Friday, November 2, 2012

Affordable Golf in Pinehurst?

I recently returned from a golf symposium that turned out to be one of the best golf industry conferences in my career.  I have to admit that I was worried when I prepared my suitcase for my flight right into hurricane Sandy as the feelings in my gut were not good. It turned out that the golf Gods were on my side as I got one of the last flights out of DC Dulles airport heading anywhere before the entire place was shut down all together.  Luckily my flight left on time and we headed to Raleigh where the storm had already passed and not a drop of rain fell on me during my trip to the Southeast.

The symposiums' mastermind was Rich Mandell, president of Richard Mandell Golf Architecture.  Rich has attended many conferences in his past and felt unfulfilled by the results, so he decided to create the Symposium on Affordable Golf. 2012 was the third year it has been attended and the participation continues to grow.

Representatives from all facets of the golf industry were present.  Architects, superintendents from the GCSAA and Europe, pros from the PGA and LPGA, owners and operators, consultants, contractors, the USGA, players, writers, etc.  Essentially if you can think of anyone that has an interest in the golf industry they were there.  The topics lead to open, honest discussions that sought to determine what golf was, is, should be, and could be in an effort to create a more sustainable industry.  Now, sustainability means different things to many individuals.  The overall message had to do with people, planet, and profit.  Meaning that golf must serve its customers (people) while being mindful of the environment (planet) in an effort to remain in business (profit).

We discussed the slogan "Brown as the new green"  that was flown a couple of years ago and overall was not well accepted by either players or superintendents.  Really this effort was to promote firm and fast not necessarily brown turf.  The entire room understood that water is a precious resource and we must all do our part to increase water conserving efforts and that means that golfers are going to have to change their desires from less of an emerald green to more of an apple green in the effort toward sustainable golf courses.  Fewer inputs such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides are where the industry is heading and we all need to do a better job of educating golfers that the dark green hues are not in the best interest of our sport.

Topics ranged from how less of an artificial influence by golf architects can actually add more to the game regarding strategy vs. penalty to actual sustainable practices at golf courses.  I was flabbergasted that the Symposium would ask me to come speak at the event and bring our model of Zero Waste to the discussion.  It turned out to be a perfect fit for many of the discussion as we are doing what much of the symposium was geared toward.  We are attempting to reduce or eliminate our waste to landfills and educating the general public how our practices can influence or translate to their daily lives, introducing new people to the game of golf, and moving to a more organic means of maintaining turf.

We further discussed the generation gap of golf.  This involved 6 golfers and their views of the game.  Great discussions developed about traditions like why are blue jeans unacceptable, why do people pick up the game, and does the game really need to grow or is it OK as is?  We also learned about how a 27 hole executive course is doing its part to provide quick golf at affordable rates for all.  That is plenty to think about over night as day one came to an end.

Day two opened with a discussion about the survey that Rich put together to try to determine what golfers value as important.  This topic lasted nearly an hour and a half, but never lost relevancy or the audiences attention.  We then moved to a project in which an architect used sustainable means to build a golf course for one individual for $3 million.  I loved the fact that the project did not include the construction of tee boxes and that the winner of the previous hole picks the tee location for the next hole.  The entire course is maintained with a $300K budget that includes only two cutting heights...fairways and greens.  There is no rough and very little soil was moved for this project.  Truly sustainable!

The final discussion was about finding the romance in golf and spend less time selling the business.  Dana Rader is the president of the LPGA and she stated that there are no new golf tips.  The golf swing has changed little since the time of Old Tom Morris (I hope you know this name) and golf pros have no business charging such high prices for golf lessons.

I made a number of contacts and friendships that I hope will last for a long time.  The trip will definitely be on my radar in the future, mark your calendars for Oct. 28th and 29th, 2013.  Oh, did I say where...10 miles from PINEHURST!

My take aways were many but here are a few.  1) Golf is steep in tradition, but we need to make the game fun again and remove barriers that may inhibit people from taking up the game.  2) The sustainability of golf needs a remodel that coincides with golfer education.  Finally, 3) we need more people that have PASSION for the game and what it means.  The meaning is not always easy to describe, but I can tell you that my passion was rekindled with just the trip alone.  If you are not sure where your passion has gone, take a trip to Pinehurst and find it around every corner and on the face of nearly everyone you meet.  Join me next year for the Symposium on Affordable Golf and find out what golf can mean to you.

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