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Breakdown on the Golf Trip
- 10:55 PM red eye flight out of San Diego, 1.5 hr layover in Chicago
- Landed at 9:55 AM in Louisiana
- 10:15 ride from Terry, the Uber driver ($57) - 5 Star
- Arrived at 10:45 AM at TPC Louisiana
- 40 minute range session
- Teed off at 11:52 AM with 3 local patrons, Jim, Larry and Steve
When I originally set out on this venture I expected to write about the lush fairways, pristine greens, and impeccable facility. What I did not expect was the hospitality of the people at TPC Louisiana, from the cart attendant to the 3 gentlemen that I played with for the round.
Most of my experiences at golf establishments in Southern California are not about the people; in fact I typically write just about the course, and I'm often met with a certain pretentious attitude and an absence of hospitality from the people at golf facilities across much of the west. I've never been able to put my finger on it until this trip; the people of TPC were genuine and hospitable, which left a glaring discrepancy from my previous golf experiences.
My day in the south started off with an Uber ride from Terry who promptly told me his life story as an entrepreneur, and that his life as an Uber driver was temporary. On our drive we discussed the area surrounding the course, Avondale, the city in which TPC was established as mostly blue collar. The course has helped to improve the area since it's inception in 2004.
My arrival was greeted by the cart attendant who promptly directed me to the locker room after I mentioned that I was in desperate need of a wardrobe change from the lengthy travel from San Diego. In the locker room I was greeted by local TPC member named Mo, he is 75 years young. Mo likes watching Fox News, is extremely displeased with our current President, and concluded with how we can move our country forward. As I listened closely to his political stance he eventually segued from politics to golf. While I continued preparing for the round, he went on about the course and its history. I quite enjoyed Mo and his descriptive golf and political stories.
After a quick freshening up from my flight, I headed over to the pro-shop to check in. There I met Ryan O'Dowd and his team, they were friendly and knowledgable. It did not take me long to burst into the humid air to receive my almost new set of Titleist AP2 714 rental set, the nicest rental set I've played, closely matched to my personal set which made a significant difference on course. After getting set up with clubs I moseyed over to the range; The range was perfect. It had well organized golf ball pyramids with tight lies that is conducive of a proper warm up.
After a great warm up, I checked in with the starter. He mentioned I would be paired with three golfers; I welcomed the opportunity to play with locals from the area. That's when I met Jim, Larry, and Steve. As we prepared to tee off we exchanged pleasantries, we promptly determined what tee's we would play (players tee) and we were off.
The conversations that issued, mostly about the course, and the culture of Louisiana. The most impactful story was about the city, when Hurricane Katrina hit the great state of Louisiana leaving 1,000's without homes or food. Steve mentioned that his home, by some miracle, was not impacted. The devastation was prevalent on the course, it left many trees uprooted with the landscape of this course altered from the intended design. Since the devastating event in 2005 the course has received an extensive facelift to the original design, adding new trees combined with removal of some famous Pete Dye bunkers. My playing companions mentioned that some bunkers were removed because of complaints by PGA Tour players, one of the biggest culprits was veteran tour pro Vijay Singh. I would've loved to play the course as it was designed in 2004, with pot bunkers and all. My advice to tour players would be: stop complaining, accept the challenge, and don't hit your ball in hazardous areas.
The course was fantastic; my only complaint was the course being pretty straightforward with little imagination needed. The courses that I typically love are the courses that challenge the mind. This particular Pete Dye layout has morphed into a much tamer version of famed "Pete Diabolical" courses of the past. In the end it's not the course you play but the people you share the course with. Hats off and a shake of the hand to Jim, Larry and Steve!
David's Scorecard and Stats
I grew up playing soccer and it seemed to be a cultural melting pot. I always felt like I could relate to the simple game. I believe children can relate to soccer because any child can visualize themselves playing the game; from male to female, black to white. The popularity of soccer continues to grow because of ethnic and gender diversity that is well established with no barriers to limit such diversity; the diversity far exceeds the confines of the field and extends to the companies that lead soccer in the United States including The USA Soccer Federation, comprised of diverse leaders.
