Growing the game: How golf gets it wrong

By Brandel ChambleeJuly 10, 2015, 3:50 am

 When I was new to golf the head professionals where I played, including Rives McBee, introduced me to the game, helped me get better and passed on their passion for playing. Before anyone had shot 63 in a major, McBee had a share of the record for lowest round in a major, a 64 that he shot in the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic. He traveled with Lee Trevino early in their careers and he knew the game inside and out. Still does.

As a head pro, McBee, along with Jerry Andrews and Lanny Turentine, wasn’t holed up in an office. He was on the putting green, the driving range or the golf course, showing people how to play, explaining this part of the grip or that part of the stance. If he wasn’t in one of those places, he could be found at the 19th hole, talking about the history of this game, its traditions and past greats. For McBee and Andrews and Turentine, these weren’t just characters out of books, they were people they knew personally.

These men weren’t trying to generate rounds, they were trying to generate interest. They weren’t trying to grow the game, they were trying to preserve the game.

In my mind, the golf professional is the most important person in golf, the link between the golfer and the game. But another link, one between golf courses and boardrooms and Wall Street, has fundamentally changed the golf professional’s job as “growing the game” has become golf’s highest priority.

I hear repeatedly that golf’s participation numbers are falling; that the millennials aren't interested in it and the 18- 30-year-old set that was, isn't anymore; that those who care about the future of golf should all work to “grow the game.”

Today, that means getting the golfer to the course at all costs. It means cutting the cost of the green fee and the salary of the golf professional. It means trying to make the game easier (15-inch cups), faster (9- to 12-hole rounds) or even completely different (Footgolf).

The downturn in golf's popularity – and this is not the first one - is not because it is expensive, not because it is too difficult, not because of anything other than the natural ebb and flow of the sport.

Golf has always been expensive. In the 1600s a golf ball, or a featherie as it was known then, cost the equivalent of $14. A surgeon in Great Britain in 1700 made roughly $75 a year. The game has always been expensive.

Golf didn't just suddenly become hard; it has driven people crazy for centuries. The difficulty of the game has always been a large part of its allure. The difficulty is offset by the passion that people have for it.

As I said, this isn’t the first downturn golf has experienced. The first one in the U.S. followed the boom that came from Francis Ouimet’s stunning upset of Ted Ray and Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open playoff and the heyday of Bobby Jones, climaxing in his Grand Slam of 1930. During this period, the number of USGA-affiliated clubs rose from 267 in 1910 to more than 1,100 in 1932.

Golf's growth abated in the 1930s for two primary reasons - the stock market collapse of 1929 and Jones’ retirement in 1930. This was a one-two punch to an expensive, star-driven game that was almost exactly duplicated by the circumstances of the economy's downturn in 2008 and Tiger Woods’ scandal in 2009. The only difference? In the 1930s nobody was suggesting a need to grow the game.

After World War II golf enjoyed slow, steady growth until Arnold Palmer burst onto the scene in the 1950s. Then the game grew like bacteria in a petri dish, which is to say parallel to his popularity. Aaron Sorkin couldn't have written this guy. Spielberg couldn't have directed him. He mesmerized man, woman and child with great manners and all manner of gesticulations on the way to heroic wins and tragic losses. He moved people, literally, to the golf course.

Where Palmer’s popularity grew over time, Woods’ was like a bowling ball dropping into a koi pond. By 2013 there were 10,600 USGA-affiliated golf courses. That number, however, was down from the previous few years, as was the number of players, which is why there is such a hullaballoo about needing to grow the game.

Golf used to be mostly a break-even business. Courses and the experience were designed for the enjoyment of players. Profits went back into the facilities. This began to change when conglomerates began taking over ownership and/or management of courses.

The fallout from this has changed golf more than anything else in its history. Somewhere in a board room there is a man or woman whose job is to look at spread sheets and figure out how to maximize profits, to generate more revenue by generating more rounds. The burden of doing this often falls on the golf professional, so instead of being out on the range as Rives McBee, Jerry Andrews, Lanny Turentine and their ilk used to be, golf professionals are instead huddled in their offices trying to figure out how to generate more rounds.

The goal shouldn’t be to grow the game at all costs, it should be to connect on a one-to-one level with each golfer or prospective golfer, to help them appreciate why it's worth taking the time to learn how to play. Pay the golf professionals more money because they are worth every penny and will make people want to play this game. In time there will be another star every bit as alluring as Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones, and once again the game will grow.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.