The Need to Update Profile of Leadership in Golf
EVERYBODY involved with golf, at whatever level, accepts that the biggest problem the sport faces is in attracting a younger audience, whether that be those playing the game or watching it.
By and large, the professional game is dominated by incredibly fit young men and women, individuals who are now proper athletes. It began with Tiger Woods and his obsession with fitness and it has continued with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, all of whom probably spend as much time in the gym as they do on the range. Improved fitness has helped to extend the careers of many tournament players - check out Paul Cassy’s forearms.
Even Phil Mickelson, who has just become the oldest major champion in history, has adopted a new regime designed to improve both his physical and mental wellbeing.
The lockdown has seen participation numbers increase all over the world. On the face of it, the game would appear to be in good shape. Golf clubs are still reporting players returning in their droves. Many now have waiting lists. Some are even reintroducing joining fees - something we haven’t seen for years. Clubs that were threatened with closure have survived.
And yet still we struggle to attract youngsters in sufficient numbers.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is 51 years old, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers is 61, Keith Pelley, who runs the European Tour, is 57, Mike Davis, outgoing CEO of the USGA is 56. He has been succeeded by Mike Whan, former commissioner of the LPGA. And how old is Whan? 56.
There is a perception outside the game that it is run entirely by men of a “certain generation”, that clubhouses and committees are full of stuffed shirts, men who drink gin and tonic and wear plus fours and cravats.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that any of the men named above fall into that category. But it is all about public perception. None of them are young men. And, of course, as the most influential figures in the game, they are ALL men.
Pelley has changed the face of the European Tour, introducing innovative tournaments that have seen shot clocks and men and women playing together, giving disabled golfers the opportunity to play alongside Tour stars.
But surely the time has come to reduce the age profile of those who run the game, and also get some women involved at the highest level.
The good news is that Whan has been replaced at the LPGA by Mollie Marcoux Samaan. Yes, the leading women’s tour is going to be led by….a woman.
Marcoux Samaan is currently the Director of Athletics at Princeton University, and the good news is that she is lifelong golf fan and somebody who has made it quite clear that she will be introducing initiatives to impact girls and women in the game at every age. "I believe passionately that sports have the power to change the world,” she said. "I believe the LPGA has an incredible opportunity to use our platform for positive change.” So, not only a woman but a woman who is a genuine fan who is ready to implement change.
Golf club manufacturer Mizuno has named Lauren Smith as its first player development rep. Smith is a former top college player and coach, having previously held the role of assistant men’s and women’s coach at Jacksonville State University. She said: “I am so excited to get out and work with the next generation of Mizuno players. It is such a great brand and to have a chance to set a pathway for the future is humbling."
And there has also been some forward thinking at Wales Golf, who have appointed Hannah McAllister as chief executive. She has succeeded Richard Dixon, who has retired after 30 years at the top of game in Wales. Dixon may well have done a fine job but it clearly time for fresh blood, and McAllister seems to be the perfect appointment.
She is a former Wales International golfer and is promising to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. “I can build on Wales Golf’s strong foundations, grow and develop it further,” she said. “We have work to do to ensure we break down some of the traditional perceptions of the sport. Golf can be low cost and good value for money and we need to promote all the opportunities to get people to try the sport and take advantage of everything golf has to offer.”
McAllister also acknowledges that golf need to continue structural change. “There is a gender gap with golf in participation and the workforce and I hope I can be a good role model within the sport. There is a lot to do in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion but we have made significant progress, and I am looking forward to building on this.”
We don’t need McAllister to tell us that there are issues surrounding equality, diversity and inclusion. How many of you are members of golf clubs that employ women as club pros or assistant pros? How many of your fellow golfers are black or Asian? How many of your club secretaries are women? How many of your club managers are women? How many of you play at clubs that have thriving junior sections?
What our sport needs more than anything else is an infusion of fresh young blood, influential people bursting with ideas. Men and women who won’t guffaw when they see people entering the clubhouse wearing jeans, who realise that it is actually just fine for teenagers to take their mobile phones onto the golf course, who are prepared to take some radical steps to speed up the game and make it more attractive to everybody.
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