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Goat Caddies and Cardio on Course: Upping the Fun Factor to Boost Golf Play

27 Jun, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Event Owners Can Implement Solutions, Some Simple and Some Extreme, to Boost Enrollment in Tournaments

“Golf can be an intimidating sport.”

Just to be clear, that is only an opinion. It was voiced on the blog, Deadspin. But it does sum up the obstacles in the way of the sport’s growth – and thus, in the way of those who want to maximize their economic impact from golf events.

The data can be worrisome; in April 2018, Golf Datatech showed golf rounds were down more than 13 percent since the same month in 2017, and year-to-date data showed rounds played as having gone down 8.9 percent.

Make no mistake – plenty of groups are already on the case. The LPGA and USGA’s joint program, Girls Golf, has the goal of creating a fun and inviting scenario to get more girls (and thus, more women) into the game. Youth on Course works to lower the cost of golf for kids around the nation. NextGenGolf, an organization exclusively for team-based golf among college students and young adults, captures the post-college market, when many former college players turn away from the game to focus on work.

But actually creating novelty aspects of the game to entice those who may be too intimidated to play in a competitive situation? That takes work. But if as an event planner, you’re seeing a lag in participation – or if you just want to offer an event that welcomes in those who might have the idea that golf is only for pros or country clubbers, here are some ideas from venues and event directors around the country.

(And yes, it’s understood that those who love the game in its pure form will be offended by this article. You can resume reading when we tell you it’s safe. Look for the bold, italicized comment. The rest of you can keep reading):

Hackgolf: In 2014, Taylormade launched HackGolf, intended to “crowdsource the future of the game.”  The first suggested change (and the centerpiece of initial efforts to grow the game) wad a 15-inch cup. The normal cup is 4.25 inches in diameter, so the 15-inch version tends to look, well, odd to regular players. But for beginners, it shrinks course time to just above three hours – an inducement for those who say they “don’t have all day” to spend on the greens. Another hack? Bigger balls and modified clubs – with the same goals.

Footgolf: To call it a niche sport is perhaps optimistic but footgolf is growing in popularity across the U.S. The American Footgolf League can provide a background on why the sport can appeal to families – particularly those whose kids have previously been enrolled in sports like soccer and football.

Disc Golf: The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) has seen the rise of multi-use facilities. Brian J. Graham, former executive director of the PDGA, noted to SDM,

While the golf industry is in decline, disc golf is booming. In fact, we’re seeing a lot of traditional golf courses adding disc golf and foot golf so that everyone is playing at once. One side of the fairway will be set up for disc golf and the other side will be set up for foot golf, with traditional golf down the middle. Financially, it’s good for the course, since it’s bringing in more people to play.

Then there’s the options for normal play. (Side note: Welcome back to our golf purists).

Changing the Format (but not the Sport): From a first tee start to a nine-hole event, these tournament ideas from Royal Ashburn Golf Club have event owners covered in maintaining the spirit of the game while helping to make competitive tournaments less intimidating and more welcoming.

SpeedGolf: For those who want to stick with traditional clubs and balls, there are still options to add fun to the game. One of those is SpeedGolf, which advocates fewer clubs (seven, five, whatever) and running between holes to add cardio.

Don’t Take It Seriously: The GottaGoGolf blog suggested a number of options to up the fun factor, including this great hole-by-hole option. In addition, GGG offered up this incentive to keep from losing: “You could make it a Stars and Stripes format for July 4 and require that the losers sing a patriotic song, or a holiday format for December and make the song a carol or other festive number.”

Golf Digest also presented these options based on the 19th Hole concept. (One example: “St. Andrews Restaurant and Bar, New York City: No golf course. Great Scotch.”)

When venues lead the way, it becomes even more impressive. In Silvies, Oregon, The Retreat and Links at Silvies Valley Ranch has gone all out and dedicated itself to finding new and impressive ways to put a focus on fun, according to this article in the Tri-City Herald. Here are a few:

  • A Reversible Course: Just like it sounds. It’s a golf course designed so that you can play it backwards or forwards.

  • Goat caddies: McVeigh's Gauntlet is a seven-hole challenge course of par-fours and par-threes and a bonus par-two (putting only). The idea was to create fantasy holes that you might see on a video game or a calendar — running along a set of ridges that were too extreme for the championship course. It's too steep for carts, so Silvies Valley Ranch offers goat caddies instead. You tip them in peanuts (supplied by the course). That’s right. They literally work for peanuts.

  • Trash-Talking Rakes: Metal art is omnipresent at Silvies Valley Ranch, crafted by the owners' son, Tygh Campbell. His creations include rakes in the bunkers embossed with motivational sayings like "Take more lessons," "You failed" and "Sh--ty shot."

  • Excuses: At the 18th tee of the Hankins course, there’s a sign with excuses. Take a card and check the one that works best for you: Very windy, Very wide fairway, Very long downhill, Very dry air, With the wind (usually) and so on.

  • An Important Putt: Any golfer who one-putts the 18th green on the Craddock course gets a signature drink called the Horseshoe Nail. If a player one-putts the last four greens, the whole group gets the drink.

"A lot of the courses that have been built are not as fun as they should be, so we're doing everything we can to make it fun," Silvies owner Scott Campbell said.

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