For many in the golf business, it could well be an antidote for the recession.
Get Golf Ready, a national industry initiative launched a year ago to recruit adults to the sport, is operating at approximately 1,100 U.S. courses, nearly 60 percent more than the 700 initially planned as a first-year goal.
The budget-conscious program – typically less than $100 for a series of group lessons that place a priority on getting golfers on the course rather than just practicing at the range – is rolling out briskly, especially with course operators trying to sustain rounds in a brutal economy.
“In my opinion, you can’t afford not to do it,” said Scot Hathaway, general manager at Los Lagos Golf Course in San Jose, Calif. “Especially if you want a job in five or 10 years.”
Flat participation levels have been a malaise for more than a decade.
And an oversupply of courses has only worsened the industry’s health. That crisis spurred golf’s business leaders to experiment with various grow-the-game strategies, ultimately evolving into Get Golf Ready.
The program’s goal is to change the very culture of how beginners are introduced to the game, according to Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, which oversees Get Golf Ready. It discards antiquated notions of teaching new players nothing but swing fundamentals. Instead, it welcomes novices to their new environment by tackling topics such as what to wear, how to make a tee time, understanding rules and gaining real-life, on-course experience.
The WGF has raised nearly $2.6 million from about 65 companies to provide courses $1,000 each to defray start-up costs. By 2013, organizers hope to have enrolled 5,000 facilities, which cumulatively are projected to add 700,000 golfers and nearly 5.8 million rounds.
A critical juncture for Get Golf Ready will come at the end of 2010, when investors will be asked to continue financing the program. Phase 1 (2009-2011) calls for 3,000 facilities. Phase 2 calls for 2,000 more to join.
“The economic times are not the greatest for a lot of companies, so that’s making it a little more difficult,” Mona said. “We have some (fundraising) work to do for years 2 and 3.”
Nevertheless, Mona is optimistic he’ll see ongoing support, considering how courses embraced the initiative and early reports indicating a high percentage of graduates are playing regularly. Plus, he plans to soon link participants online.
By spring 2010, WGF expects to incorporate a social-media network to provide users information about organizations such as the USGA and state golf associations and possibly offer some type of a “rewards program.”
“We always wanted this to be more than simply a local, adult player-development program,” Mona said. “We want to introduce individuals to the wider world of golf.”
Establishing Get Golf Ready as a nationwide standard is essential to make the sport, hardly known for being user-friendly, more hospitable, supporters say.
“What we’re doing now is really as much about marketing as it is teaching,” said Rich Richeson, head professional at The Golf Club at Twin Creeks in Allen, Texas.
He added: “Ninety percent of daily fees and municipal courses still teach the old-school way – swing basics restricted to the range.”
In contrast, Richeson said: “From the very first lesson, we’ll go out to a real golf hole and putt, then the next lesson chip on to it, then play it from 100 yards out, then from the tee box.”
Hathaway, the general manager at Los Lagos, reports a first-year retention rate of nearly 80 percent among participants. He described his facility as a beta site for the initiative. He has been offering Get Golf Ready since 2004 and typically produces 100 golfers annually.
“They don’t necessarily always play at my facility, but that’s OK,” he said. “We have to work on more than stealing golfers from each other.”