Golf 2.0: Rebooting the Game to Enhance Player Development

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GOLF IS IN A DIFFICULT POSITION: According to the National Golf Foundation, golf lost roughly one million players between 2009 and 2010, shrinking from about 27 million to around 26 million golfers nationwide. As discretionary income evaporates in the face of a lagging economy, fewer people can afford memberships at private clubs.

While the figures may look grim, the challenges created by a tough economy may be exactly the kind of opportunity the golf industry needs to reboot its elitist image and broaden its appeal to more diverse players spanning all ages and skill levels. Fortunately, the Professional Golf Association of America's new player development strategy, dubbed Golf 2.0, seeks to accomplish exactly this.

While the goal of strengthening the industry by increasing membership is hardly a new concept, the PGA's recent appointment of Darrell Crall as senior director of Golf 2.0 represents a commitment to increasing golf's appeal and accessibility to younger players. During his time as executive director of the Northern Texas PGA, Crall managed to grow the section's assets by a factor of 15--all the while initiating groundbreaking programs geared toward increasing youth involvement in the sport. Programs like Help-A-Kid Play Golf and Golf in Schools reached out to some 300,000 students in inner-city schools in Texas, and will likely serve as a model for Golf 2.0's goal of reaching out to younger players.

With the push toward Golf 2.0, the PGA has taken to heart the World Golf Foundation's Golf 20/20 initiative. According to the World Golf Foundation, the primary goal is "grass roots activation to ensure the future vitality of the game of golf," especially through programs directed toward beginners of all ages. One outgrowth of this is the "Play Golf America" program, a partnership between the World Golf Foundation and the PGA.

Practical, Affordable Access

The "focus on getting families involved and active has been a continuing effort since the early 1990s, and player development has always been fundamental," says Richard Singer of the National Golf Foundation. Given the statistics of player decline, improved marketing and greater options for beginner programming are important, but player development is clearly insufficient on its own. Marketing is critical, but it cannot succeed without practical, affordable access to courses.

This is where municipal courses stand to play a vital role in changing the image and the demographics of the game. According to Terry Anton of Starting New at Golf (SNAG), municipal programs are ideally suited to the inclusive ethos of Golf 2.0: They are uniquely positioned to "engage younger generations successfully for the future." Municipal courses, for one, are able to offer fun, lower-cost public programming geared toward families. This programming, in turn, is made accessible through many courses' connections to existing parks and recreation efforts. If golf is to change its image, it is likely that this transformation will center on municipal courses. According to Singer, "the [municipal courses] that do it well spread through the community, and have staff on property to handle junior camps, clinics, and social events for beginners and specific segments of the golf-playing population."

Municipal courses also stand to benefit from the changing face of golf. By making golf attractive to families and young people as a low-cost, engaging activity, municipal courses can reduce dependence on taxpayers while simultaneously growing the game. Richard Singer concludes that the relationship between municipal golf and the golf industry as a whole is mutually beneficial: "Municipal golf strengthens the community and the industry. Many lifelong golfers get their start at municipal courses."

Los Angeles municipal courses are a prime example of this symbiotic potential between public golf courses and the democratic aims of the PGA's Golf 2. …