By George Moore
SafeTees Pouch, Inc.
(First in a Series)
Most golfers, if they thought about it, would say that the world is a better place because of golf. And they’d be right.
That said, there’s an elephant in the room. Its name is Fear. Simply stated, golfing people worry that the game they love so much is facing extinction.
Storm clouds are gathering. Number of rounds played in the U.S. is down, and the number of golf courses continues dropping. Adding insult to injury, off-course “golf facilities” are popping up all over the country to compete with on-course golfing.
The golf industry has been aware of the game’s problems for years, but the response has been mostly whispers, winks and nods.
Happily, however, there is a program that focuses on enlisting new players, preserving the nature of the game and instilling values that make the world a better place.
That program: The First Tee.
Golf’s Many Problems
Golf, amazing and wonderful game that it is, has more than three strikes against it.
- It’s expensive. If you want to be good at golf, you’re going to have to spend money. No getting around it. First, there are the lessons. They aren’t cheap. And then there’s the equipment. The manufacturers spend huge sums trying to convince us that we must have their latest gear, which can cost an arm and a leg.
A new state-of-the-art driver can run north of $500; a set of new state-of-the-art irons can cost a thousand. And then there are the putters that almost guarantee perfection. Right now, this minute, on ebay, you can pick up a used Scotty Cameron 2017 Limited 5M H27 Jet Setter Putter for only $550.
And the “sticks” are only part of the expense. You’ll need a bag for the clubs, you’ll need balls, you’ll need proper attire when you hit the course. If it’s golf-related, it won’t be cheap.
As for hitting the course, the average cost for 18 holes is $35, and if you want to maintain a decent handicap, you’ll need to play at least twice a week. That’s $70 a week for the privilege of swinging a stick at a little ball in a park-like setting.
- It’s time-consuming. It generally takes four hours to play 18 holes, but if slowpokes are ahead of you, plan on spending 5 or more hours on the course. If you play twice a week, that’s 8-10 hours.
- It’s hard. Golf looks easy, but it isn’t. And getting good takes an incredible commitment. Think diet, regular exercise and frequent play. And during the learning process, a new golfer will suffer through numerous embarrassments and lose a ton of balls in the process.
(Struggling golfers play less frequently than skilled players, and that eats into total rounds played at golf courses. The National Golf Foundation reports that number of rounds played at U.S. courses dropped 4.8 percent from 2017 to 2018. The NGF also says that in 2018, almost 200 18-hole courses closed, while only 12 new ones opened.)
- It’s a low-priority. Societal values and preferred lifestyles change over time, and The Physical Activity Center keeps careful track of our recreation preferences. PAC research for 2018 found that golf was ranked 9th out of the 10 most preferred activities in the 6- to 12-year-old age group and 7th out of the 10 most preferred activities in the 13- to 17-year-old age group.
The bad news: Golf didn’t make it into the top 10 preferred activities for the remaining six age groups.
How do seniors (golf stereotypes) prefer to spend their time these days? Bicycling, bird-watching, canoeing, camping, shooting, swimming, exercising and even stand-up paddling! Golf didn’t make it into the seniors’ top 10 preferred activities, and that should scare the knickers off the golf world.
The First Tee
One of the best efforts, if not THE best, to rescue the game is The First Tee program.
It’s been around for about 20 years, and it has introduced millions of girls and boys ages 7-18 to on-course golfing. (The program may explain the PAC’s findings that golf is one of the 10 most preferred activities for youngsters.)
First Tee has a presence at golf courses, schools and youth centers throughout the world, and it’s probably best known at the grassroots level for introducing kids to golf at 1,200 golf facilities at this time every year.
But First Tee is about more than golf. It’s also about life in general, which may help explain the program’s popularity and vitality.
The underlying philosophy: “In golf, and in life, sometimes the ball doesn’t always bounce your way. We believe that sports, specifically the game of golf, provide a platform to encourage core values and healthy choices.”
First Tee’s mission statement echoes that: “To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.”
The core values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment, and they go hand-in-hand with “healthy habits” intended to foster healthy, active lifestyles for young people.
First Tee gets its heft from numerous sponsors, including corporations and golf-related organizations.
Charles Schwab last month donated $5 million to the First Tee program in Texas, and John Deere this year is offering $5,000 college scholarships for the best essays on how First Tee and golf have taught values that make the youngsters a “Power for Good” in the world.
The program reached more than 5 million kids in 2018, and the impact is incredible. A staggering 91 percent of the kids going through the program also performed some sort of community service at the same time. And 81 percent credited the program with helping them be better students.
As First Tee boasts: “Good golfers, better people.”
Next week: A look at some “golf activities.”
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LET US HEAR FROM YOU: Nobody has all the answers. If you have a question or comment regarding anything golf-related, drop us a line at email@example.com, subject line “Comment.” Our goal is to encourage a conversation about the world’s greatest game.