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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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.