Here is the announcement from PGA President Ted Bishop on Morning Drive:
The task force is described as having three focal points:
1. Redefine what the golf experience is.
2. Explore innovative alternative methods to playing golf.
3. Develop an alternative set of guidelines that will allow recreational players to enjoy the game with more relaxed rules.
This has the feeling to me of planning a meeting to schedule a meeting.
Three years ago there was the Boston Consulting Group report that identified the challenges faced by the sport (time, cost, difficulty) and growth opportunities (lapsed golfers, baby boomers, minorities, women, children).
Golf 2.0 was then created to develop player development strategies that targeted the consumer segments identified above.
HackGolf was then created to crowdsource ideas.
And now we have a task force to discuss these ideas.
There are a few issues with all of this.
The first is the vast spectrum of definitions people have for "golf." Is "golf" hitting a ball with a club? Is it getting a ball in a hole? Is it both? Here's what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:
golfnoun, often attributive \ˈgälf, ˈgȯlf, ˈgäf, ˈgȯfsometimes ˈgəlf\
: an outdoor game in which players use special clubs (called golf clubs) to try to hit a small ball with as few strokes as possible into each of 9 or 18 holes
I've posed the question about golf's definition to many people within the industry and received many different responses. If we cannot define what golf is, how can we "redefine" it?
The second issue is that a task force is more talk and less action. For all the discussion around BCG, Golf 2.0, HackGolf - has anything tangible come from them? Not that I'm aware of.
This focus on being unfocused is a liability. HackGolf will not succeed for a simple reason - people who have "cutting edge ideas" aren't going to just hand them over to a website. They're going to want credit, upside, ownership.
So the flavor of this week is FootGolf. Last week it was Mark King of Taylor Made proposing larger holes. The week before that it was bifurcation. Next week it sounds like it could be pay-by-the-minute timecards (which is a concept with numerous issues). So many ideas, so many opportunities, so little execution.
The most successful companies, products and organizations succeed through long-term commitment to a few causes based around a central strategy. That's what we need to do here.
The final issue is that none of this really matters without serious industry collaboration and we have a large hill to climb in this regard. The PGA of America can do everything Bishop describes, but would it matter? The USGA made their stance on recreational golf clear last year when they told tens of thousands of weekend warriors that they had to switch the most important club in their bag or be labelled a cheater. Is the PGA ready to assert itself as the all-encompassing authority on golf in the same way that the USTA has for tennis?
If I were in charge of the PGA, here's what I'd do:
Step 1 - I'd establish that the definition of golf is the way Webster has it, except I'd eliminate the last clause about "9 or 18 holes."
Step 2 - I'd establish a central strategy that focuses on three product elements - 1) the golf course experience, 2) the golf facility experience, 3) the mobile golf experience.
Step 3a - For the golf course experience, I'd create a set of recreational rules. Key elements would include playing all penalties as hazards and having looser guidelines on equipment. This would preserve the core tradition of the game (i.e. no "redefining" needed) while speeding up play and making the game more enjoyable.
Step 3b - For the golf facility experience, I'd find a way to partner with TopGolf and replicate their core value of turning the driving range a social and recreational hub for avid players and beginning golfers alike, just like a bowling alley.
Step 3c - For the mobile golf experience, I'd partner with SNAG on the equipment side and my company TGA on the delivery model side to bring golf out into the community through programs at schools, parks, senior centers and elsewhere.
Step 4 - Before rolling out this plan, I'd go to golf's other governing bodies to get their support so we could operate as one cohesive unit. If they didn't provide it, I'd move forward anyways with confidence that my plan was the best for long-term sustainable growth.
Step 5 - Finally, I'd sell the plan to PGA members. Many won't agree with something like this so I'd prepare for the backlash. But all it takes is a few early adopters and some early successes to change the political tides.
Step 6 - This would be the one and only plan for the next three years. All focus and resources would be dedicated to executing it at the highest level possible.
Hopefully something like this is being developed within the PGA's walls. From what I know, it is. But the hard part is not the talking or planning. It's the doing. Historically, bold ideas stall out because people and organizations in the golf industry don't want to rock the boat. Well, the data clearly tells us that the boat needs a rocking.
I support the Task Force in the same way that I do anything that is trying to move the needle forward within our industry, but I support with trepidation as I worry that it's more of the same.
I'd prefer more of a proactive approach. An entrepreneurial approach.