Ways to truly grow the game of golf


In a few days, I’m off to Orlando for my 25th PGA Merchandise Show, often termed “The Major of the Golf Industry.” Virtually every year, speakers try to rally the troops to “grow the game.” The phrase tends to be thrown around loosely.

Golf is an awesome game and a delightful, albeit perplexing, pastime enjoyed by tens of millions of enthusiasts. But as Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a-changin.’” Golf is no longer a game just for paunchy 50-year-old businessmen who spend six hours on Saturday at the country club for 18 holes and cocktails. Growing the game is about golf as a game, not necessarily growing the golf industry, which is about money. If the game does well, the industry should do well.

The future growth of golf will come from the children of today. Golf courses, including munis, public daily fee venues, resorts and private clubs are encouraged to provide free or nearly free golf green fees for junior golfers up through age 12, and low-cost rounds ($10) for ages 13 through 17. Next, we need to pump up middle school and high school sports, starting with golf. PGA Jr. golf leagues around the country, including locally at Red Hawk Golf Club, have provided a much-needed opportunity for kids. There are certainly summer golf camps for kids, but it’s not enough. Millennials, as a generation, have not flocked to golf courses. Perhaps golf is too slow and too boring for them. There is plenty of technology in golf today, but maybe not enough for the millennials. Plus, it’s too hard!

Golf as a business and an industry needs to embrace tradition while proceeding with change. That means making golf more accessible for everyone.  The secret to growth is accessibility in the form of diversity and inclusion. Golf has a sorry history in terms of diversity; there is much to be done. Then there’s the “green lobby,” who wants to shut down golf courses everywhere in favor of “open spaces” for whatever. The city of Minneapolis planned to close the Hiawatha Golf Course due to “flooding,” where the only Black golf league had been playing since the 1950’s. They compromised on ploughing up nine holes. Additionally, more golf courses are closing than are opening due to the fact that developers make far more money on subdivisions and business parks than they do on golf. In the west, water is a much greater issue than chemicals, and the fight will last forever.

There are other things that need to be done to grow the game.  Start by reducing cart fees by 50 percent for senior golfers over 70. Somebody has to bridle the USGA and its antigrowth policies to avoid the rollback on the golf ball for recreational players. In terms of golf courses, more par 3 layouts would be a boon. Promotion of 6, 9 and 12 hole “rounds” would bring more players out who are on tight schedules. If I had to choose between less stringent rules, policies, dress and etiquette or more (well-behaved) golfers, I would choose the latter. If I were speaking to an auditorium full of golf course owners, I would tell them that their courses need to adopt resort-type strategies and mindset, where guests expect and should be treated to a superior golfing experience that they will remember. And that partly depends on golfer ambassadors (i.e. marshals) who have the authority to maintain the paces of play.

I am proud to say that our four championship golf courses in Las Cruces have done a splendid job in providing accessibility to everyone in the community and visitors alike.