The golf industry’s not doing real well these days.
Ten years ago there were 30 million golfers in America. Now there are 26 million. And even the most devoted are playing less often… The number of rounds has fallen five straight years. Golf course development has dried up. Country Clubs are going bankrupt. Golf spending is down across the board. And well-meaning industry initiatives have done nothing to grow the game.
The latest effort — “Golf 2.0” — was launched by the PGA of America in January. It’s an elaborate program of target marketing, player development and customer service training that has little chance of achieving its stated goal.
Because it misses the root of the problem: It’s not about “reaching” 61 million lapsed golfers. It’s about addressing the reasons why they lapsed.
According to the “Golf 2020” report, there are three reasons why 1.7 million people quit the game every year:
• Golf takes too long
• It costs too much
• It’s too hard.
Golf 2.0 does nothing to address any of these problems, which is really too bad.
Golf Instruction Used To Be Simple
In the battle of simplicity vs. complexity, simplicity wins, every time. We gravitate toward products and services that eliminate complexity from our lives, and we rail against the things that complicate matters and make us feel stupid.
Back in the days of the three-martini lunch, golf instruction was simple and appealing. As a country club member you had a pro at your disposal. He’d work with you on the driving range, play with you, coach you to get better, and monitor your progress.
It was a personalized, one-on-one experience.
No two lessons were the same. He worked with the swing you had, and helped you build the skills you needed to score well on the golf course. Accountability was built in… You’d practice because you knew the pro was keeping an eye on your progress.
But those days are gone.
Today, less than 5% of all golfers have a relationship with a golf pro. According to the NGF, less than half of all golfers have ever taken a lesson, and when they do they are often disappointed. There are 27 million golfers, but less than 4 million lessons in any given year. Maybe the PGA should think about why that is…
Because lessons are totally intimidating, especially for women. Because instructors make them way too complex! And most of all, because they seldom work.
Even the most humble and friendly golf instructor can make us feel stupid. Inept. And klutzy. It is a rare instructor who sends the student off with fewer than five or six “things to work on.” According to Phil Mickelson, even the tour gurus are often guilty of over-instruction. “Can’t you just give me one thing to work on?”
Often it’s a checklist of a dozen mechanical issues that the average guy can’t possibly grasp, much less incorporate into his game. The more technical the lesson is, the worse it gets.
Group lessons and golf schools are especially ineffective. Common complaints include: “I came back worse than when I started.” “It was just way too technical.” “He didn’t give me anything positive, it was all about what I was doing wrong.”
Video analysis only helps the most analytical, visual learners; Maybe one half of one percent of the golfing population. And yet, instructors routinely use stop motion video to analyze every position and point out every flaw.
Just because they can.
More often than not, it’s just confusing and demoralizing for the student.
The fact is, if video alone was an effective tool, all the tour pros would be firing their high-priced swing coaches. But they’re not. Even Tiger Woods — the ultimate swing wonk — needs help translating what he sees on video to what he feels on the golf course.
In the January issue of Golf Digest, Jim Flick, one of the top five teachers of all time, wrote an article that sums up the problem with modern golf instruction:
“A lot of today’s teachers are enamored with what works for the tour pros, and they give the same information to their higher-handicap students… In general, trying to swing like most of today’s tour pros will make the average golfer – say a 5 handicap or higher, – only worse.”
Rather than working with the student’s natural swing, today’s teachers tell everyone to emulate Tiger Woods or Adam Scott or Dustin Johnson. And there’s no way we can pull it off. It would be like taking a piano player, who’s only played for a year, and asking him to perform Stravinsky. Forget About It!
Bottom line: Only two in ten golfers go back for a second lesson of any kind, and even fewer believe that the lesson “did them any good.” It’s an abysmal record that produces very little repeat business. Worse yet, it drives people away from the game and is beginning to make the teaching pro irrelevant.
Why isn’t the PGA of America addressing that? If the golf industry truly wants to turn things around, the methods of instruction HAVE to change.
Do-It-Yourselfers are the key.
Golf Magazine reports that 70 percent of all golfers are dissatisfied with their scores. So if they are not happy with their scores, and they’re not taking lessons, what are they doing?
Surfing the net, watching the You Tube videos, reading magazines and buying training aids. Google reports more than 1.2 million searches a month on keywords directly related to golf improvement and golf instruction.
Unfortunately, this do-it-yourself approach simply doesn’t work.
Few of us understand the golf swing well enough to accurately assess our own faults. We don’t know what to work on — and more importantly, what NOT to work on. So we try everything! It’s like a merry-go-round of experimentation… Try this, try that. Motivated players accumulate tons of knowledge but never improve because the tips we try are out of context and blatantly contradictory.
And here’s another problem… We’re not accountable or motivated to practice. There’s no pro asking, “how’s that putting drill working for you.” We just hit balls at the driving range with no goal, no plan, and no supervision.
And ingrain all our bad habits.
Unfortunately, the golf industry perpetuates this problem by making everything more complicated than it needs to be. Just look what they’ve done with the simplest club in the bag!
The business thrives on complexity. I guess they figure if they can keep the average golfer completely mystified it guarantees them job security. And sells more clubs. But it does not keep us coming back. (Just ask the 61 million “lapsed” golfers out there.)
In my business we tell clients they need to always be mindful of relevance, credibility and differentiation.
Well, golf pros have very little credibility when it comes to instruction. And they are quickly becoming irrelevant to the vast majority of golfers. That’s a huge problem for the PGA of America.
Technology alone is not the answer. If the PGA really wants to serve its constituents they need to figure out how to marry technology with tradition and reinvent the way golf is taught.