Do you ever wonder what golf will look like 50 or 100 years from now? Not the clubs and balls and gadgets, but the game itself?
Who will play it? Where will they play? Will it still be considered a game for older people or will young people be on board? Will more women play? Will there be more or less access to public golf?
Will water be an issue and as a result what advances might have been made in agronomy? Will courses require a bigger or smaller footprint? Will 18 holes still be considered the norm?
These are big questions yet just a small sample of some of the issues golf should be considering – and planning for – now.
Sadly, however, there seems little interest in a cohesive approach to answering – or at least preparing for – some of the big picture questions golf will face over the coming decades.
For the best part of 15 years there has been hand wringing within golf about lack of growth in a rapidly changing consumer market.
Particularly vulnerable are clubs who rely on membership fees for survival while at the same time there are major concerns about how golf might engage the next generation.
Outside forces are exerting increasing pressure on a game whose use of resources is seen by many as wasteful, a trend not likely to change any time soon.
Politically, the game is predominantly viewed as a pursuit of the wealthy and/or elite and so is an easy target for those looking to make use of the land it sits on for other means.
And all the while those responsible for the game – from administrators to the professional bodies and Tours to manufacturers and media and others whose livelihoods depend on golf – continue to act independently, and often at odds with each other.
The reality is that somebody – anybody – needs to come up with a 50- or 100-year plan for golf.
“The reality is that somebody – anybody – needs to come up with a 50- or 100-year plan for golf.”
Not a 100-year plan for the USGA or the PGA or manufacturer X or Y or Golf Channel or the PGA Tour or any other individual entity but for golf, the game that makes all of it tick.
It’s easy to get side-tracked once you’re a part of the business and forget the reasons people play and commit so much of their time, passion and – yes, money – to this game.
But it is those reasons that are the real driver of the golf industry, not the latest club or ball or rangefinder technology or the latest resort course.
They are all part of it, yes, but we put the cart before the horse when we think about driving the business instead of selling the game itself.
So whose responsibility should this undertaking be? It would be easy to say a body made up of representatives from every ‘stakeholder’ group and on the surface, that makes a lot of sense.
Which is the first clue it is probably the wrong way to go. The problem with that sort of approach is that internal politics and self-interest within such a group invariably result in such a watered-down outcome – designed to please everybody – that it is of little real value.
No, the responsibility here lies with the USGA, R&A and their counterparts in every part of the world where golf is played.
It is they who are charged with the ultimate responsibility of protecting the game and while the rest of us need to do our bit it is they who need to show leadership in laying out the plan.
And just to clarify, this is not a Grow the Game initiative. Those are almost always disingenuous and really just code for ‘grow my business’.
What this needs to be is a ‘Share the Game’ initiative, an altruistic endeavour that focusses on everything good about golf and its role in communities and society more broadly.
The return on investment might be difficult to quantify in dollars but if the result is a healthy and popular game in 100 years’ time then the job will have been well done.
And surely that is worth whatever the cost might be?
Rod Morri is founder of the TalkinGolf Podcast Network, home of the State of the Game, Good Good, TalkinGolf History and Feed The Ball podcasts.
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