By Barry Janoff
March 15, 2014: In response to what it calls the "changing face of America and downward participation trends," the PGA of America is taking aggressive steps to rebuild and reboot interest in the sport.
Under the auspices of its board of directors, PGA of America said it has formed a PGA Task Force "to grow the game through non-traditional means."
According to a report from the National Golf Foundation, more than 4.4 million new players joined the golf ranks in the 1990s and 2,600 new golf course were built. But from 2000-10, less than 500 new courses were opened and the total number of people playing golf declined by 1.7 million to about 26.1 million. The decline has slowed but continued.
PGA of America said the Task Force would "maintain a long-term lens [but] its efforts will focus on developing concepts that can be quickly actioned against and implemented by PGA Professionals and the industry at large."
Although not mentioned by the PGA of America, the decline in the number of people playing golf coincides with the play of Tiger Woods. Although he is the No. 1 ranked player in the world, he has not won a major title since The Masters in June 2008 and has struggled over the past two years with a variety of knee and back ailments that have kept him off the tour or have led him to withdraw from events.
Perhaps the most out-of-the-box member of the PGA Task Force is Bode Miller, world-renowned American skier and six-time Olympic medalist, including a gold in the Super Combined event in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, who also is a golf enthusiast.
"Our simple goal is to get more people playing golf," skiier Bode Miller wrote on his Twitter page regardng the PGA of America Task Force.
The diversified Task Force also includes Melvin Bullitt, who played defensive back for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts from 2007-11 and who has been involved with the PGA's Play Golf America Day since 2009; Arlen Kantarian, who while CEO of the U.S. Tennis Assn. from 2000-08 "spear-headed efforts to reverse downward participation trends of tennis"; Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade-adidas Golf; Damon Hack, co-host of Morning Drive on the Golf Channel; Ashley Mayo, editor of Audience Engagement at Golf Digest; Tom Dundon, part owner of Top Golf; and Dottie Pepper, former LPGA pro, former NBC Sports golf analyst and author.
They will be joined by Pete Bevacqua, CEO for the PGA of America; and PGA of America president Ted Bishop.
"There is nothing that I have been part of to-date that is more important and has greater opportunity," Bishop said in a statement. "The golf experience needs to be redefined. For many people, the traditional 18-hole round simply doesn't work. With the industry at a critical juncture of growth it is our responsibility to consider any and all potential alternatives to enhance the consumer's enjoyment of the game."
PGA of America said it would use HackGolf.org, created under the leadership of Mark King, as a "conduit for (the public) to submit their own ideas" on how to build the sport.
"With the industry at a critical juncture of growth it is our responsibility to consider any and all potential alternatives to enhance the consumer's enjoyment of the game." — PGA of America president Ted Bishop
One of the new concepts that the Task Force will look at is FootGolf, which combines soccer and golf on a modified course and has its own governing body, the American Footgolf League.
Among the early ideas submitted to the Task Force:
"The problem with getting youngsters in particular to play golf is that it is still seen by many as uncool or for old men/women, so in my experience unless the parents (or maybe other relatives) play then they don't even consider it."
"The problem with the rule book is that it is over-complicated and is not worded the best."
"The most frustrating thing when playing a round of golf is when you get a group that seems to move so slow that time appears to stand still."
PGA of American marketing partners include PepsiCo (Aquafina, Gatorade, Pepsi), KitchenAid, Belvedere, OfficeMax, Moet & Chandon, Lipton Tea and Westin.
PGA of America, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is comprised of a some 27,000 men and women who are involved with golf as pros, coaches, teachers and other aspects. PGA of America oversees the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid and PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
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