There is no argument that golf is losing courses and participants.
At best, the numbers in recent years in the United States are alarming: 100 or more golf courses closing each year, half a million or so golfers leaving the game annually.
Even the National Golf Foundation, despite its historical role as a cheerleader for the game, does not disagree.
So what can be done to attract and keep new golfers? Is there a workable strategy to spark the resurgence of amateur golf?
If I were the czar of golf, I would change the face of the game. I would call it New Golf.
1.) For starters, 2016 would serve as an implementation date for the program. The PGA of America celebrates its centennial in 2016, and the 28,000 members of the PGA would play an instrumental role in New Golf.
Around the country, people with questions about golf instruction and participation would be guided to a PGA professional. These PGA members would and should be widely recognized as experts on New Golf.
2.) The U.S. Golf Association would sanction the development of simplified rules and supercharged equipment for beginners and neophytes. This would not apply to advanced golfers.
Out of bounds? Drop the ball where it crossed the line. Penalty: one stroke.
For new or inexperienced golfers, there would be no performance limits for golf balls or golf clubs. So what if drives regularly go 300 yards for new golfers? The game is supposed to be fun. All this equipment would be clearly marked with an easily recognizable label.
3.) The Masters, already deeply involved in the promotion and growth of golf, would become the most prominent participant in golf’s new grassroots campaign. A Masters college scholarship fund would follow in the mold of the Evans Scholars Foundation in creating a symbol of excellence for caddies and junior golfers. Masters tickets would be awarded every year to individuals who have done the most for the advancement of the game.
4.) FedEx knows how to move packages, so the company would join with The First Tee in establishing a national transportation network to get junior golfers to and from golf courses. This would address one of the sport’s biggest hurdles in attracting junior players.
5.) Golf would adopt the Southern California Golf Association model that provides youth access to golf courses and ranges during off-peak hours. The SCGA fees range from $1 to $5, and participants must be certified by junior golf organizations in golf rules, etiquette, maturity and playing ability.
6.) A National Grow Golf Day would be held every year to raise money for golf projects that focus on affordability and accessibility for juniors and beginners.
7.) Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would encourage golfers, associations, organizations to adopt New Golf. The influence of the former presidents should never be underestimated. Their theme: It’s not your grandfather’s game any more.
8.) Following the urging of Jack Nicklaus, a network of 12-hole courses would be established around the country. Most would be 18-hole layouts shortened to 12 holes.
Handicaps would be established, tournaments would be held, and breaking 50 would be a worthy goal for skilled players. For most 12-hole layouts, par would be about 48.
For all courses that could be enlisted, Monday would become 12-Hole Day.
9.) With another nod to Nicklaus, Tuesday would become Big Cup Day for participating courses. Golf would experiment with different cup sizes and their effect on the game and pace of play.
10.) Arnold Palmer would become the national spokesman for speedy golf. All tournaments would adopt the Pacific Northwest Golf Association model for fast play. The PNGA demands that golfers be ready to play. Those who fail to maintain a prescribed pace are penalized.
11.) Finally, a national schedule of free group lessons for beginners would be established. Golfers graduating from the beginner programs would move into moderately priced intermediate instruction.
Group instruction would be labeled as beginner, intermediate and advanced, and a schedule of classes would be continually updated on a New Golf website.
All things considered, it is time for golf to be creative in the face of the obstacles it faces.