A Cultural Change From the Top Down
Now let's examine golf. Golf is NOT the most culturally diverse game and it continues to struggle with attracting youthful athletes, including new amateur golfers. The game has many barriers to contend with which include, cost, time, and access to appropriate facilities.
As a kid, you can head out with a basketball and find a hoop in the local park, or if you play soccer, all you need is a ball to start kicking about. For that matter, you can grab a football and throw it in the street to start learning the game without the need for pads. There are many things you need to start in golf: clubs, bag, gloves, balls and about 100+ acres to really learn the game. As more courses begin to close their doors, access will be limited, which will ultimately lead to higher cost for hard working Americans to enjoy one of the best games ever invented. Combine that with limited time and resources for most parents raising large families, and it is easy to see why the game is in desperate need of change.
This task will not be easy, since the change needs to start from the top, which would be The PGA of America and The PGA Tour. These are two separate organizations being led in a similar fashion. Their executive teams are comprised of older, caucasian, affluent males that posses many strengths and years of experience, however it is not the team you want in place to incite change. Now, I am not insinuating that these men are not qualified or lack the vision for change, only that having no diversity at the top, within each organization leaves much to be desired in the overall health and growth of the game. Even with recent changes at the PGA of America, like the firing of Ted Bishop, it seems like they have yet to make a cultural change that will actually make an impact for the longevity and prosperous future of the the game.
There seems to be a level of pretentiousness in the golf industry. It is as if certain industry veterans have found the secret to life and they don't want to let you into their "little" secret. That exact sentiment bleeds through from professional golfers; from Bubba Watson to Phil Mickelson. If the stories that have been muttered throughout the years are true, it would make for an interesting article, but not a topic to delve into at this moment.
The PGA Tour does everything in its power to portray the game of golf as the last gentlemanly sport to have ever graced the world yet in reality it's far from it. This comes across to the public as disingenuous and unoriginal. Why do you think so many people (not all) "like" John Daly? It's because he is always real on and off the course, no editing, just a raw competitive man who was not afraid to show his true self.
The PGA Tour would be more appealing to new audiences if they could somehow capture a genuine quality and uniqueness that would be exciting for a wider global audience, like the popular international game of soccer. Ripping down bearers of pretentious road blocks will enhance the game and draw new golfers to the game. The tradition set by many generations before is a great attribute of golf that many enjoy, myself included. Allowing time for new golfers to adjust to these traditions would be ideal to continue growing with the game. I don't know what the best course of action would be, a metamorphosis of thinking is definitely needed for the entire game of golf.
Next Steps - Solutions
So far there are more questions than solutions:
- Why aren't there women on the executive team in said organizations?
- Why is there no person of ethnic decent on the executive team?
- How do the organizations let what they did in the past influence how they proceed in the future?
- How does the PGA Tour refine their image to be more authentic?
- Why is the PGA of America and The PGA Tour failing to connecting with youth, minorities and women?
My only summation is that diversity should be a high priority for both organizations and should follow in the footsteps of Augusta National by allowing women and minorities into "The Club" . The diversity is clearly more advanced in the LPGA. The LPGA has done a great job of developing a cultural diverse tour and the global brand continues to outpace their older brother, which is The PGA Tour. Michael Whan, Commissioner of the Women's Tour, has done a fantastic job leading his diverse team in the 21st century. Maybe each PGA organization can invite Mr. Whan in as a consultant to help with the growth of the game, and bring awareness to the discrepancy that exists within The PGA Tour and The PGA of America.
One Final Thought
This all leads back to the evolution needed to attract new people to the game of golf through each organization. There seems to be a disconnect with the target audience. When a golfer is struggling with his game, he makes a tweak to his swing. When a golfer is not seeing eye to eye with his caddie he finds a new one. When Tiger Woods starts to see diminishing returns from his swing coach, he fires him. It's time for the PGA of America and the PGA Tour to evaluate their own game, and make the adjustments needed in order to ensure the prosperity of the golf industry.
Thank you for reading and please leave a comment to share your ideas on how to grow the game.