There has been a movement in golf since the PGA Merchandise Show. On a Tuesday night in late January, Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade Golf, introduced a concept called “HackGolf.” King’s idea was not based around hacking- like in bad shots. His vision was hacking computerese into the game of golf and changing the way people view the sport.
Since then the floodgates have opened on ways to make golf friendlier, more relaxed and a fun game. King’s HackGolf gemstone was based around the concept of a 15-inch cup versus the traditional 4 ¼ inch cup that golf uses. There have been several 15-inch cup events in the past few months and I had the opportunity to join King in one such event at Reynolds Plantation on the day after The Masters.
Making the Reynolds Plantation 15-inch cup outing even more intriguing was the fact that Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, the reigning U.S. Open Champion, also played. Garcia, Rose and I marveled at how much fun we had playing to the 15-inch cups. Not to mention, how much it speeded the round up.
Fresh from The Masters, Garcia shot 30 for 9-holes and wanted to go lower. “I had three chances to chip in and didn’t,” he said. “So obviously I was quite disappointed.”
Rose shot 33 for 9-holes. “My mind set changed completely,” Rose said. “If I hit a poor drive, I’m trying to figure out how I can best save par. Here I’m thinking if I can just get the ball up near the green somewhere, I can still make birdie.”
I was so impressed with the 15-inch cup idea that we will use it on occasion at The Legends Golf Club this season. We have designated May 3-4 as “HackGolf Weekend” and the 15-inch holes will be in play as well as the Indiana premier of FootGolf, a sport that combines soccer and golf.
These are just two examples of ideas that have spawned from HackGolf and the PGA of America exploring ways to make the sport more fun and inviting. The goal is not to change golf as we know it, but to introduce innovative ways for people to play and stay in the game. Golf has reveled in its standards and rich traditions.
But increasingly a victim of its own image and hidebound ways, golf has lost five million players in the last decade according to the National Golf Foundation. Predictions are that 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers are apt to quit in the next five years. Panic time? Maybe it is and certainly a time to re-examine the sport and its future.
I take my hat off to the leadership of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, most notably Lisa Buening and her golf committee. They are running the 36th Annual Franklin Chamber of Commerce Golf Outing. Organizers had felt the outing was stale and tired. They were looking for some new energy and life to energize its annual fundraiser. The Chamber’s golf committee has decided to use the 15-inch cups on June 5. They didn’t stop there. A 9-hole FootGolf outing is scheduled simultaneously for non-golfers.
My prediction is that players will leave the outing saying it was the most fun day of golf they ever had. The 15-inch cups will speed up the pace of play by 30-45 minutes. It will reduce time spent on the greens and lower scores. Who won’t enjoy a faster round of golf with lower scores? The FootGolf part of the day gives “non-golfers” a chance to join in on the fun of the day, dinner and the camaraderie of the outing. This will be the first outing of its type in the United States.
The PGA of America recently named a Growth of the Game Task Force which I am proud to serve as Chairman. We hold our first meeting today in New York City. I will be joined by Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA along with Dottie Pepper, Independent PGA Director and LPGA legend. Also in the group will be Arlen Kantarian, former CEO of the United States Tennis Association. Kantarian resurrected tennis during his time with the USTA when he did innovative things like lowering the nets, creating larger racquets and painting the U.S. Open courts blue.
Bode Miller is the most decorated skier in American history. He is an avid golfer and Miller brings the perspective of extreme sports. Tom Dundon is the founder of Top Golf, a driving range on steroids which features video games, golf balls with sensors, loud music, food and drink. It’s one of the most successful business models in golf. King from TaylorMade brings his public web portal hackgolf.org to the PGA Task Force. Anyone can submit an idea to the PGA Task Force through this crowd sourcing concept of HackGolf.
Ashley Mayo, a 25-year old digital strategist from Golf Digest, will add a youthful and energetic perspective. Damon Hack, co-host of the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, joins former Indianapolis Colt, Melvin Bullitt in providing insights on minority golf participation. Last but not least, Commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA TOUR will have a seat on the PGA Task Force. The TOUR brings the most powerful voice in all of golf.
This PGA Task Force is charged with three basic concepts. The first is to redefine the golf experience and offer the consumer a 30-90 minute activity that is something besides a 9 or 18-hole round of golf. Secondly, introduce people to alternative forms of the sport such as FootGolf (more on this next week). Thirdly, offer a relaxed set of guidelines that help recreational golfers enjoy the sport. Most who play the game are golfers who do not have handicaps or compete even at the local level.
We want to convert as many golfers as we can into players- they are the people who do have handicaps, play by the Rules and like to compete. In the meantime, let’s keep the game fun and interesting. It’s now time to recognize that more than one type of golf exits. I have used the analogy that if I go to a basketball court and play a game of H-O-R-S-E that is basketball.
Golf needs to get up to speed and now is the time!