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Thursday
Jan262012

PGA State Of The Game: "Certainly it feels like there is recovery in the industry." 

The PGA of America's State of the Industry Roundtable at the PGA Show is an annual gathering of bluecoats talking up the great state of the game and their latest initiatives. Thursday appears to have been no different as they unveiled the 2012 intiative, Golf 2.0, complete with a Boy and Girls Scouts component.

I don't usually make a point to pick on Tee it Forward, the 2011 program lauded by the panel in the parts of the incomplete (why?) transcript, but as you read them proudly discuss how moving tees forward made golf more fun for those who tried, you want to ask: then why is it you are opposed to rolling back distance to help us condense our bloated courses?

Anyway, a few highlights from PGA President Allen Wronowski's lengthy opening remarks, starting with his assessment that parking issues at the convention center would indicate a rebounding industry: "We are getting discussions about the parking situation, which is a great challenge to have."

-The growth mantra came up repeatedly, even though growth is not the problem. People playing less or not at all is, so they've got Golf 2.0 to the rescue. The initiative is anchored by three pillars leaning on the PGA Professional. "A lot of the components of those pillars and the 12 initiatives, we know that education of our membership is extremely important.  You are going to see a lot of education programs that we'll devote to it.
 
-In introducing Jack Nicklaus, Wronowski could have probably left out the last Jack anecdote:

I am very proud that one of the first people to do that was Jack Nicklaus.  Just as a reminder, they gave me these in front of me:  18 career majors, a record five PGA Championships which tied with Walter Hagen; five‑time PGA Player of the Year.   He played on six U.S. Ryder Cup teams.  He's been captain of The Ryder Cup Team twice.  He's a member of the world golf and PGA golf professional Hall of Fame.  He's the owner of the Nicklaus Companies and he's a golf course designer, architect, businessman, philanthropist and he is currently leading the revitalization of our own Valhalla Golf Club.

Yes, a second revitalization! What a world.

As for Nicklaus, he talked about how his Captain's Club at Muirfield Village attempted to influence the leading organizations a few years ago and got the blow-off. Classy!

What do we do about the game of golf.  And they put together a position letter, which was sent out to the USGA and sent out to The PGA and so forth, and this was a couple years ago.  That didn't get very far.  It was sort of, what are these old fellows doing; what do they think they are talking about.

He did a nice job talking about the lost relatability of the pro game, though he also says no change needs to be made to the pro game?!

Tournament golf, we don't want to change.  We don't want to change it.  Tournament golf is terrific.  I love watching these guys pop it out there and make a lot of putts and do all that kind of stuff.  But somebody else, it used to be 30 years ago, I could play with the club champion at a golf course and he had a good chance of beating me.  Playing basically the same game.  Playing a golf ball that didn't go very far.  We were playing tees that maybe were ten or 15 yards apart and I might out‑drive him by 20 yards.  But it wasn't a big deal, and he knew the course and he might beat me.

Today, can you imagine a club champion going out and playing a 7,500‑yard golf course and playing Tiger or Phil and beating them?  Not a chance in this world.  The game has changed.  The game has gone beyond being able to relate back to the people relating to our pros and that's a same.  We've lost that and we need to bring that back.  I'm not saying ‑‑ everybody thinks the game they played was the best game.  The game I played was a good game but the game they play today is still a good game, too.

It's different.  And relating to the golfer is tougher.  We want these guys to be our heros and these gals to be our heros.  We want them to be ‑‑ we want to relate to them.

PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka spoke next about what the focus groups have been telling them. He didn't mention the unwatchable PGA Championship telecast, but he did get lots of positive reinforcement about "the product."

The great news is, this study that you saw some of the qualitative focus groups and quantitative analysis, as well, and it validated that, hey, our product is pretty good.

Here was the one suggestion that everyone in the industry has to get involved.

We are saying in this reset of the economy and our lives, when time is just as much a precious commodity as household wages, no segment of the industry is immune from the change and no segment of the industry can stay on the sidelines or outside the ropes and not get involved in Golf 2.0.

