Sunday, March 13, 2011

Will Golf Survive or Better Yet, Will it Flourish?

According to Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, the human mind can take in 11 million pieces of information at any given moment.  The estimate is that we can be aware of only forty of these.  What does this mean to you as a golfer?  The information you take in unconsciously guides your emotions, your intuition, your instincts and of course, your conscious thoughts and decisions.

If you learned golf by spending hours hitting balls, rolling putts and walking around the course, you have probably spent time "lost" in the game.  The joy is in the process, in the learning, in the sunshine, in the camaraderie, in the smell of the grass, in the feel of an effortless drive, in the moment before a long putt falls and in the countless other sights, sounds, and feelings you have on the golf course.  You naturally form relationships with not just your playing partners, but also with trees, putters and clouds.  You completely belong in the world that is the golf course.

What if you started playing golf at age 40?  You probably don't have that limitless time that kids have to hone your skills.  You are self conscious about your swing and your actions on the course.  Everyone you play with seems to be better than you and speaks a different language than you do.  Things feel foreign and everything you see can be described as a hazard.  You have no place in this new world of golf.

From a golf professional's point of view, in order to grow the game, we have to get the unconscious thoughts of beginner's minds to take in things such as acceptance, familiarity, security, joy, peace, sunshine, warmth and fun.  If we plan to keep people playing the game, we have to develop an atmosphere of the ideas listed above as well as ideas such as family, relaxation, fitness, nature, success, connection and relationships.

Golf is a very old and well established game.  Here are some of the ideas that people, especially young people carry with them, both consciously and subconsciously:  golf is costly, time consuming, elitist, not extreme or fast moving, too hard, stuffy, old and will be there when I am 60.

Those of us who play golf and love the game understand that the challenge of hitting shots is intoxicating.  We get that what looks slow from the outside feels pretty fast when you are playing.  All hobbies are costly, but the cost for the time spent golfing can be economical.  Golf is hard, but that is what makes learning fun.  There is a lot we can do to offset all of these ideas and we should begin right away. 

What makes golf stuffy?  Lots and lots of rules.  Dress codes.  Marshals on the course.  Intimidation by better players.

What makes golf time consuming?  No choice in the amount of time spent.  It is either a two or four hour commitment which can lengthen if the pace of play is poor.  Distractions such as phones on the course.  Poor play.  Poor time management on the golf course.

What makes golf hard?  Lack of good or affordable lessons.  Lack of knowledge about the game, the swing and the equipment.  Lack of mentorship for new players.

What makes golf expensive?  The standards for turf conditions create large maintenance budgets.  The need for great service create large staffing budgets.  The need for large amounts of real estate.  The clientele has demanded better technology in equipment.

Could we grow the game if we offered choices for time commitments, as resort courses in Hawaii have done?  Can we offer the game with fewer rules for beginners as is proposed by the Alternative Golf Association with the game of Flogton?  Check it out here:  Flogton  Can we simply quit being stuffy by allowing jeans and tee shirts?  Can we create relationships and mentoring instead of divisions of players?

I came from the world of competitive golf to the world of pay for play golf.  I strongly hung on to what I believed was the essence of the game; strict adherence to the rules, competition, seriousness and excellence.  The longer I am in the golf business, the more I believe we have to grow, change, refocus and morph into a game that gives new players the vibes that I spoke of above.  We have to shape golfers' experiences on purpose in a positive way instead of continuing to allow the traditions of the game to shape them negatively.  Otherwise, we will soon be out of careers in the golf business.

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