Courses & TravelMay 16, 2010

WSJ Reports On Golf's Big Problem: No Kids

Randy Newman may have been on to something back in 1977 - "Short People" have got no reason to live. The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Futterman doesn't go that far, but his piece in Saturday's edition points out that short people (and short hitters) barely have a reason to play golf.

Futterman is the latest to point out the side affects of a few decades of focus by golf's moneymen: brawny architecture, exclusivity, property flips, corporate outings and inflated green fees. Futterman says golf has done everything to neglect its future--kids.

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__It's this: According to the National Golf Foundation's most recent participation report, the number of golfers age 6-17 dropped 24% to 2.9 million from 3.8 million between 2005 and 2008.

Here's a link to Futterman's complete story.

Futterman, 40, has three daughters (ages 11, 8 and 4) and lives in New York. He admits, "I'm not a very good golfer, but I love golf." In the process of Futtermnan's fatherly duties he noticed a growth in tennis, a sport that has made adjustments to court sizes for kids.

Then his 8-year-old expressed interest in golf. "I think the driving range is boring for kids," he says, "there's nothing to play. And I didn't know where to find the closest pitch-and-putt. That's when I realized there's no way my daughter ends up playing golf. It's a matter of opportunities."

I wondered if Futterman came across any courses that are doing it right. He reports the participation numbers are up for the First Tee Program:

The First Tee, the national program aimed at introducing younger players to the sport, has been exploding. There are now 200 First Tee Chapters in the U.S., which oversee the operation of clinics at 700 facilities and training programs for some 400,000 kids. Another 1.6 million will take up golf in elementary school gym classes The First Tee has developed.

And Futterman said Dan Van Horn, president of U.S. Kids Golf, told him that he has been able to get roughly 800 courses across the country (public and private) to put down PGA Family Tee Markers.

The family tees generally condense a course from 18 holes to nine holes and 6,500 yards to 1,900 yards. Kids and parents are set up for a successful experience instead of one of frustration and failure.

My recent travels have taken me to Bandon Dunes and Hershey, Pa. Bandon owner, Mike Keiser, put down a version of family tees at Old Macdonald, the new fourth course opening on June 1. And I couldn't help but notice one of the busiest courses in Hershey was the short course,Spring Creek, where kids can play nine holes for $5. Spring Creek has six par 4s, three par 3s, two sets of tees and tips out at 2,125 yards. Most rounds take less than an hour.

--Matty G.

(Illustration for WSJ by Kyle T. Webster.)

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