If golf is to become an attractive alternative to a younger market in the Coachella Valley, one idea coming out of a recent “Growing the Game of Golf Symposium” is to pair select members of private golf clubs to mentor a few kids at local elementary schools.
“The idea would be to send those mentors out to local elementary schools with a set of clubs and have the teachers and principals pick a few girls and boys to be paired with these mentors, who would take the kids out to their club and pave the road ahead,” said Ross Becker, news director at KMIR-TV, who served as the symposium’s moderator.
The symposium, part of the inaugural American Outreach Invitational held May 5-7 at Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, brought together a marquee panel with desert ties, including: Former LPGA Commissioner Charlie Mechem; Al Geiberger (“Mr. 59”); 13-time LPGA winner Liselotte Neuman; golf commentator/course architect Clive Clark, and World Golf Hall of Famer Donna Caponi.
VIDEO: Charlie Mechem notes girls could provide the biggest segment of growth in golf.
Together with an audience of golf professionals, instructors, and club managers – along with the invitational’s keynote speaker, Tom Ridge, the first U. S. Secretary of Homeland Security — the panel aimed to transform ideas into action to reverse the game’s regional and national decline over the past decade, and generate interest among younger players.
“What came out of today is that we need to grow the game from the inside-out, costs needs to come down – which can be a difficult thing in this desert – and, lastly, walls need to come down,” Becker said. “Whether it’s the wall of intimidation around the game, or the physical wall around some of these clubs. It has to come down.”
Pace of play was at the forefront of the discussion, with most panelists and audience members recognizing that the prospect of a five-hour round is an onerous hurdle for bringing new players into the game. In an effort to mitigate the game’s time and cost investment, the panel sought solutions in the form of more courses offering 9-hole play, and speeding up the game by playing forward golf with shorter tees.
VIDEO: Former LPGA pro Liselotte Neuman says combining fitness, like yoga, with golf may attract more women to the game.
Growing the game by fostering local junior golf was also a hot topic. It was readily suggested by panel and audience members alike that private clubs would be well-served by more aggressive outreach to kids and high school players, along with considering caddie and mentorship programs.
Clark, a former European pro whose local design credits include the Celebrity Course at Indian Wells Golf Resort, The Hideaway Club in La Quinta, along with renovations at Bermuda Dunes and La Quinta country clubs, spoke toward his own inclusive architectural approach.
“I’m a nice guy. And the easiest thing for a golf architect to do is to design the hardest golf course in the world or the easiest golf course in the world,” Clark said following the panel discussion. “My courses, generally, people can get around. Take The Hideaway Club, for instance, it’s colorful because it’s got water on 15 holes. But it’s not penal water. People will often come up and say to me, ‘Hey, Clive! I’m a 14-handicap and just shot a 38 on your front nine!’ There’s a ‘feel good’ factor with playability, and it’s about trying to please the people who are using the course.”
Thunder Country Club in Rancho Mirage, site of the Coachella Valley’s first golf course, housed the symposium panel.
Recognizing an aging player culture at several clubs across the valley, Clark said attracting new blood requires changing the way they are sought by clubs.
“Nobody is selling memberships the way they were in the early 2000s, when the thing was on fire; they were forming a line to buy a (home) lot and a membership,” Clark said. “Those days have gone. And it is a problem. But some of the ideas that came up here today, I think, obviously, apply to private clubs. And I like the idea of moving tees forward, because it not only helps people in their 80s, but it also is great for when the grandkids come and stay.”