Editors’ Desk: Growing The Game Will Require A Change In Attitudes

This Opening Drive Column Appeared in The June Print Issue of Flagstick Golf Magazine 

The golf ball, the centre-piece of the game that we all use, reacts to only one thing – the club that hits it. That’s part of the magic of the sport. It may be a 4-year-old child striking it for the first time, or a 92-year-old celebrating eight decades of play with another round. No matter their height, weight, gender, race, religion, or otherwise – golf has the beauty of universality. If we let it.

As we begin the 2018 golf season here in Canada there has been much talk of late about the future of the game, it’s growth potential, and of inclusion as well.

Since my first days playing rounds with my parents I could see that his was a sport anyone could play, if given the opportunity. Score aside, there is no need to be overly athletic to enjoy taking part; anyone can appreciate the pleasure of travelling along on a beautiful course or hitting that one gratifying shot that keeps you coming back.

But golf is not perfect. It is still hampered by the restraints people place on it, some that reflect society itself. Many talk about diversity and inclusion in the game (there was an important panel on this topic at the recent Golf Ontario Annual General Meeting) but that is not always the reality the exists. The topic is vast and I am lacking in the room to address all its many points, but I wanted to share a few considerations that will hopefully provoke some thoughts, or even discussion.

When many speak about barriers in golf, they point out topics like gender, race, or socio-economic conditions. But inclusion, a necessary element to growth in any activity, let alone golf, has additional factors that put up boundaries. Sadly, I see them play out all the time with the people creating them not giving it much thought.

We saw it recently on the social media forum of Twitter where a few professionals posted criticism of golfers using push carts rather than carrying their clubs. Really, is this all you have to focus on? I am content to see people playing the game, no matter their mode of getting around the course. If that means an amputee golfer needs a handicap flag to drive up to the edges of the putting surfaces, so be it. Be happy people are participating.

One issue that continues are those who turn their noses up at novice golfers. Case in point: “It’s great to see new people playing the game,” one former club board member remarked to me years ago, adding shockingly, “as long as they are not in front of me.” I could hardly believe the words I was hearing.

If we want our sport to be healthy we must find ways to be more welcoming, whether that is with juniors, novices, or anyone new to the sport. We also must not get lost in the glory of creating programs but making them actually be effective. No patting on the back over numbers; we have to make sure efforts like Golf In Schools, for example, actually happen, and that the equipment bags don’t lie dusty in the gym storage room long after the cameras have turned off. The real measuring point of any program is not the numbers we report to look good, but in the real number of people included and influenced.

And lastly (for this time, at least) our game’s governing bodies must continue to ensure they provide attention and focus on ALL their constituents. That means using their messaging ability to share the stories of all golfers within this vast nation, not just those of prominent clubs or the players on association teams or professional tours. Every golfer matters. For those of us in the industry, we must make them feel that way.

As golfers we each have a personal responsibility to the sport. Yes, we enjoy getting something out of it for ourselves but we need to have empathy for others and their situations and consider how we can make it easier for them to have the same great relationship with the sport that we personally enjoy. You don’t have to do everything for them, but consider how you can help break down barriers.

If golf is to keep moving forward we must keep looking at the big picture, with the right attitude and attention to all, not just some.