Changing face of golf could shape game’s future

By JOHN GORDON

Although Mark Twain wasn’t a golfer, he was, among many other attributes, quotable. “Golf is a good walk spoiled” is one that he gets credit for, as he does for “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

(For the record, while he owns the first, he borrowed the second from his friend and fellow writer Charles Dudley Warner. You could say Twain was practicing, intentionally or not, the editorial equivalent of “lift, clean and place.”)

While people like you who care about golf no doubt discount the first, you might do well to extrapolate the second as it applies to the clichéd phrase “growing the game.”

For years, there has been much hand-wringing over the decline in golf participation overall. While the industry and media take turns moaning and griping, there have been few dedicated long-term efforts to truly help golf regain some traction.

One of the latest examples of a promising grow-the-game marketing initiative was announced in March at the LPGA’s Founders Cup in Phoenix. The campaign, “Changing the Face of the Game,” supports the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program in which 60,000 girls annually take part at more than 400 official sites and related outreach programs across the U.S. (http://bit.ly/2qICJ7s)

The campaign got some momentum from a recent report by the National Golf Foundation. Among its findings were that about a third of junior golfers now are girls, almost double the number from 20 years ago. In comparison, only about 20 percent of adult golfers are female, a number that has remained static for eons. Think what you will about the NGF (after all, these are the same folks who implored us to “build a golf course a day” three decades ago to keep pace with anticipated demand), but the LPGA is betting there is at least a kernel of hope in the foundation’s latest data.

We should, too, and not only from the standpoint of female participation. The NGF report said about a third of junior golfers are non-Caucasian, a very different hue from the adult-golfer demographic, which remains overwhelmingly white and male. “Our youth game is starting to look like our country,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan pointed out during the media conference announcing the Changing the Face of the Game initiative.

In his global travels, Whan said he had seen national junior-development programs funded by government, sponsor and/or golf-association monies and realized the U.S. lagged far behind. (In Canada, for example, the comprehensive and very successful national Future Links program, which includes a “girl-friendly” component, receives funding from all three sources.)

Despite Whan’s plea in Phoenix for more coverage of this and related “grow the game” initiatives, a quick Google search shows the usual media disinterest in supporting such efforts in either the short or long term. Not surprisingly, the LPGA says it is disappointed in the lack of coverage of what should be an inspiring storyline, as should anyone who cares about the viability of golf.

To find out more about LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, visit www.girlsgolf.org. While you’re there, if you want to help change the face of the game, make a donation.  Although it might take 20 years to show dividends, it could be worth the investment.

Stop complaining about the state of the game and do something about it.

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email:  [email protected];  Twitter: @gordongolf.

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