In a recent column in Golf Australia magazine, my friend Rod Morri made the case that the game of golf is in dire need of a long-term strategic plan. He is absolutely right. You should take a few minutes to read that column here.
His essay acutely recognizes that the game of golf doesn’t need another hollow “Grow the Game” initiative that is thinly veiled “code for ‘grow my business,'” but needs a comprehensive plan that, properly implemented and supported, will help all of the game’s and industry’s stakeholders move forward under dynamic conditions.
The point of such a plan would be to help navigate the entirety of the game of golf, rather than any particular industry derived from the game (equipment, agronomy, etc.), an ever changing world. However, that is where his and my agreement on the subject diverges.
Morri believes that the responsibility for creating, implementing and supporting such a plan must fall to the game of golf’s largest, and arguably most influential, governing bodies, the United States Golf Association (“USGA”) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (“R&A”), and their counterparts around the globe.
I concede that these types of organizations may be the only bodies powerful enough, through the weight of the Rules of Golf, their immense histories, and ever increasing budgets to support and implement a long term plan for golf.
However, a long term plan born of the blazer clad members of golf’s elites, who are members of some of the most elite golf and country clubs in the world, who have no more connection to the game’s entry level and municipal courses than they do to the World Long Drive Championships.
A blue-blooded blue ribbon commission would produce a much deliberated blue ribbon report that would quickly find its way to many a blue clad recycling bin.
Instead of top down ideas, any meaningful long term plan would, much to Morri’s consternation, require input from the wide galaxy of golf’s key stakeholders. If golf’s strategic plan would have any chance of long-term success, it would require buy-in from the very stakeholders that he believes would fail to agree on many points due to parochial, competing interests.
Any such plan would be painfully slow to assemble. It would undoubtedly begin, and perhaps ultimately only go so far, as a collection of only the most neutral, general goals and objectives, because that’s all that can be agreed to without ruffling too many feathers, rendering the whole enterprise moot.
But from there, as changes besiege the golf industry, the plan will also change in small increments. Incremental change is not only valuable, but is the only responsible way to update and keep a long term plan relevant when trying to manage any task over such a long timeline as a multi-decade governing document.
So, who should attack the monumental task of initializing a long-term plan for the game of golf? Someone at the grassroots of the game, perhaps at the local or state level of one of the game’s governing bodies.
If I were czar of golf, I would probably ask the guys at the National Links Trust to take a serious look at a leadership role in a long-term plan. Constituent groups that would need to be heard from in assembling the plan would include golf architects and construction professionals, teaching professionals, golf course owners, environmental guardians, equipment manufacturers, hospitality professionals, medical professionals, insurance industry representatives, golf media members, and planning and zoning staff professionals from a key municipality or two.
Getting this group of people to agree on anything would be tedious, at best. However, conversation among these key stakeholders could eventually lead to small consensuses from which to build trust going forward.
How would golf keep momentum past a few initial pleasantries? Golf, specifically beginner golf and municipal golf, needs a champion, a voice, a lobbyist. And this is where the behemoth USGA could be of real use, by underwriting a staff position that is tasked for being out in communities to champion the cause of golf.
Someone to monitor and respond when a city is thinking of closing an urban golf course to sell or convert the greenspace to non-golf uses. Someone with a Power Point presentation in the hopper to espouse the successes of reinvestment in existing golf course like Winter Park 9 or the Community Golf concept.
This isn’t a new idea. It’s been discussed by on the Feed The Ball podcast by Derek Duncan at times that public, amateur golf, perhaps the purest form of the game, needs goodwill ambassadors and professional persuaders.
The aforementioned National Links Trust is doing this exact kind of work currently in Washington D.C. to save what its founders consider an historically important golf course in the nation’s capital. To expect them to fill this void is unfair and unrealistic, but they may have provided a model for advocacy and organization that can be reproduced on the local level elsewhere throughout the golf world.
This little rant hasn’t really produced anything in the way of a solution to Morri’s original thoughts and proposal. But he’s identified a problem, and I think there may be a path to a solution within golf’s existing infrastructure. Regardless, it’s worth thinking about, and more importantly, doing something about.