Then he announced a new partnership with the American Society of Golf Course Architects that was by far the most promising item of the day and which could have actual benefits for struggling facilities. The PGA will be offering grants to cover the architect's costs to offer evaluations of how to re-think properties. That's right, the PGA's going to free up some of its millions.

75 years ago or so The PGA of America hired A.W. Tillinghast to be a free consultant to America's golf courses to guide them on how to make their courses more friendly after the Great Depression.

They had to introduce new players.  They had to make the courses more friendly for women.  Tillinghast wrote to them, the then PGA president, that he had deconsecrated 7,000 bunkers in his tour across America. 

Our grant to their foundation is going to provide the travel expenses for architects who are going to volunteer to give free reviews of American golf courses and how to use the existing land plan.  Maybe it's rerouting a hole to expand a range and add in three to six short holes that can be bunny slopes and bring that family out even more to the course.

And it was at this point that whoever was meddling with the transcript pretty much made it impossible to follow, though I'm sure the Q&A was entertaining. 

Steve Elling summed up the session and relayed an anecdote from the non-transcript portion of the proceedings.

At one point, the august group of golf dignitaries seated around the room at the PGA Merchandise Show began discussing making the size of the golf hole bigger to make the sport more enjoyable to millions.

U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis noted that it will never happen at the U.S. Open, which his organization runs.

Interjected Jack Nicklaus: “Why not?”

The room broke up in laughter. We think he was kidding, but maybe the joke’s over. AT this point, perhaps the joking should stop.

That seems to be the new message -- hold the giggles.

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Reader Comments (12)

Hmmm, same old. The PGA of America has been pushing the recovery line ever since the recession started. To be fair, what else are they going to say...but, never did they warn club pros and facilities to 'batten down the hatches boys, a big storm's coming in'.

I hope they're right this time.

Surprised and heartened though to read of their plan to fund architect's trips to beleagured courses. That needs bigging up.
01.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamad
Maybe Jack feels guilty (slow player and arquitect of difficult golf courses) and now is supporting something that is NOT golf. A lot much easier if they wanted to limit the golf ball flight.
01.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterStevie
The BAGCOA partnership will be an interesting mix of "get kids exposed to golf" and PGA golf pros who usually do things for money so I can't wait to see how they roll this one out. They disclosed 46 sites across America with Ardmore, PA as one of them... I guess Merion is on board? That kind of cache might lend itself to sucess? Definitely trumps The First Tee sites at Walnut Lane and FDR!

Fingers crossed for Philly's future golfers and the other 45 sites...
01.27.2012 | Unregistered CommenterArdmoreari
Jack makes a great point of how even a decent club champion today's game cannot relate to today's modern pros.

I remember Scott Hoch coming to my club for a clinic/18-hole exhibition the year after he jacked that short one at the Masters. It was him and the Yonex sponsored assistant pro versus a couple of crafty 44+ year old former club champs...and guess what...the former club champs won the 4-ball 3&2...and they never trailed once in the match. Wouldn't ever, ever, ever, ever happen with today's stuff we've been allowed to use.

Open your eyes my friends who are golf's PTB...please listen to the ones who have actually put the time on the golf course at the highest level...they outta know something about how the game has tangibly changed. Jack has some valid points irregardless of his architectural style IMO.
01.27.2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
The PGA will pick up all the expenses, but the architect will not make a fee. Fine, but don't bring up Tillinghast because he was paid to do this. The positive is the architect will get an opportunity to work with "potential clients" and I'm sure arranging a few of these in one area may lead to work. That in theory could be really beneficial.

But the reality is most of the courses will be low end public courses that don't have the income to hire an architect or make major alterations. I really do believe they deserve the help (which I have quietly done here in Ontario on more a few occasions). But the reality is those who can't afford architects are generally looking to fill a bunkers, add tees, change grassing lines and remove trees. So what we do is help them out, again I'm fine with that.

