Some of the initiatives golf have to 'Grow the Game' make you embarrassed to be a golfer at times!
But why is it so bad?
Kids watch Messi or Ronaldo and they go out to the park and try to imitate their heroes.
They watch Joe Root score a century or Chris Robshaw score a try and they can play sport at their school aiming to get to that level.
But even though the drama and skill levels showpieced by Messrs McIlroy and Spieth are no less inspiring it is just not as easy for any kid to emulate their heroes in golf.
It is argued golf’s image problem can both prevent and deter parents from taking their children to a club to get involved... and schools simply don't teach golf.
Whether it be an economic, class, social, sex or even a race issue, golf is miles behind its competitors (and yes they are competitors) for the attention of these inspired kids.
The ironic thing about golf is that it isn’t just the kids that can start playing.
Any person of any age or sex can conceivably learn, enjoy and compete thanks to the nature of the game and the handicap system. So why aren’t they?
Are the initiatives available at present set out to change these issues creative or sexy enough or are they half-hearted efforts by the same old folks?
So what is there?
In England there is the English Golf Partnership (EGP) (awful website!!!) which is the partnership between the amateur governing body, England Golf, and the professional body the PGA.
These are supported financially by Sport England, the organisation which determines who gets government and lottery funds that are available for sport, as well as each member of a golf club who pays their union fee each year!
The EGP has had to swallow cuts of £496,000 for failing to hit participation targets and Sport England have a straightforward stance.
“Sport England is challenging the sport to take radical action to stop the continuing decline in the number of people playing golf regularly.”
Although they said the money will be reinvested in new partners who can show how to make golf quicker, cheaper and less formal which they see as key challenges.
So what have the EGP done?
Their main program is one named ‘Get into Golf’ which aims at the 26+ age group. The idea is great and they offer free and low cost taster sessions with local professionals. Problem is nobody I have asked knows about them. Do you?
And one look over their website doesn’t alleviate any worries or concerns people may have about taking up the game in the first place. Nor is it inspiring in any way. Quite frankly it's awful!
There are images of people wearing stupid clothing, pages on what golf actually is and various images of a couple of elderly women.
With such a huge age range to aim at they surely need different initiatives? The smartphone addicted 26-year old hipster in London will probably need to be communicated to slightly differently to the couple of pensioners in Rutland?
In addition, the reason people do not play golf is not because they do not know what it is. The human beings among us will know about the basics of the game and probably where their nearest courses are.
What they might not know is how they get involved? Who will be there? What are they like? What exactly should they wear? How relaxed is the place they go to play will be? How much will I need to spend to take up golf?
Instead we find such inspiring articles as 'How golf can help prevent osteoporosis' and a piece talking of the merits of getting into 'natural light'!!!
The Golf Foundation
The charity is certainly more inspiring in what it is setting out to do. At least on the face of it!
They aim to give young people a positive experience through golf regardless of age or background. A principle that underpins this is their ‘Skills for Life’ motto which is about learning on the course and attitudes and behaviours off it, which is both commendable and relatable to anyone who has played the game.
Their remit is to get kids from introduction to the game in schools, communities, clubs and events all the way through to having an official handicap. Problem is the amount of schools they are in is negligible.
Outside of school there is little to be found to quell the fears of the working class parent who may think their child will be the odd one out at a session.
This may be far from the truth in this day and age but golf has made a rod for its own back with an image that will take major efforts and possibly time to change. This must be made visible to all parents.
Then there is a Street Golf format, played in the inner-city. Once again a good concept with all the best intentions.
Kids that wouldn’t normally get a chance to play golf due to geography can learn the game with fun skill based games with specialist equipment.
But one search of YouTube shows a video in association with Citi-Bank and shows a load of bankers popping down on their lunch break to play golf with the kids.
It looks like a PR exercise. (And probably is!)
Although I am no 8-year old yoot from East London, I very much doubt they have much in common, nor garner much inspiration from some middle-aged banker wearing a charity t-shirt over the top of his shirt and tie?
Nor will the child likely see the irony that golf’s participation levels decreasing could be largely attributed to those very bankers being greedy years earlier.
All is forgotten now though as HSBC are the main sponsors of the foundation!
They have ambassadors such as Ken Brown (58), Alison Nicholas (53) and Lee Westwood (42) and without disregarding the great work these guys no doubt do you would hardly describe them as relatable and trendy role models to youngsters.
You feel for the Golf Foundation because the ideas are all there. It may just need a couple of savvy fresh new ideas and a bit of time. But in such a results based industry time will be of the essence.
The facts to back it up
A company named Syngenta have carried out market research over the past couple of years with the most recent one named: The Opportunity to Grow Golf: Youth Participation. These were the main problems:
Difficult to start - Findings from the 14-18 year old youths showed that they felt golf was a difficult sport to start. Apart from the perceived economic issues they felt they felt that they needed to be a member of a club to receive coaching.
Not in a teenagers mindset - If nobody in the family plays and it is not played in school the game is simply not on the teenager’s radar.
Media coverage - They feel media is slow, boring and aimed at old people. Even the golfers in the focus group admitted golf on TV was a turn-off.
“If I was going to take up golf I wouldn’t know where to start, where to go, what to buy. I
wouldn’t have a clue how to get into it.”
There is no doubting the great work of some of the people in these organisations and there will no doubt be major success stories, but, such is life it will be a numbers game to win more funding away from other sports.
The main focus must be on youth.
The 26+ market stinks of an industry wanting economic stimulation quickly. Until there are major visible changes in etiquette, dress code, cost to play and image as a whole nothing will change too fast.
Golf perhaps has the exact opposite problem to football in that it has plenty of qualified coaches, capable of teaching beginners and youngsters in the right way, and they are willing to do it.
Sport England are right, it does need a radical change, which hasn’t been seen as yet. The image has to be revamped in such a way that kids are inspired, and perhaps more importantly, parents from all backgrounds have access, are made to feel welcome and actually want their children playing our game.
This isn't happening with the bodies at the moment who it has been said are more concerned about ticking boxes to secure funding than making change.
To see inspirational stuff, you have to look elsewhere, outside of the 'official' channels so to speak... Stay tuned to hear about some great work going on (because you probably haven't heard about it!)
I'm the Managing Editor at The Club. I like putting and Rioja. I dislike my low slice.