Stephanie Wei (Wei Under Par) and Jim Frank (Over The Green) have little in common other than they both play golf (occasionally) and both blog. X-Blog is where they comment on the same issue in the game, and maybe have a few barbs/comments for the other, as well.
Jim: Okay, Steph. Let’s talk about what I consider the most important issue in golf. No, not square grooves or there not being an Olympic-caliber course in Rio. Not even the lovely economy. All those can, and will, be fixed. What I’m most concerned about is this: Where are the new golfers going to come from? There are so few caddie programs, kids don’t go outside to ride a bike or throw around a football, let alone play golf. And yes, The First Tee and other programs like that will help a bit. But just a bit. So where will the next generation of players come from? Is there one out there? Is the game really in trouble?
Stephanie: It’s all about the kids. People who are introduced to golf at a young age are also the ones who keep playing it. Like you mentioned, there are programs like the First Tee that do great things to promote the game, but it’s probably not enough. I think playing up the cool factor would have a huge impact—Justin Timberlake’s tournament last week was great, there were items about it in mags/websites like People, US Weekly, etc. He clearly loves the sport and is a GREAT spokesperson to promote the game (and coolness!). Also, tons of people had issues with Michael Jordan (the team mascot!) acting as Freddie Couples’ assistant Captain at the Presidents Cup. I mean, seriously? Chill out. The Tour even “suggested” he shouldn’t attend the Opening Ceremony. The presence of basketball’s all-time best player is a positive. Fact of the matter is that many kids want to emulate their idols/heroes. So, when kids see that guys like JT and MJ love golf, they might think, “Oh, maybe I should give it a shot. I want to be like them.” Playing up celeb involvement and making a connection between golf and pop culture is key. It sounds kinda superficial, but we gotta get rid of the uptight crap the powers-that-be seem to pride themselves on trying to uphold.
Jim: No argument from this old fart about changing the perceptions of the game and making it if not “cool” (hey, it’s golf; be realistic) at least welcoming, fun, challenging, interesting, competitive, and somewhat youthful. But you have to be careful. Golf has tried chasing “cool” before; there used to be a magazine called Maximum Golf that was all about “cart girl of the month” and zipping around the course in a souped-up cart with beer cans flying around. Surprise, it didn’t take because one of the things that make golf truly cool is that it doesn’t need to change to be great. I’d like to see golf play up its retro side—some of the new fashion does that; maybe the fascination with the show “Mad Men” and the ‘60s will help that. But keep one thing in mind: For the last 13 or so years, we’ve had arguably the “coolest” athlete in the world playing our game and he hasn’t done much for increasing participation. TV viewership and corporate sponsorship, yes. Tiger has been worth billions. But if he hasn’t been able to attract new players, we need to think very seriously about what will.
Stephanie: My turn to agree with you. There are people who are fans and those who are both fans and golfers. People start playing golf usually by being introduced to it by a parent, colleague, friend, or spouse, etc., up to a point. That said, golf being “cool” isn’t necessarily going to get people to pick up a golf club. But I am shocked that Tiger hasn’t attracted more people to take up the game: How accurate is this information? And even if he hasn’t grown the game much, how many fewer golfers would there be without him? In my personal experience, younger people have started playing because of their admiration for Tiger. Also, he’s surely built up a larger fan base and caused more people to follow professional golf. I mean, he can be accused of allegedly farting during a telecast and it makes national news (!). I hope that by continuing to entice fans through the pro ranks—improve the media coverage, make the telecast more fun (with commentators like David Feherty), build up the personalities and back stories in an entertaining way—it will eventually tip to a point where more people will start playing. We just need to be patient, it’s not going to happen overnight. The game is most definitely NOT in trouble.
Now that you’ve read our thoughts, we’d like to hear yours on what can be done to grow the game and create more golfers.
[Photo by Photo Agency]