My concern is the fact that some clubs that "would" have paid for our services won't. That potentially could end up costing the profession money when times are the toughest they've been in years. THe vast majority of architects are not named Jones and struggle to survive during tough times. I think the gesture comes from a very noble place, but I wonder if the architects are getting a fair deal. Why not a low nominal fee ($250. perhaps) remove the travel expenses and publish a list of clubs so an architct can reach out to as many local courses in the community as they desire and provide the help "for a low flat fee".

I bet this still fits the budget and now places a "value" on the architect's services.
01.27.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan Andrew
So change the rules so I can relate to the pros? I will only start to relate if my paycheck grows and I get to fly in my own jet.

Change the rules so a club pro can "relate" to the pros. That is a very weak argument for any kind of change.

No talk of building 9 hole courses but talk of making the hole bigger to grow the game seems really delusional to me. Making a game easier? No. How about making it cheaper, making it more accessible, making it fit into people's busy lifestyle and finally building courses that require a second mortgage to join may be good for the Nicklaus design group but in my completely naive view does nothing to help the game.
01.27.2012 | Unregistered CommenterA3
Ian,
Well now I feel less enthusiastic about the idea! Good points.

A3,
You are right about 9 holes and I've recently had chats with various higher ups about legitimizing the 9 hole round (via a match or stroke play event), and had support in one of the conversations from a prominent Golf Channel on-air person. The looks of confusion we got were depressing. It's just too complicated to grasp apparently.
01.27.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff
Adding a new word to golf-design lexicon.

Henceforth, if a course has been "revitalized" for a second tme, we shall say it has been "three-vitalized."
01.27.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Elling
@ all

The PGA of America is still only about making the $$$. Just look into the turnover in the persons committing to become a PGA Pro and the ones leaving the program every year. Less than fifty percent actually finish all of the programs and tests to become a "certified" PGA of America Pro. What BS. And guess what, just like the rest of the world, some make it, most will not. The reason is just not enough positions to fill. Less golf courses? Less spots to tee it up. More PGA certified Pro's? Doesn't work. And the old boys are not leaving that fast. Don't need too.

No onto good things.

My father has for the last 30 years+ played in a mens league that is only "9" holes. Once a week. I've filled in a few times for missing team members. And guess what, it was a blast to get out there, after work, finish at dusk, and go out for a beer and talk a whole lotta shite about the evening. That is the game, the sharing of the experience, the faults, the finishes. 9 holes is great, that should be preached a whole lotta more in this game. And leagues, get in one, and you will enjoy it.

I think I'm just saying, that, the PGA should get off their butt and do something about that. That is what the people have time for. 2 hours, same as a NBA game, a Premiership game, used to be a baseball game, a tennis match, just time with a kid. I wish the PGA of the US would just figure this out.

Who cares how far the ball flies then.
01.27.2012 | Unregistered CommenterE.
HSBC are sponsoring nine hole golf in New Zealand
http://www.golf.co.nz/NewsMedia/Article.aspx?id=664
Mike Davis nails it all ,about the continued fluff emerging as the next 'Initiative de jour," when he says after speaking about Tee it Forward..."these are simple things, common sense initiatives." NO KIDDING!

They are so basic....get on the right tee...that a ten year old can figure it out, but today's overpaid "visionaries " at the top continue to rail for the need to launch costly, top-heavy laden management of programs centered around...common sense!? WOW.
01.29.2012 | Unregistered Commentersir real
There is an easy cure for the disparity between golf and what the pros play: a 1.7-inch ball for the pros. If they played a larger ball, architects wouldn't need to stretch the hallowed temples of golf to unimaginable distances just to give them some teeth. A larger ball, no matter what tech they use, will catch more wind and not go as far. Logically, with that much more surface area it should also be more likely for backspin to grab, which could be just as punitive distance-wise.

Sports is full of equipment disparities, so changing the ball size shouldn't be a big deal. NFL players use a different ball than in college. The same is true of NBA players. MLB players can't use aluminum bats. There's no real good reason why a larger ball cannot be mandated, and relatively-easily implemented, for pro-level play. Only the ball makers would have reason to scream, and should Titleist's protests carry that much weight when both the history AND the future of the game are at stake?
01.30.2012 | Unregistered Commenterbjturk

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