Looking to the Future

In the second half of our coverage of the 2014 PGA Show’s ‘State of the industry’ event, Golf Channel presenter Damon Hack presses the panel on the future of tournament golf, and of the sport as a whole. The panel includes Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, property tycoon Donald Trump, former women’s world number one Annika Sorenstam, former president of the USGA David Fay, TaylorMade chief executive Mark King, and Golf Channel president Mike McCarley
Men & women, back to back
Damon Hack:

In 2014 the U.S. Open and Women’s Open will be contested in back to back weeks on Pinehurst No. 2. There is a lot of excitement about this, although there have been comments from some players about the women going second.

David Fay:

First of all, I like the fact people are talking about it so much. That’s always good. Why the women second rather than first? First and foremost, it’s easier to dial back the greens than to firm them up. And if the women went first, you would still have all those grandstands. I would love to say they were going to be filled, but they aren’t. I do think more people will attend the Women’s Open than in recent years, and I hope the international media will spend the extra week to cover it. Just because it’s something that’s never been done, it will generate a lot of interest. The one issue is that there might be a couple holes where you could have a lot of divots. But remember this: the US Open will be 39 groups of four on a golf course each day. Pinehurst can handle that. When the best players play the course, it is not a battlefield inside the ropes.

In my wildest dreams, I would someday like to see the creation of ‘The United States Match Play Championship’, where you have 64 men, 64 women, and the same purse for men and women. The USGA seems to have a lot money now and that could be something that could be really interesting.

Mike McCarley:

In any sport on television, nothing says ‘unimportant’ like empty seats, and that’s a real challenge from a television standpoint. We are going to see men and women going in the same tournament in 2016 at the Olympics, and that could become a trend.

Donald Trump:

What Mike said about empty seats is interesting, but I never viewed it that way. Wouldn’t they be able to get rid of some of those bleachers really quickly? Otherwise you’re right Mike, empty seats would be a problem. The concept sounds interesting, certainly.

Annika Sorenstam:

I think it’s a great opportunity for the ladies to play Pinehurst No. 2; it’s just one of those traditional, historic places. The ladies love to play courses like that, too. I wish I would have had a chance to do it as well. I think the concept is fantastic, and it is exciting to think of having have men and women on the same venue. I love the idea of going to a 36 hole facility and having the same purse for men and women. That would be terrific.

Staying cool
Hack:

Donald, you’re a CEO in the golf industry. What needs to be fixed?

Trump:

Location is a very important aspect of golf. You know, I have 14 clubs and almost every one of those clubs has a waiting list, but they are all great locations; 600 acres on the Potomac river in Washington; 800 acres on the Pacific Ocean. It’s really important to build great courses, but a lot of courses are failing because they have bad locations. It’s true in real estate and it’s true in golf. I’ve seen people go and buy this wonderful piece of land in the middle of nowhere and build a fantastic course with a great architect, but then nobody shows up and it’s a negative experience.

Hack:

Mark King, what excites you about the game right now and its future?

Mark King:

What excites me always is the potential the future holds, and we as an industry have to realise that we’ve had a lull in our participation levels, but it’s only because we have not done the right things to bring in new people. We have to have a vision for our sport and I think it should be to become the largest participation sport in developed countries. We should have that as a goal, and if that’s our vision, our behaviors would change to bring in more people. We would stop asking the same old questions and we would ask new questions and we would reach out to people and find an experience that brings people in to enjoy the great game.

Ted Bishop:

I think it’s incumbent upon us to create a different type of golf experience. Golf has always been viewed as a nine, or an 18 hole round, and the fact of the matter is, if the consumer only has 30 minutes, 45 minutes or 90 minutes of recreational time, they don’t really have an alternative way to spend that at the golf course right now.

The PGA of America has a Get Golf Ready programme, which is a 90 minute session that combines playing and instruction. We have also seen growth in junior golf through the PGA Junior League. In year two, we saw an increase of 354 percent in terms of the number of participants, and it’s the ‘little league’ version of junior golf.

King:

The Olympics is a great opportunity to tell the world that golf can be cool, so the players should be wearing shorts and teams should have uniforms.

McCarley:

Tiger made golf cool, Rickie Fowler is making it cool but there’s a lot more that needs to be done. If you ask a kid today, ‘Why don’t you come out to the golf course with me?’ Well, you can’t wear cargo shorts, you need to tuck your shirt in, you can’t take your phone and you can’t listen to music. So kids are saying, ‘Well, I’m going to do something else’.

Look at what Apple did to the music industry. While it completely disrupted the entire industry, they are now dominating it and they made it cool again, because everyone is walking around with earphones with wires hanging out of an Apple product. It needed that sort of disruption to make it work, and I think golf is ripe for that.

Sorenstam:

It’s important to make golf family friendly. In Sweden we call it ‘open golf’, where everybody plays with everybody. As a 13 year old in club tournaments and I would get paired with a 65 year old man and a woman that’s maybe 35. Age and gender doesn’t matter. We played together.

I like to see families get together at country clubs, because it’s very hard to work all week, all day long, and then come home and say, ‘I’m going to the golf course for six hours’. You’ve got to get the family involved, and then you’re building bonds that we need. The family is the strongest structure that we have, and once you have the family involved, then you start bringing your friends, and then it’s cool and then the club is a place, not just for golf, but for other activities too.

Fay:

The industry has suffered from real fallacies, such as claiming the United States has 25 or 26 million golfers. I think that’s a myth and I think the real number is nearer to 15 million golfers. We have too many golf courses too, and now there are so many golf courses out there that are under utilised. So if we are trying to build a game and we are starting from those inflated, erroneous numbers, we are going to have a real problem because we’re going to feel frustrated.

Golf is a great sport, but it is a niche sport. It is not for everyone, but I would like to see the game deal more with the kids. I love the programmes at the PGA of America. I think that if you can get a kid to get the ball airborne, you’re probably going to get them hooked.

Trump:

What I love is failed golf courses, because I buy them at a huge discount and make them good. The fact is, we do have too many courses, and we have them in the wrong areas and then they just fade away but that’s a positive thing.

We buy the courses at really good locations and sometimes we blow them up and sometimes we are able to fix them and use what’s been given to us. We have a case in Philadelphia, right alongside Pine Valley, where there was a failing course designed by Tom Fazio called Pine Hill. I said, “Why did you name it Pine Hill?” Nobody wants a hill; they want a valley or a mountain. Now it’s Trump National, and we took it, brought it to the next level and it’s absolutely packed.

So there are a lot of things you can do to make golf successful. It’s a great game and a lot of people love golf the way it is. You don’t want to get too far away from a formula that really has been working for an awfully long time and will continue to work. It’s going to be a great game for a long time to come.