lot, watching how they use the mobile app, how they play their golf, learning about things they need, things they don’t. It all has helped us get to where we are now.
Overall, we’ve found that people have enjoyed the access and discovery of new and exciting courses, but the more pleasant surprise has been how much our members enjoy meeting new people and playing with each other. Nobody ever thinks (or admits) that they need golf buddies. But what we’ve found is that people are far more likely to play a round if they know they’ll be playing with someone they actually want to play with.
We’ve also learned that match play is very unappreciated in our country. Members love the matches, and match play is one of our core principles at NewClub.
WRX: What’s next for NewClub?
MC: We have plans for our second market launch in 2020 and will continue to grow our ambassador program to show us the road ahead. People are starting to stand up and say “this is how I want to experience golf,” so we know there is a serious need out there and we want to make sure we are meeting the demand by growing in the right way.
WRX: What do prospective members need to know?
MC: We have a really straightforward and proprietary application process on our website. Every prospective member needs to complete the application before being considered for membership. We look for applicants who possess a high quality of character, passion, and respect for the game of golf, and always leave the course in better shape than they found it.
Slow play is all about the numbers
If you gather round, children, I’ll let you in on a secret: slow play is all about the numbers. Which numbers? The competitive ones. If you compete at golf, no matter the level, you care about the numbers you post for a hole, a round, or an entire tournament. Those numbers cause you to care about the prize at the end of the competition, be it a handshake, $$$$, a trophy, or some other bauble. Multiply the amount that you care, times the number of golfers in your group, your flight, the tournament, and the slowness of golf increases by that exponent.
That’s it. You don’t have to read any farther to understand the premise of this opinion piece. If you continue, though, I promise to share a nice anecdotal story about a round of golf I played recently—a round of golf on a packed golf course, that took a twosome exactly three hours and 10 minutes to complete, holing all putts.
I teach and coach at a Buffalo-area high school. One of my former golfers, in town for a few August days, asked if we could play the Grover Cleveland Golf Course while he was about. Grover is a special place for me: I grew up sneaking on during the 1970s. It hosted the 1912 U.S. Open when it was the Country Club of Buffalo. I returned to play it with Tom Coyne this spring, becoming a member of #CitizensOfACCA in the process.
Since my former golfer’s name is Alex, we’ll call him Alex, to avoid confusion. Alex and I teed off at 1:30 on a busy, sunny Wednesday afternoon in August. Ahead of us were a few foursomes; behind us, a few more. There may have been money games in either place, or Directors’ Cup matches, but to us, it was no matter. We teed it high and let it fly. I caught up on Alex’ four years in college, and his plans for the upcoming year. I shared with him the comings and goings of life at school, which teachers had left since his graduation, and how many classrooms had new occupants. It was barroom stuff, picnic-table conversation, water-cooler gossip. Nothing of dense matter nor substance, but pertinent and enjoyable, all the same.
To the golf. Neither one of us looked at the other for permission to hit. Whoever was away, at any given moment, mattered not a bit. He hit and I hit, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes within an instant of the other. We reached the putting surface and we putted. Same pattern, same patter. Since my high school golfers will need to choose flagstick in or out this year, we putted with it in. Only once did it impact our roll: a pounded putt’s pace was slowed by the metal shaft. Score one for Bryson and the flagstick-in premise!
Grover tips out around 5,600 yards. After the U.S. Open and the US Public Links were contested there, a healthy portion of land was given away to the Veteran’s Administration, and sorely-needed hospital was constructed at the confluence of Bailey, Lebrun, and Winspear Avenues. It’s an interesting track, as it now and forever is the only course to have hosted both the Open and the Publinx; since the latter no longer exists, this fact won’t change. It remains the only course to have played a par-6 hole in U.S. Open competition. 480 of those 620 yards still remain, the eighth hole along Bailey Avenue. It’s not a long course, it doesn’t have unmanageable water hazards (unless it rains a lot, and the blocked aquifer backs up) and the bunkering is not, in the least, intimidating.
Here’s the rub: Alex and I both shot 75 or better. We’re not certain what we shot, because we weren’t concerned with score. We were out for a day of reminiscence, camaraderie, and recreation. We golfed our balls, as they say in some environs, for the sheer delight of golfing our balls. Alex is tall, and hits this beautiful, high draw that scrapes the belly of the clouds. I hit what my golfing buddies call a power push. It gets out there a surprising distance, but in no way mimics Alex’ trace. We have the entire course covered, from left to right and back again.
On the 14th tee, I checked my phone and it was 3:40. I commented, “Holy smokes, we are at two hours for 13 holes.” We neither quickened nor slowed our pace. We tapped in on 18, right around 4:40, and shook hands. I know what he’s been up to. He understands why I still have a day job, and 18 holes of golf were played—because we both cared and didn’t care.
There you have it, children. Off with you, now. To the golf course. Play like you don’t care.
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