Growing Golf in a Recession: Part I

Rob FergusonContributor IMarch 31, 2009

SINGAPORE - MARCH 31:  Keiichiro Fukabori of Japan tees off on the 17th hole during Day One of The Open International Final Qualifying for Asia held on March 31, 2009 at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore. (Photo by : Getty Images/Stanley Chou)

Golf is an expensive sport that is played with disposable income. As much as I hate to say it, nobody needs to play golf. When forced to penny-pinch, it may seem harder and harder to justify that golf membership this summer. Therefore, as an industry we must ask ourselves: how do we continue to grow the game when fewer people will want to play it this summer?

There is no magic bullet, but there are many small things that we can do. Most of them go beyond give-a-ways and lowering our prices (both of which are probably good ideas).

For part one, we will discuss juniors.

There are many great organizations (such as the First Tee program and FutureLinks) that along with the PGA and CPGA do a great job of teaching kids to love the game of golf. This should go beyond mere lessons though, and we should be striving to provide more opportunity.

As a junior, I craved to play great golf courses. As an industry, let's give them that opportunity, even if they cannot afford it. Exclusive private courses, and high-end public golf courses can have a few tee-times a week set aside for juniors from local courses, free of charge. I know it sounds like a lot to ask, but there will likely be more openings this year. Why not take advantage of those time slots to ensure future revenue?

If players on a course are uncomfortable with a group of juniors playing unsupervised, than make them a threesome and get one of your assistants to play with the juniors. Or a twosome with two of your assistants. Or, if you cannot spare one of yours, allow one of the pros from the course where the juniors are members. This will not only keep the juniors moving and behaved, but will give them an opportunity to continue to learn the nuances of the game while they are playing. The more access they have to top-notch instruction, the better.

The other thing that is required is a culture change, when it comes to juniors. On too many courses they are treated as second-class citizens, by the members or the staff. I know they pay less, and I know that some of them are challenging to deal with, but so are some of the older members.

I know I hated that attitude when I was a junior. Let's not allow traditional golf-attitudes to get in the way of a junior's fun summer. After all, that is why their parents paid for the membership this summer: so they can have fun. If he/she is not having fun, maybe they will just play soccer next year.

In conclusion, the juniors are our future customers. As professionals, administrators, and fellow members, let's give them greater access, better respect, and more opportunities. Let's grow this game together.

Part I in a series