The future is not what it used to be

The game of golf as a sport and as an industry has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Rather than looking to the past though all golf retailers should embrace change and look to new concepts to push their businesses forward, says Karl Morris.

Recently I was in a golf shop in St Andrews that rather wonderfully sold persimmon woods and hickory shafted putters. As soon as I picked up this lovely old hickory shafted putter my mind instantly triggered a distant memory. The recall was quite vivid of seeing in my mind’s eye Tony Jacklin on the final green at Hillside golf club in Southport knocking in the winning putt to win a playoff and be crowned the Sun Alliance PGA champion of 1982.Karl Morris

As the memory took hold and expanded in my consciousness I also got some images of a very young Bernhard Langer who lost in that particular play off. Langer had knocked the flags out all week with some stunningly accurate iron play but had been suffering a dreadful bout of the yips. This particular episode had its crescendo on the 16th green culminating in a four putt to let Jacklin back into the frame. The other vivid recall I had was of being at the tournament myself and going to watch the players practice as I always loved to do. There used to be Monday morning qualifying back in those days whereby all the local pros would attempt to gain the few spots available to join the established stars and potentially change the whole course of their careers.

This was also still in the day when a player would go onto the practice ground with his own practice bag and balls. His practice balls would have his initials marked in black pen and, as the balls were emptied onto the tight seaside turf, his caddie would be dispatched out onto the range and the player would then hit the balls ‘at’ the caddie. There are many fabled tales about certain players ‘charging’ their caddies if they had the temerity to ‘lose’ any of their precious golf balls. This was a mere thirty four years ago but it seems to me like we are talking about a completely different game. Can you possibly begin to imagine the health and safety outcry now if players sent their caddies out onto the range and then proceeded to hit balls at them? How many young players now couldn’t even comprehend the concept of having to pick up their own golf balls at a prestigious European tour event?

Thirty four years and the game has changed out of all recognition in so many ways. I recall someone saying wistfully, “The future is not what it used to be” and in that pithy but relevant comment we all have a choice. We can wish for the ‘old days’ and keep harping back at what the game used to be like and what we have lost or we can recognise that the only thing constant in life is change. It would be naïve to think there won’t be some massive changes to the game of golf in the next ten or twenty years. In fact, as we all know too well, there has to be some changes and as much as we long for the good old days (nobody more so than myself) we have to catch ourselves and create a story of what the future could potentially hold.

Nobody has a crystal ball but the really successful clubs, retailers and golf operations in general will be brave enough to see what could be possible in the future. They will create a vision of possibility and then make that vision a reality. We cannot hope to recreate the past, it is gone and it will not return in the same form. What worked so well ten or even five years ago is now obsolete. Yet rather than thinking of this as a threat if we can create a story of possibility then we create the internal energy for action. Yes, there are massive challenges and the game of golf is saturated in so many areas where supply massively outstrips demand, but we have to believe that while the game maybe on the ropes it has not been knocked out and it is still very much in the fight.

We have to look at what will engage people. How can we make this game more fun and more appealing to a cross section of the public? I read recently that playing a game of golf burns up more calories than playing a game of rugby! We all need to get the message out that golf is good for us in so many ways both physically and mentally.

The people who create that vision of the future, a vision people buy into, will become a success whilst those who cling to the past will see their share of the market shrinking more and more as they try to hang onto the future that used to be but is no longer.