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Growing the Game: Welcoming Newcomers to Golf

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It’s Saturday morning at 8 a.m. My wife and I have both had a long work week (as is pretty much always the case), the kids have been in school all week, and everyone needs to recharge their batteries. The kids are watching their cartoons, my wife and I are having coffee, and I get a text on my phone. I look at my wife and say “Hey babe, Matt has a tee time today at noon. Mind if I join him?”

Look, maybe your significant other plays golf. Maybe he or she doesn’t. They may be the coolest, most easy-going person in the world. Regardless of what your specific situation is, here’s what he or she just heard, “Hey babe, Matt has a tee time at noon. If I leave at 11 a.m., drive 20 minutes to the course, check in, hit some balls, roll some putts, then play a 4-hour-and-20-minute round of golf (kind of average here in the U.S.), drive 20 minutes back, I can be home by about 4:45 p.m. You’re good with the kids for about 5.5-6 hours, right? Thanks. Bye, honey!”

Look, I’m lucky. Golf was a significant part of my life before I had kids, a wife, or even a job. My wife can’t say I sprung this on her all of a sudden. But I can imagine if I instead said I was going to play cricket or go mountain biking for 6 hours of pretty much every weekend… let’s just say that might receive a puzzling look. And my wife is a very understanding and caring person.

If you’re on this site, you’re probably already hooked just like me. But what about the new blood? How do we get them hooked, or even interested in golf? How do we get them to carve out 6 hours of their Saturday to (frankly) stink at golf? How do we get their families to buy in? In short, while pretty much everyone is buzzing about the top end of the golf market and their new PXG and Epic irons, I’d rather talk about who’s going to take the plunge on that Wilson box set and why.

Depending on who you’re trying to recruit to the game, you’ll wind up with a different sales pitch, but here’s the one thing I’d like us all to agree on. Next time you and your golfing buddy are paired with two dudes with second-hand DCI’s from 1996 who can only hope to break 100, let’s be nice. As long as they’re not chugging Jack Daniel’s and blasting Bob Marley during the round, let’s be encouraging. Play a tee (or two) up with them to speed up play. If solicited, offer up some advice to them in an encouraging way.  The fact that they’re out there beating it with the rest of us is good for the game, even if they may irritate you on that particular day. Maybe they’re annoyingly bad, but they just carved a big chunk of time out of their Saturday to try to invest in a new game. They basically told their significant others they were going hang gliding for 6 hours. Let’s welcome them.

And if they are chugging Jack Daniel’s and blasting Bob Marley, politely decline and think about suggesting that you and Matt play ahead of them. All four of you may enjoy your rounds a little more at that point.

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 7, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Folks, just wanted to drop in one last time and say thanks for the overwhelmingly positive reactions. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. For those of you that never have, it’s a scary, yet exhilarating feeling and to have it be well-received is huge. I hope to keep generating content that is entertaining and thought provoking. Cheers!

  2. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 7, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Well, I certainly do have biases toward certain manufacturers, but I try to stick with the best tools for the job. The Epic helps me find more fairways plain and simple. I know the 8802 is not something one who struggles with putting “should” be using, but I do putt better with it than a lot of other flat sticks. I guess something about how it’s weighted allows me to swing the putter head more instinctively. I am an engineer, but I play better golf when I DON’T have my analytical engineer half of my brain cooking, as I can really get in my own way.

  3. Ude

    Aug 6, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Fair Way = Partee = ooffa = feminist failure who only loves golf clubs and herself …. sooo obvious

  4. Matt

    Aug 5, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Great article. As someone who picked the game up a few years ago I especially agree with the last paragraph (especially the part about offering advice if solicited).

  5. Jacked_Loft

    Aug 5, 2017 at 6:05 am

    Nice article Peter! We are the game, and we can grow the game. An old wisdom: “If she don’t play, she won’t stay.”

  6. Matt

    Aug 5, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Maybe golf could have two scorecards, one for casual local rules and one for the official rules of golf. A weekly ‘casual rules’ allowed time of Sat or Sun 9 hole afternoon from 2pm might also make it more fun… Rental gear and quick lessons onsite, cheap fees, no dress code, allowing play from forward or back fees, using a tee on any shot, preferred lie, one mulligan on the first hole and a maximum of triple bogey.

  7. Hardcore Looper

    Aug 4, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    Nice article. But if you want to keep your significant other from.feelimg like they’re stuck with the kids, get them playing. Yes, you won’t play many 18 hole rounds while they’re little, but they’ll get there faster than you’d think. Plus, you’re growing the game, and you’re spending quality time with them.

    Maybe I don’t contend in the club championship as I’d like, but I’ll trade that for our rounds in the Parent-Child any day.

