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.