As you can guess by the Headline I’m not a fan of the expression ‘Grow The Game’. Golf’s a Sport, not a Plant.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting people into the Game but let’s be clear on what we’re really trying to do; increase engagement and encourage participation. By framing it this way vs ‘Growing The Game’ it establishes a clear and specific Intention, from which we can create and facilitate strategies to do so. If we have to use a slogan why not simply use ‘PLAY GOLF’?
To get people interested in the Game I believe we first need to recognise the Phases of Engagement Golfers go through - their ‘WHY’.
From being involved with the Sport for nearly two decades I’ve deduced 3 main Phases of Engagement:
FUN - the Foundation. People start Playing because they find it Fun. It’s a nice thing to do with Friends & Family.
PARTICIPATION - the Walls. As engagement deepens, Players compliment their ‘Fun’ Golf with participating in Club events, potentially fun format initially then progressing on to weekly/monthly Competitions.
PERFORMANCE - the Roof. Players not only play for Fun, but they’re now engaged enough to want to Perform well in Competitions and even play Professionally.
It’s easy for those in the industry to neglect the first two Phases and assume People are automatically in the 3rd. It’s vital we honor all the Phases and create strategies that encourage Golfers to start and keep Playing, whatever their motivation.
How to Increase Engagement and Participation from a Junior Perspective
To increase Engagement and Participation we first need to establish Traditional avenues Children ‘Get into Golf’ i.e:
Inspired by High Level Performance (e.g. watched Tiger Win the Masters on TV)
Hit Balls on the Range/Practice Area
Get ‘Good Enough’ to head out onto the Golf Course (typically playing from the furthest back Tees as permitted)
Struggle & toil until they Love the pain 😉
We’re all on the road to self-driving electric cars and virtual reality lifestyles so let’s make Golf the ‘First to Market'.
The below is what I feel could be an effective Process* for Juniors (and Adults) to go through in order to remove Golfs major participation barriers of Cost and Time:
Step 1: Social/Simulator Experience
Step 2: 9 Hole Short Course Play
Step 3: 9 Hole Fun Format (Full Length Course)
Step 4: 9 Hole Stableford/StrokePlay (Full Length Course)
Step 5: 18 Hole Fun Format (Full Length Course)
Step 6: 18 Hole Stableford/Stroke Play (Full Length Course)
*Cost kept appropriate & Coaching oriented around Play vs Technical Proficiency)
As you can see, at no point is Competence a prerequisite to Participation. To my knowledge, no other Ball Sport has constructed this ‘Performance Barrier”.
In Skiing/Snowboarding for example the mere presence of gravity determines the Goals:
Stay Upright while moving down the Slope Slowly
Stay Upright while moving down the Slope Quickly
Stay Upright while moving down the Slope Quickly & make it to the Bar 😉
It’s crazy to think Golfers should have Lessons/Coaching in order to reach a level of competence and THEN they can go out and Play!?! Yes, you need to be Coached to be able to move the Ball well enough so it doesn’t drive you insane but we need to take the lead set by US Kids Golf and get People on appropriate length Courses!
Let’s remove the Stigma created by naming Tees ‘Ladies, Gents, Junior’ (and while we’re at it, Golf Clubs: drop the Dress Codes and segregated areas of The Clubhouse). Lets simply name them by colour then encourage Players to start at the shortest Tees and give them the opportunity to Tee it back via Gross Score e.g:
BLUE = 120+
YELLOW = 110 & Below
GREEN = 100 & Below
ORANGE = 95 & Below
WHITE = 90 & Below
PURPLE = 85 & Below
RED = 80 & Below
BLACK = 75 & Below
Gamify Your Training
As Children, we all played those Sports where we had to endure 50 minutes of Drills to Play the 10 minute game at the end. So, why don’t we adapt our Training/Practice/Coaching to make the entire Session a Game i.e. Gamify: use the Golf Course/Practice Ground to Learn though Playing Games! Here’s an example of one of my Junior Coaching Sessions at Archerfield to illustrate:
As you can see, it’s Task Orientated; as they are Playing a themed Game (a Game designed around the development of a particular Skill: Direction, Distance, Curvature etc) Coaching Moments emerge - Players ASK for input (usually because they’re Loosing 😉) vs having to endure a monologue of someone telling them what to do. The format provides Context, increases active Engagement and drives Technical improvement. Most importantly it’s FUN, encourages on Course play, Club Membership and the creation of a Social Life around the Game.
This approach isn’t just effective for Children, it works for Adults too! Here’s an example Putting Game. Give it a go:
Lets Eliminate the Stigma/barrier that Players have to reach a Level of Competence in order to Play on the Course
Facilitate Participation through Play on appropriate length Courses
Players: Gamify your Training/Practice
Coaches: Gamifiy and orientate your Coaching around the Intention of getting as many Golfers on the Course, joining Clubs and building a Social Life around the Game.
Let’s do this! Thanks for Reading!
Oliver C. Morton
The Leading Edge Golf Company