On Tuesday we announced that as of August 15th, we would shift our strategy to focus on building quality apparel for players that have a USGA handicap of 9.9 or less. Guess what happened? Accusations of elitism and discrimination soon followed.
Besides the obvious business reasons (see other post here) this post will serve as our answer as to the other major reason we made the change.
We made the change to grow the game.
Let us explain:
Golf is struggling to attract new players who take up the game and stay with it and one reason is clear: golf is hard.
When you are new to golf, it's incredibly humbling. Sometimes you hit the ball, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you hit the turf 3 inches behind the ball and it goes 10 yards. Sometimes you swing driver and hit nothing but air. Being a new golfer is hard. Oh, I forgot to mention that golf is normally played with other people who are better than said new golfer. So it's embarrassing and hard.
I played my first round of golf at 35 years old. JV baseball was the pinnacle of my organized sports resume. In other words, I am not a natural athlete nor am I particularly gifted.
Cajoled into golf by new friends when I moved to the Phoenix area, all of whom were USGA handicapped players ranging from 2 to 10 at the time, it was a brutal first summer of getting my ego bashed over and over every Saturday including many holes where I picked up as to not disturb the games of those who really were trying to post a score.
I went to the range about twice a month and took 3 lessons to try and launch my golf hobby.
When winter came that year, I played once or twice and then in the summer I was back at it, trying to get better and paying close attention to my single digit buddies to learn everything possible about how to get better. Same for the next year.
I joined a private golf club in May because they had a discounted 5 month summer rate and that gave me free access to the range as well as tee times. I was told that I needed to have a USGA handicap in order to play in the club events so I signed up for one and I think my first official handicap after 20 scores was a 16 or a 17. That made no sense to me because I wasn't shooting 16 over (88) except once or twice.
That's when I learned that a golf handicap isn't indicative of your everyday score, but your potential on a good day. At a 16 handicap you should be 3 or 4 over that number on average and 1 out of every 5 times or so, hit your number or slightly below.
I played a lot in the first 6 weeks or so to get an official index to see where I was, turns out that was really spot on. I was shooting low 90's with a couple of high 80's mixed in.
I asked for help and advice and tried to follow it in addition to getting out about 2-3 times a week (remember, this is summer in AZ at a private club. A twosome could race around in about 2 to 2.5 hours so we would tee off around 4:30-5 and still get it in).
One thing I want to stipulate about my game is my swing is fugly. Adam Scott and I have nothing in common. I tried hard in the beginning to emulate guys who had beautiful swings until I hear Jim Furyk say "it only matters where the club head is when it strikes the ball, how it gets there is less important" and that freed me up to embrace my 1/2 backswing hockey style movement because that's how I am built and that's how the club swings for me naturally (and I still hate how it looks but life's too short to spend hundreds of hours to try and fix it).
In the last month of that summer I dipped to a 7.9 handicap. The USGA takes a percentage of your best 10 rounds from the last 20. Since I was playing most rounds at my home club, I was probably more like a 9.9 since my game didn't act like a 7.9 handicap at other places. Being at the same place was worth a couple of strokes easy.
When I was playing that kind of golf that summer, I felt like I played under control. I would shoot 79, 81, 82, 81, 80, 83 on good days. I loved golf the most then, it was fun to play predictable type golf.
There are two immutable truths I learned:
1) Getting a USGA handicap was the best first step I could have taken. It's very hard to improve that which you don't measure.
2) Having an index that is updated monthly served as motivation and a sense of accomplishment that I personally needed to keep going to get my goal of becoming a single digit player.
Becoming a single digit player isn't impossible for most players. Now, there is a HUGE difference between a scratch player and 9. Massive. Most of us can get to single digits but a large majority can't get to scratch, maybe ever. The lowest index I ever had was a 5.4 and it feels like that is my max capacity but who knows.
In the years that ensued, I become a more infrequent player due to work travel, family obligations, etc and I let my handicap drop since I didn't belong to the club any longer. I still played golf, just not every week, more like 1 or 2 times a month and mostly with clients and partners when I was out of town. During that stretch I would take my clubs me whenever I traveled (weather permitting) and try to scratch courses off my bucket list. I found it was much easier to play on the road since I didn't have to play Uber driver for my kids activities etc. so for years I played most of my golf on business trips.
Long story short I wanted to get back to really playing golf this year and after three neck/spine surgeries to clear up some long standing junk and taking 6 months off any physical activity I am back at it as of August 1st, and hope to have an official handicap sometime in October.
I work with 2GG and until my index is below a 9.9 I can't wear any of the new stuff either. I'm not mad or a victim, I need to get better, period. It's not fun to play bad golf.
So how does that tie into what we decided to do with our brand?
We want to raise awareness about getting an official handicap, it's the first step. We want to encourage players to get better and keep that number moving south. We want to celebrate those who achieve that single digit threshold.
Because we believe that single digit players play more golf, are more influential in bringing others into the game, and are more likely to continue playing as they get older.
If we want to grow the game, we need to grow better players. That's part of what a teaching pro does. They help people not be so frustrated with the game and the better they become, the more enjoyable golf becomes. More joy = more rounds. More rounds = healthier game.
When I was in high school snowboarding was just becoming "a thing" and my buddy would go often. When he invited me to try it he said "dude, if you do this, the first few times are going suck, and you are going to fall a lot and you won't like it very much." #truth. It was exactly like that, I and I never wanted to do it again after that first day. For millions of first time golfers the early experiences are like that and many quit before they get started.
I think what's broken is the "on ramp" to golf, not golf itself. No offense to former TaylorMade CEO Mark King but when he backed the initiative to make the golf hole bigger to lure in more players I thought he was dead wrong.
Permission to have a "get off my lawn moment?"
Lowering the bar isn't the answer. Preparing players that their early experiences will be rife with humiliation, anxiety and not all that fun is important. The summer of golf for me was all of those things, but my buddies were telling me things like "it will get better, stick with it, don't quit" along with "it's ok, all new players try and lift the ball, drop with me and play from there". Their encouragement and wisdom helped me to embrace the journey.
Being exclusive has helped grow the game in a lot of ways. Think about Augusta National and the Masters. Why does the Masters command massive ticket prices versus the other majors? Easy, because it's the only time most people will ever get inside the gates to experience their exclusive environment. I am not equating our gear with Augusta mind you, just pointing out that to have faux outrage at things that are exclusive is silly. Harvard is Harvard because not everyone gets in.
Golf has been called the "ultimate meritocracy" and for the most part, it's warranted. No one can stop you. You shoot the score and you are in. You can attempt to get into Q School, a Monday qualifier for a professional event, the U.S. Open, the Open, whatever. No one can stop you if you earn it. All we want to to do is celebrate and encourage those who do.