Right now the golf industry is like an adolescent teenager going through puberty but in reverse. Puberty is a time when young teenagers try to make their way through awkward times of not knowing what to say and strange growth spurts until they eventually mature to an adult; confident and settled in their ways. Golf appears to be entering a similar period in its existence, much like puberty in reverse. For many years golf has been mature, confident and set in its ways. Now it appears to be heading into its teenage years with awkward growth, a bit unsure of its future and sometimes fumbling as if on a first date.
Some of golf's awkwardness is due to shifts in the way we think as a society. Our mindset has changed considerably from the past when country clubs were first established, a time when aspirational living and wanting to belong was paramount. The trends these days include a shift from exclusive to inclusive and being connected in real-time. We see examples of this in social media and reality television. Perhaps Agapi Stassinopoulos, author of Unbinding the Heart said it best "It is cool to be vulnerable." This type of open and connected thinking and operating is quite different and unfamiliar for the well-polished, self-assured, mature adult that is golf. Like the unsure teenager, we desperately want to grow the game but we do not have a plan and we have never really been in this situation before. While we are trying new programs and various change initiatives the number of golfers in the US continues to decline.
My suggestion is simple and perhaps the best analogy would be how I sometimes feel about recycling. What if all of us in the golf industry and those that play golf, some 27 million strong in the USA, decided to personally engage a friend, co-worker, relative, neighbor or even a stranger (after all you must have a few people on Facebook or LinkedIn that you don't really know) on a regular basis and start talking about golf. Someone we don't normally talk to about golf that is not involved in the game and that would potentially enjoy partaking. If we each just shared our own infectious love of the game in a genuine way with a new person perhaps we could peak their interest. Not bragging about our lowest score but rather why we really love playing golf, or what you as an individual enjoy about the game, how it feeds your soul or just gives you time to unwind and forget. It is tough to think this small grassroots effort could effect change. Very much like when I save my little pile of a few plastic water bottles, a detergent container and an empty wine bottle it's hard to imagine that I, living in NYC with a population of 8.2 million, can effect change and help by recycling. The crazy thing is on any given day in NYC you can walk the streets and on every one, below those high skyscrapers, on the sidewalk are huge piles of garbage and the recycling for all the buildings are in clear plastic bags so you see massive piles of plastic, glass and aluminum. At those moments I feel glad I am a small part of a bigger movement and that my actions do matter.
Just as we are eager to recommend a great restaurant, tailor, barber or hair salon to our friends on Facebook, Yelp or face-to-face at a party we could easily do the same about a great golf clinic we know of or a teaching pro, an online video series of golf lessons, fantasy golf, training tips from a magazine or a great organization that will ease you into any level of golf like EWGA (Executive Woman's Golf Association).
Just like how falling in love is infectious and somehow helps the unsure teenager to mature and grow, our love of the game of golf can do the same. So perhaps sharing our golf love stories will be infectious enough that others will want to try. Having worked for over 12 years in the industry it is funny when I think of what I love about golf and quite honestly there are only a few examples that involve playing golf. Most of my best memories are from the afterglow, lifestyle or social moments that comprise part of my golfing life. My favorite memories include looking for golf balls with my five and eight-year-old nephews at dusk behind my parents' house, which is on a golf course, and seeing how excited they get to find one in the rough. Riding a camel in Tunisia down the 18 fairway while people are playing golf for a story I was doing. Trying an "infusion" (grape juice, vodka and ginger ale) at the half way house for the first time. Eating warm figs picked off the trees while walking the fig lined Il Picciolo Golf Course in Sicily, Italy that sits on the side of Mt Etna. Another favorite memory is playing the 16th hole at Port Royal in Bermuda three times in a row (same hole) because no one was behind me and because it was such a stunning view of light blue water crashing along the cliff side. Having drinks at the 19th hole (almost any) and bonding with friends. Meeting my fantasy golf group at the Masters each year and horseback riding in the Dominican Republic along the golf course at Casa de Campo.
When I was a teenager we lived in Buffalo, New York and I was a very avid runner. Hard to believe now as I hate the cold but I used to run even in the snow with the dog, day or night and almost always on the local golf course near our house. During those winter nights with snow on the ground the golf course was a very pristine environment. The moon shined on the open fairways and reflected off the snow and touched the tops of the pine trees lining the fairways almost as if both the moon and the tress were keeping watch over the course. The golf course was always a great place to marvel at natural beauty, catch your thoughts and try to figure things out... it still is.