    • Tyler

      Aug 6, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Here, here! I’ve got three boys ages 5, 3 and 1. I started taking my oldest with me about age 3 and then I recruited grandpa (my dad who wasn’t a golfer, but has recently gotten into the game) to come along when my second oldest turned 3. Now the conversation goes like this, “Hey honey I’m going to take the boys to play 9 holes with grandpa for 2-3 hours this afternoon, you OK with that?” What’s she gonna say to that? Happy wife, happy life. Initially it was a struggle to teach them the rules and etiquette of the game, but it hasn’t taken long for them to get the hang of it. So basically I’m bringing 3 (soon to be 4) new players into the game and it starts with a little patience and understanding from those of us that know the game.

  8. madeinguam81

    Aug 4, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Great read. My wife and I have two young boys (4 and almost 2) and this hit home. The only part I didn’t agree with is moving “a tee or two up to speed up play” when paired up with newer players. I’m a big proponent of playing what you should be playing and if it’s done right, it shouldn’t slow down play.

  9. MSMI ZZLE

    Aug 4, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Hey babe, Matt has a tee time today at noon. Mind if I join him?”…..what tf ever

  10. John

    Aug 4, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I loved this article. A refreshing change from the usual fare.
    Well done, Peter.

    To the editors: I think we could all use more of this and less of “6 hour fittings for a set of Miuras and the grips look nice next to my Porsche” piece that seem to be everpresent on this site.

  11. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 4, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for the comment. My WITB just had a full reboot this year. It had been about 4 years since my last. I now carry an Epic Driver and 3 wood, Titleist H2 hybrid, JPX 900 forged irons, and I have a potpourri of wedges and a milled 8802 putter. As for my game, it needs work! Mainly putting. Current goal is to consistently stay under 80. Keep hovering between the 78-82 mark. Trying to get rid of all three putts and double bogeys to achieve that end.

  12. Lauren

    Aug 4, 2017 at 10:12 am

    The wives of the world applaud your awareness of how frustrating the LOOOOONG absence that a golf outing on the weekend can feel to the spouse who is left-behind! However, I encourage wives, as my grandmother once told me, “let your husband play golf!” Men and women both need hobbies and things to help them escape the day-to-day grind of work, and also, let’s face it, parenthood. if golf does that for you, as I assume it does for countless others, go for it!

    My other comment is related to your encouragement of more inclusion in the game of golf–and by inclusion, I mean, patience with those of us who want to play, but are terrible and embarrassed to try. I don’t always feel like a golf course is the most welcoming to folks who fit that description, and I agree that they certainly need to be if the game of golf is going to survive into future generations.

    Good article.

    • BD57

      Aug 5, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Lauren,

      Thank you for understanding. And for those of us who’ve been playing for years – we absolutely should be encouraging to people coming into the game.

      Part of what we all need to understand- at least, IMO – is, for newcomers, the goal isn’t “put a number on a scorecard,” it’s to start hitting decent shots, to get proficient enough so you feel like “you belong” . . . . no one wants to feel like he or she “shouldn’t be here.”

      That’s not just for newcomers, Lauren. There was a time when I’d play in State Am qualifiers and the like, but I stopped years ago when my game got to the point where I didn’t feel it did justice to my fellow competitors to be out there – I wouldn’t want to distract someone who had a legitimate shot of qualifying when my game isn’t in shape to do so myself.

      For newcomers . . . . Hit a tee shot, play a second shot, but if you’re scuffling – – – – if we’re going down the hole 50 yards at a time – – – – feel free to pick it up and drop your ball up near the green so you can pitch, chip & putt (because that’s good stuff to work on). You’re out there to LEARN to play golf by hitting golf shots . . . . you’re not playing “scorecard golf” yet (there are a lot of people who never do).

      Play “short courses” whenever you can – they’re a great place to become more proficient and work into “the big course.”

      It’s a great game, and it can be FUN if you focus on making it fun.

  13. Richard Steele

    Aug 4, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Really great article Peter. Here in the UK were launching our App MemberMatch to help club golfers who are looking to play more and meet new friends. Our matching algorithm finds like minded players and suggests they play together- This helps build their social network, playing network and helps their club be more social. Look for MemberMatch.co.uk, coming to a club near you soon

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Equipment

Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020

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As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.

Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.

TaylorMade became educators…and kicked off live golf again

Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.

Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.

Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.

PXG leaned in

Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.

The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.

Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.

In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.

Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.

The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.

Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled

Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.

There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.

Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.

Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.

Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”

Cobra Rev 33 Irons

Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.

It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.

What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.

Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.

It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.

The Titleist train chugged on

I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.

So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.

It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.

Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to

Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.

The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.

As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.

Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball

Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.

However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.

 

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.

After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is 2020 golf’s big chance?

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At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.

Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.

It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).

If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.

The news sports landscape

Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.

People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.

The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry

  • Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
  • As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.

When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.

Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.

As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.

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