Thursday, February 6, 2014

Everyone says they’re growing the game. Here’s a framework for actually doing it:

It’s been two weeks since the PGA Show and the feedback from folks around the industry has been generally positive.  It should be.  TaylorMade kicked things off in grand fashion with some provocative statements and the introduction of HackGolf.  From there, everyone I encountered seemed to have a good understanding and acceptance of the challenges we're facing and an upbeat disposition about our ability to overcome them.

The Show for us (TGA) was excellent.  We’re starting, slowly but surely, to see the industry embrace our model and impact.  The Southern California PGA’s acquisition of two of our franchises has played a big role in that.

The Show for me personally was also very good.  In addition to my TGA commitments, I had the pleasure of meeting several readers of this blog and learning about some of the awesome things this community is working on.

Since leaving Orlando, however, I’ve found myself with this nagging and growing discomfort about the Show’s central theme – the concept of “growing the game.”

What bothered me this year was how loosely this phrase was being thrown around.  Countless people were wearing pins on their badges that proclaimed: “I’m growing the game.”  Everyone from equipment companies to PGA Professionals to industry associations to teaching aid companies to basically everyone else was touting how they grow golf. 

They’re not wrong.  What’s the definition of “growing the game” anyway?  Is it making golf easier?  More enjoyable?  Faster?  Cheaper?  More accessible?  Yes yes and yes.  By this vague description, basically everyone in the industry is in some way shape or form trying to “grow the game.”  That’s a good thing from a 100k foot level.

My issue is that the phrase is becoming shallow.  It’s used more in self-aggrandizing ways than in meaningful ones.

What does “growing the game” actually mean?  Is it our goal as an industry to increase the number of overall players?  Overall rounds?  Annual spending?   Enjoyment?  TV viewership?  What?  In the tennis industry, they measure success by ball sales.  What's that metric (or metrics) for golf?

And that’s where my discomfort resides.  When everyone believes they’re growing the game through countless different ways without a clear overarching strategy or collective objectives, we’re accomplishing everything but accomplishing nothing.

It’s important to note that the lens I view the golf industry through is almost entirely influenced by player development.  I have a deep personal relationship with the concept of “growing the game” as my entire career has been dedicated to bringing new players into the sport.  Within this context, here’s how I’d create an industry-wide framework and strategy for growing golf:

Step 1 – Identify the three categories of players:

Group 1 – Core golfers
Group 2 – Occasional golfers
Group 3 – Non-golfers

Note that I do not differentiate between lapsed golfers and those who have never played the sport as BCG and Golf 2.0 do.  My view is that, either way, the reasons why they stopped playing or never started are very similar.

Step 2 – Define what “growing the game” means in each category:

Core golfers – increased annual spending
Occasional golfers – increased rounds and memberships
Non-golfers – increased overall participation

Step 3 – Identify the key drivers of Step 2 goals:

Core golfers – equipment/apparel, lessons, training aids, tournaments, travel
Occasional golfers – time, cost, course availability
Non-golfers – knowledge, availability, time, cost, difficulty

Step 4 – Identify strategies for each driver (only some of many listed below):

Core golfers – equipment/apparel advancements, cost-effective lesson packages, regional tournaments and social outings

Occasional golfers – increase pace of play, decrease costs, define/promote other ways to play and enjoy “golf”

Non-golfers – target youth and millennials, embrace alternate forms of “golf,” create simple and cost-effective introductory programs

Step 5 – Partner with key stakeholders for each driver (only some of many listed below):

Core golfers – TMAG/Callaway/etc., PGA of America, PGA Professionals

Non-golfers – Get Golf Ready, TGA, FootGolf


Not only would a concise and straight-forward outline like this give the industry a framework within which to operate, but it would help identify for all stakeholders where their value proposition lies compared to others and what their focus should be.  Imagine the collaboration, idea-sharing, acceptance, resource-sharing, etc. that could come from this.  How great would it be for the dialogue to shift from buttons that state “I’m growing the game” to real conversations where someone could say - “I’m growing the game by focusing on group 2 with the incorporation of Speedgolf during twilight hours.” - and everyone involved understood what was just said and how it aligned with their own strategies?

understand that the common counter-argument to my view is “golf is a niche sport and we should accept that” but I disagree.  That, to me, is a deferral of responsibility for declining participation.  Every day I see people pick up a club for the first time and have an amazing experience who aren’t part of the “niche.”  That is why I believe golf has tremendous room to grow through both traditional and non-traditional ways.  But we need to start with a plan.  And there needs to be objectives we all buy into.

Thank you for reading this far along in my post and taking the time to hear my thoughts on how we should frame the conversation and craft the strategy to accomplish “growing the game.”  I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Have a great weekend and Happy Entrepreneuring…