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Participation Problem Take a Club to It

I have this participation thing figured out. And the answer is right under our backswings.
 
In the wake of a conference focused on increasing golf participation over the next two decades, the industry has much hope, but not a lot of concrete plans yet. That's understandable, what with the initiatives being in the early stages. So I'm here to help.
 
Here's the answer: Forget the golf course. Focus on the golf club.
 
Say 'golf club' in the United States and most people get an image of the latest driver. But I'm talking about a group of people who come together because of their common interest in golf.
 
Mention that kind of golf club to most Americans, and they think of a tony, perhaps snooty, private club. It doesn't have to be that way.
 
The precedents are many. Contrary to popular belief, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews does not own the Old Course. They simply 'play over' it. So do at least four other golf clubs in town. The Old Course is their home course because it's convenient, and they have arranged for access.
 
Just down the road at Kingsbarns, Scotland, the Kingsbarns Golf Club meets in a cozy pub. They play over the nearby Kingsbarns course. But their trophies, records, and piano are at the pub.
 
In this country, the handicapping gurus at the U.S. Golf Association got around the growing trend away from private club membership by creating so-called Golf Clubs Without Real Estate. Any 10 people who had a chance to play together regularly and otherwise satisfy the peer review elements of the handicapping rules could form a golf club, even if they didn't own a course. And so it is that the Satellite Bay Golf Club maintains our handicaps here at The Golf Channel, and even provides the basis for an annual match play tournament.
 
We are a nation of joiners, say observers of the American scene. Just start a group, and Americans will join it. So we have bowling clubs, bridge clubs, sailing clubs, and on and on. It's fundamental: All these people get together because they find a particular activity to be fun.
 
Where has golf missed the boat? Well, despite the legendary exclusivity of clubs such as the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, Scotland, golf snootiness was raised to a fine art in this country. If we could somehow beat back that idea, as dozens of chapters of the Executive Women's Golf Association have done, we could get somewhere.
 
Try this: Find nine other people and start a golf club. Better yet, find 11, so your three groups could hold regular events or simple play-for-fun, reshuffle-partners-at-the-turn days. Make tee times at whatever course you decide, or wherever you can get a deal. Call yourself the New Kensington Golf Club, or the Shaker Heights Swingers, the Lake Oswego Links Group, or whatever.
 
Watch what happens when your members talk up the fun they've had. See how many people ask to join in. Smile as your Tuesday night summer nine-hole league spills over to a Thursday night event as well. Watch as the golf industry raises its eyebrows and thinks of ways to cultivate the grass roots you have planted.
 
After all, not every good idea has to come out of a conference.