PGA State of the Industry panel offers insights

February 7, 2014

During the PGA Merchandise Show, I attended a State of the Industry panel discussion led by The Golf Channel’s Damon Hack. It featured Donald Trump, Annika Sorenstam, PGA President Ted Bishop, former USGA Executive Director David Fay, TaylorMade CEO Mark King and Mike McCarley, who runs The Golf Channel for NBC.

Hack asked Bishop for his assessment for the coming year, and he said, “I think the PGA of America is very encouraged about 2014.”

After discussing the upcoming Ryder Cup and a few other items, Bishop said, “I do think that golf has started to turn the corner. I haven’t always felt that way when I come here to this show. A lot of times, it’s been kind of depressing actually to head back north and get ready for our season when you didn’t feel a lot of optimism and enthusiasm about the upcoming year ... I think we are in a good place right now, the best place we’ve been in a while, so it’s exciting.”

Trump suggested that he and other senior golfers are playing better now than they did 15 to 20 years ago, and attributed that to better equipment and conditions. However, in a later part of the discussion Trump also reminded the audience that golf is really a hard game. He suggested that some of his golfing friends would quit the game in light of the new rule prohibiting “anchoring” putters. Trump also said he thought the discussions about “rolling back the ball” to limit distance is “not a good thing for golf. I think you’ll lose players.”

Going beyond equipment and playing rules, Trump discussed his success in buying up troubled golf properties and turning them into successes, such as the new Trump National Golf Club in southern New Jersey, near Pine Valley. The developer said that golf course success is tied to location, as with any other form of real estate development. As he put it, building “a fantastic course … and nobody shows up … is a negative … not a positive experience.”

Sorenstam stressed the efforts to broaden the game’s appeal. “I think the key right now is to grow the game ... Let’s get the young ones and women to play the game. I think that’s the next segment.”

TaylorMade’s King said, “I think there is a buzz going on, and I think the buzz is generated by the conversations that Annika [mentioned]; how do we bring in kids, how do we get women to play, how do we touch people on the fringe that kind of have an interest in golf?”

None of the panel members expressed any enthusiasm for either the new anchoring rules or the recent suggestions to change golf ball standards. As Trump put it, “Anything you can do to make the equipment really good and to make the game maybe a little bit easier is a positive, not a negative.”

Sorenstam said she never thought anchoring helped her game, but didn’t have a problem with others using the method. She felt that seeing other women use the technique gave her an advantage. As for the ball debate, she said, “I’m not for it, but … let the governing bodies make the decisions for growing the game. We’ve got to do it together. It needs to be fun. The more putts we make, the quicker we play. Pace of play is something I stand for, and I think that’s something we need to address.”

The forum crowd reacted well to her comments.

King was more blunt than the other participants: “I don’t really think equipment is the problem with the game. I think it’s the whole experience. I don’t think we’re inviting. I don’t think it’s fun. I don’t think we care about the people on the fringe. We only care about the people who love the game for the traditions of the game. That’s ridiculous for me. Why would we organize an entire industry around a couple million duffers?”

Why indeed?

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