WGF: Grow participation to 30 million by '17

Get Golf Ready is designed to create avid golfers like the ones above who test – and more importantly – buy equipment more frequently.

Get Golf Ready is designed to create avid golfers like the ones above who test – and more importantly – buy equipment more frequently.

Steve Mona wears a lot of hats – overseeing The First Tee, World Golf Hall of Fame and Golf 20/20 – as executive director of the World Golf Foundation. On May 7, industry leaders met at the World Golf Village to discuss Golf 20/20’s five-year strategic plan and its effort to grow participation to 30 million by 2017. Mona took time afterward to discuss industry goals and the initiatives expected to achieve success.

Q: Golf 20/20 met today. What was accomplished?

The purpose of today’s meeting was to follow up on last year’s meeting, which was the start of a development of a five-year strategic plan for Golf 20/20. That process ended with us declaring participation as the primary goal of the golf industry. Specifically, our goal is to increase participation from 25.7 million golfers, which is what it was at the end of 2012, to 30 million at the end of 2017. That plan was approved in December.

We also decided that there were five ongoing initiatives as an industry we should get behind and support, rather than create a bunch of new initiatives. Those five are: Get Golf Ready, Tee it Forward, PGA Junior League Golf, The First Tee and The First Tee’s National School Program. Our view is that those five initiatives give us the best opportunity to achieve our participation goal. That was the first decision we made. The second was that we were going to ask the industry to support those initiatives only collectively, and put all of out effort behind those. The problem is there are all these programs and they lack focus and they don’t generally have a lot of collaboration, and therefore are less effective than they could be. If we agree these five give us the best chance to win, so to speak, let’s get behind them. That’s what we did.

Q: One could argue it’s a mistake to only support industry-led initiatives. Aren’t these the same organizations that failed to grow the game since Golf 20/20 was created in 2000?

It doesn’t mean the other initiatives going on aren’t worthy initiatives. I can name a whole bunch, and they still will be supported. You look at a program like The First Tee that went from zero in 1997 to today more than 200 chapters and reached somewhere in the order of 6 million young people. We have a goal to reach an additional 10 million in the next five years. I would say that program has been successful from the standpoint of reaching young people, as an example. Get Golf Ready in 2012 reached 76,000 students, 80 percent of which have stayed in the game, spending incrementally another $1,000 in the game so I wouldn’t say that’s been unsuccessful.

Q: Yet the number of youth golfers (based on NGF data) has declined. The First Tee may have touched a lot of kids, but the NGF numbers don’t match up, do they?

Yes, the youth category has declined, but I think you have to look at broader, more societal issues rather than just say that youth golf is smaller today than it was five years ago it was The First Tee’s fault.

But one of the issues to that point, one of the problems we see with our sport is it doesn’t lend itself to a team sport environment. That’s why we’re getting behind PGA Junior League Golf. It creates that kind of team environment.

Q: This may not be a perfect analogy but it feels a little like college football’s BCS where you’re not allowing a Boise St. to play for the national championship. Aren’t there other grassroots initiatives that aren’t sponsored by one of the governing bodies that are worthy of receiving the industry’s full support?

Like I said, there are plenty of programs out there and we’re not saying they can’t go on, but we’re just saying these are the ones that, for a lack of a better word, we’re putting our assets behind – whether it be media, monetary or in-kind assets – you can argue whether we picked the right five but that ship has sailed. We’re going down this path. One of the problems with the golf industry is there are probably 200 different initiatives out there. The problem is everyone wants to throw a little whip cream at them and none of them are very good because of it, from the standpoint of really moving the needle. We decided to get behind Get Golf Ready. We think it’s the best adult-development program.

That gets back to our role: to bring the industry together to focus and activate around initiatives that can enhance participation and retention and interest and involvement in the game. That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s what we’re about. I like it because it gives the institution greater focus and lets people in the industry know what our focus is and what it’s not and gives us a real clear scorecard as to how successful or unsuccessful we’ve been or not.

If we talk five years from now you can ask a real simple question: Did we grow the number of participants from 25.7 million to 30 million. Yes or no? Did you grow rounds played from 467 million to 550 million. Yes or no?

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