2005: It’s about time

During the past two years, leaders of the PGA of America would have us believe they’ve done yeoman’s work in advancing the cause of player development.

To their credit, they’ve unfurled a grass-roots initiative called Play Golf America under which an array of grow-the-game programs are offered. And as a recent news release boasted, the number of PGA and LPGA facilities hosting player development programs jumped to 6,000 in 2005 – up 25 percent from a year ago. Membership in the President’s Council on Growing the Game, which recognizes PGA professionals committed to boosting participation, has soared to roughly 2,700 – 10 times its tally from 2003.

But amid all the back-slapping, let’s not overlook the other side of this equation.

There are roughly 15,000 golf facilities in the United States, which means as many as 9,000 failed to offer even a single PGA-sanctioned player development event. And roughly 90 percent of the PGA’s 28,000 professionals have yet to distinguish themselves in what arguably should be one of their most important tasks.

The PGA leadership was unaccountably slow in educating and mobilizing members to address the societal changes that have stunted golf’s growth. And it has been equally slow in helping members take advantage of promising new player demographics, including women (see Special Report, p36).

What’s worse, a large majority of PGA professionals – and course operators – still haven’t answered the bell. Some advocates for women’s golf blame the delayed response on chauvinism. But the real culprit, arguably, is worse: Contempt for change.

How else does one explain courses that go unused, especially on weekday afternoons and evenings when juniors and women could help fill tee sheets? Or rigid price structures that don’t include nine-hole green fees? Or marketing efforts limited to 2-for-1 coupons to be clipped from the sports pages of local newspapers? It’s no wonder that within some quarters of the industry, the value of PGA professionals is being questioned.

Even today, it’s apparent that many of those on the front lines believe pursuing women golfers isn’t worth the return on their investment. They argue, for example, that even if they were to adopt women-friendly practices, female golfers wouldn’t come running.

Maybe they’re right, but considering the game isn’t gaining new players of either sex, isn’t it worth trying new strategies before dismissing them?

How difficult is it to host a women’s league, which would eliminate for busy women the need to schedule tee times or find playing partners? Is it too much to ask instructors to offer more playing lessons, easing the difficult transition from range to course? Or to offer reward programs to encourage repeat business?

If more PGA pros and facility operators took such initiatives they might discover that they’ll attract new male golfers as well.

It’s great that PGA members have jumped on the player development bandwagon. But let’s hold the applause until they make up for lost time.

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