By Bob Carney
Why grow the game?
It's a good question. Every time we suggest golf needs help, it comes up, usually with a fair amount of consternation. Enough already! Who cares?
A competitor of ours once told a "Future of Golf" panel: "We should make golf accessible, and if people want to play, they will." I thought: Sort of like the president of Mercedes saying, we have stores. We have nice cars. Come on in if you're interested.
Yes, some of the folks talking so passionately about "growth" are also talking about growth of their company's capital. Not everyone's pure of heart here.
But even those guys -- Wally Uihlein and Mark King and Cindy Davis and going back Ely Callaway and the Hansbergers and John Ashworth and Bob MacNally and thousands more -- they all loved this game. Still love it.
Which is why, at the very top of the pyramid, you saw guys who played golf at the highest level, for themselves, for money, but all the while weren't happy unless we came along.
Beginning, of course, with Arnie. Not just the swashbuckling '60s Arnie, but Arnie ever since. Why has Arnold spent three quarters of his life promoting the sport?
Why has Gary Player said yes to virtually every opportunity he's been approached with to get more people watching or playing or visiting the Hall of Fame. Why did David Fay want the U.S. Open to be played at Bethpage Black? Why did Bill Davis and his buddies build a golf magazine? Why bother.
Maybe for the same reason men like Mike Keiser raise millions for the Evans Scholars program, the caddie scholarship with a $12 million annual tuition bill. Or why tens of thousands of people volunteer at events large and small or organize their course's junior club championship or march around watching 6-year-olds play their first three holes.
Why does Billy Payne give a damn if kids in Singapore play golf? Why did William Powell build a golf course with his own hands so African-Americans near Akron, Ohio, could play the game?
Why did the member we caddied for in high school give us old Macgregors so we could learn to play? And why did thousands of other "traditionalists" tolerate me, my brother and our crazy caddie buddies when we showed up at their golf courses on our days off and made a mess of things? Why did they take the time to show us the way?
Because they love a game that's worth loving.
And because they want others to know why it is so enriching, and feel the connection themselves. They want to return the favor -- many favors, really, thousands of favors -- that people did for them to give them golf.
If there is a mistake in our approach these days it's that we've strayed from the core. By core, I mean not only the 25-rounds-a-year hackers, but also the courses they fell in love with the game playing. The On-Ramps. Easy courses, a lot of them nine-holers, with a few bunkers and lots of low rough and a chance to break 100. Courses that cost $15, that you could walk, that gave you a hot dog if you played at the right time and set you thinking you could get pretty good at this. They're still out there, but they're dying off.
We in the industry are out of touch with those places and players, sometimes with the sport itself. Try to set up a game at an industry conference and most folks don't have time. When they do, they're offered access, deals, equipment prices that ordinary golfers never see. After hearing a dozen golf writers rave about a great new Florida resort, I had to check it out. No special deal, off the rack rate. The bill for green fees and caddie came to $300. A friend of mine stayed for two days at the lodge and spent $2,000 over a weekend. Great place, but he thinks he might not go back. Who has that kind of money?
So maybe we've lost what it was that brought us to golf. Not rules seminars. Not checking off courses on the 100 Greatest. Not knowing the difference between a Fazio bunker and a Dye. Not a 150 slope. Not the $1,000 fitting system that tells us the ball-spin off our 3-hybrid. Not the bagpipes or the valets with knickers. None of that.
We came for the golf, a sport we grew to love and wanted to share.
And if this sport (game, industry) shrinks and becomes again a kind of private enclave, and we did nothing to stop that, then I think we'll feel sorry.
Not for us. For the kids we used to be.