Ron Sirak

Room For Growth

Continued (page 2 of 2)

As for Fun, I disagree with those who say the reason golf is not growing is because it is too difficult. The difficulty is part of the attraction. And back when Arnold Palmer and television combined to launch golf's great growth spurt 50 years ago, the game was a lot more difficult to play than it is now, but the game grew anyway.

We need to focus on the Fun in the game. My father was a 35-year-old steel mill worker when he took up golf. The factory had a nine-hole league -- inspired by our local working class hero, Palmer -- and that league got my Dad hooked on the game. He started playing nine holes on Tuesdays and eventually was playing 18 on Saturday and Sunday, and soon he had a club in my hands.

These sorts of fun, social/competitive events are also a way to get more women in the game. Only 18 percent of rounds played in the United States are by women. The growth potential there is enormous. How about courses encouraging that growth by having daycare centers or play areas so Moms can bring their kids to the course?

Related: America's 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses

Equipment companies also need to embrace the women's game more, as Wilson, Spalding and MacGregor did after World War II when, looking to expand markets, they hired players like Patty Berg, Marilynn Smith and Louise Suggs to do exhibitions and clinics to promote the game -- and their product. Those marketing efforts led to the creation of the LPGA in 1950.

The year ended with some positive numbers. The NGF says rounds played in the United States were up 7.4 percent through September against the same time period in 2011, with every state experiencing a gain. That report in November projected the largest single-year increase for golf in 2012 since 2000.

The momentum is there, and so is the clear direction we need to go: Fitness, Family, Fast and Fun. Golf is a uniquely challenging sport that is also unique in the way it offers a brilliant combination of physical, mental and social experiences. A new year is beginning. Let it begin with a new commitment to growing the game of golf.

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