New Zealand Golf Magazine - - PGA OF NZ -

Michael Smith, Deputy Chair­man of NZ Golf Inc., gives some thoughts on the rel­e­vance of golf to­day.

I sus­pect there would be many read­ing this ar­ti­cle who are old enough to re­mem­ber the days when we dressed in our finest when trav­el­ling, whether by land, sea or air. To­day the dress code for travel is way more re­laxed, com­fort­able and prac­ti­cal. You don't have to be too old to recog­nise that the age old busi­ness of fer­ry­ing pas­sen­gers by taxi has been tipped on its head by a phone app.

One of the largest pub­lish­ing en­ti­ties on the planet has no writ­ers, but rather al­lows au­thors and in­di­vid­u­als to post their own con­tent us­ing their plat­form. One of the largest re­tail­ers on the planet has no stock of its own nor ware­hous­ing, but co-or­di­nates buy­ers and sell­ers and de­liv­ery through an on­line process.

The chal­lenge for the won­der­ful game we en­joy is to recog­nise the dis­rup­tive risks to the pop­u­lar­ity of par­tic­i­pa­tion. The re­lated chal­lenge is to en­sure that we can be flex­i­ble enough to re­fresh the way our game is of­fered to re­tain its rel­e­vance. The burn­ing plat­form is the av­er­age age of the mem­ber of a golf club in New Zealand grad­u­ally in­creas­ing year on year and cur­rently sit­ting around mid-60s. To a cer­tain ex­tent one of the beau­ti­ful fea­tures of golf serves to mask one of the big­gest threats. That is, that with the hand­i­cap sys­tem unique to our game, play­ers of all abil­ity and, in par­tic­u­lar, age, can en­joy the game deep into their twi­light years. To ex­am­ine the num­bers of mem­bers of golf clubs with­out re­gard to the age and prox­im­ity to the very edge of the burn­ing plat­form is shades of King Canute vainly try­ing to com­mand the waves.

As well as the strug­gle of re­tain­ing golf as a rel­e­vant op­tion for time hun­gry mil­len­ni­als, many cour­ses are faced with the is­sue of con­tin­ued sus­tain­abil­ity. There are a num­ber of con­trib­u­tors, rang­ing from dwin­dling mem­ber­ship to cour­ses on Coun­cil owned land, where a range of geo-po­lit­i­cal pres­sures from pop­u­la­tion growth to bal­ance sheet pres­sure have bought scru­tiny to rel­a­tively large tracts of land oc­cu­pied by ur­ban golf cour­ses. There is a per­cep­tion that golf is a sport for the well-heeled elite, which is not help­ful in ar­gu­ing the case for re­ten­tion of crit­i­cal golf in­fra­struc­ture. The vi­a­bil­ity of on-course fa­cil­i­ties and café and bar type fa­cil­i­ties es­pe­cially, is a chal­lenge.

Club­houses and cour­ses that are set up as multi-func­tional type fa­cil­i­ties make a lot of sense. By way of ex­am­ple, the Bal­macewen Ten­nis Club is com­fort­ably si­t­u­ated now in the beau­ti­ful grounds of the Otago Golf Club and shar­ing bar cater­ing club­house fa­cil­i­ties. The out­come has multi-layer ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing young fam­i­lies us­ing the fa­cil­i­ties and recreating in a golf club en­vi­ron­ment. The Old Course at St Andrews has pub­lic walk­ways al­low­ing com­mu­nity ac­cess. To re­tain the priv­i­lege of hav­ing cour­ses on Coun­cil land, we rapidly need to make the fa­cil­i­ties more in­clu­sive of a broader range of recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties than solely golf.

We need to col­lec­tively chal­lenge the rel­e­vance of fea­tures of our game and our clubs which may be an im­ped­i­ment to at­tract or re­tain younger par­tic­i­pants. There are any num­ber of ex­am­ples where the pas­sage of time has over­taken out­dated con­ven­tions.

A com­mon is­sue for younger peo­ple is pres­sure of time. There are any num­ber of ex­am­ples of shorter forms of our tra­di­tional games which have proved to be very pop­u­lar and, in some cases, game chang­ing - cricket, rugby, rugby league. Golf should be no ex­cep­tion and yet we have clubs still who are al­ler­gic to nine hole mem­ber­ships and clubs where nine hole mem­ber­ship whilst al­lowed, don't have full mem­ber­ship rights like vot­ing, etc.

We have chal­lenges with the rel­e­vance of out­dated dress codes. We need to very care­fully ex­am­ine the ra­tio­nale be­tween try­ing to jus­tify the very smart col­lar­less Tiger Woods Nike T-shirt be­ing un­ac­cept­able in the club­house where the cheap and nasty $20 col­lared T-shirt is ac­cept­able. San­dals and jan­dals in sum­mer ought not to be an is­sue. The hash tags around dress code ought to be ap­pro­pri­ate and rel­e­vant and hav­ing re­spect for the in­sti­tu­tion of both the game and the club. But re­spect is earned, not pre­scribed and an ex­am­ple of ex­pec­ta­tion is way bet­ter than a stop sign with a list at the door in terms of a wel­come.

Tra­di­tion can and does form a very im­por­tant part of the fab­ric and his­tory of where our game has come from. Con­tin­u­ing to pre­scribe tra­di­tions in the face of chal­lenges to the rel­e­vancy of our game and how we de­liver it, runs close to of­fend­ing the old adage of do­ing the same things the same way and ex­pect­ing a dif­fer­ent re­sult. What is im­por­tant is re­ten­tion of the re­spect for not only the tra­di­tions, but those who have worked, strate­gized, vol­un­teered and done all that is re­quired to fa­cil­i­tate the evo­lu­tion of the game to where it is to­day. Re­spect is earned, not pre­scribed. Our club fa­cil­i­ties need to be wel­com­ing and a good club cul­ture will en­sure that those fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices and the peo­ple who have and con­tinue to pro­vide them, are re­spected, along with the im­por­tant and rel­e­vant tra­di­tions of the game.

Our game faces some fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant is­sues. Some of the an­swers to which may re­side in our mem­bers and par­tic­i­pants as an un­tapped re­source. We need to be brave enough to lis­ten to the play­ers as own­ers of the game, par­tic­u­larly the younger ones and en­cour­age thought lead­er­ship from within.

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