Why the Australian Golf Industy is in trouble

Greg Norman was the best thing that has ever happened to Australian golf. When he was barnstorming the fairways in the 80’s and 90’s, Australian golf was flying high. Those in charge of the game sat back and expected the good times to last. They didn’t. There was an opportunity there to pave the way and set Australia up as the leader in world golf. But we’re not close and it looks like the rot has set in deep. Golf here in Oz needs a rethink and maybe a complete overhaul. Here are the main problems as I see it:

The local tournament golf scene is terrible
Jack Nicklaus once considered the Australian Open the 5th major. Nicklaus (and a bunch of other stars) would all travel here and tee it up. The tournament had respect and winning it was worth more than the prize money. But what has happened? It’s a nothing event now, played mostly by Australians and attracting a sprinkling of international stars who are paid large appearance fees for turning up.

If we’re going to grow up and be considered a powerhouse in world golf it starts with getting the Australian Open back to a meaningful event. Young Aussie kids need a local golf tournament to inspire them and the chance to see the world’s best players compete each year.

The Australian PGA/Clive Palmer thing was a debacle. The PGA must have known Palmer was a little loose beforehand (or had their head in the sand), Palmer had a track record, but they persisted with him and the event at Coolum. Palmer might be hard to deal with but it’s his BBQ. He owns the place and as far as I’m concerned he can do what he likes. Maybe Australian golf organisers have had it too easy for too long and come in and do as they please at each event. Palmer set his own rules and some didn’t like it. What I don’t understand is why the PGA puts themselves in this position.

Why don’t they have their own course to play? Why can’t the PGA of Australia build their own brilliant course and use that to host their biggest tournament? Is there anything stopping them now?

Some of their members are the richest athletes in the country and I’m sure they have all sorts of business world connections. Their own course could act as their headquarters, coaching academy, hotel/resort and attract golfers from all over the world prepared to pay high green fees to play this “famous” course. They would never be compromised by Palmer types and would have full control over the entire event.

Don’t think this can be done? Think again. Barnbougle Dunes, an Australian golf success story, has created something incredible in a remote part of Tasmania. It took a farmer and a local kid to come up with the idea but they have built something special. I ask again, why can’t the PGA of Australia do something similar? What’s stopping them?

The Tournament Players Championship is played at Sawgrass every year. It almost always attracts a class field equal to, or better, than the four majors. The course is owned by the PGA Tour and is now funnily enough called the “5th Major”. The concept has been proven so it should be able to be replicated here. We have the course designers, we have the land but do we have the guts to make it happen?

The easy thing for Australian golf to do is to put their hand up and say, “who’d like to host our tournament?”. This is the easy option and completely safe. It is sort of what has always been done and nobody will lose their job for doing it. But that thinking is old school, we need something new and someone innovative to drag our tournament scene out of the doldrums.

I notice that South Africa has hosted six European tour events this season. SIX! Just so happens they’ve had six winners this year too. This can only be good for SA golf. Australia is getting left behind.

Something is wrong with our coaching system

For a long time I’ve sat back and listened to those in the know (media and golf officials) say our golfing stocks have “never been stronger” or “we’re batting well above our weight in world golf”. I don’t buy it. The simple fact is we’re not producing golfers who can win the big events.

Over the last 15 years we’ve had one major winner (Geoff Ogilvy 2006 US Open). There has been a few close calls but our tally still stands at ONE. I know these things are not easy to win, but for a proud golfing nation who has all this talent, it’s not good enough. Let’s look at the numbers since 1997:

USA – 37 wins (no surprise here)
South Africa – 8 wins
Northern Ireland – 4 wins
Ireland – 3 wins
Fiji – 3 wins
Argentina – 2 wins
Australia – 1 win
Canada – 1 win
Germany – 1 win
Scotland – 1 win
South Korea – 1 win
New Zealand – 1 win

No surprises with the USA. They’re always going to produce more winners because of the number of players – the home ground advantage helps too. But South Africa and Ireland have completely dominated over us, despite having no clear advantage on the number of players, the courses and the weather. The numbers don’t look good for England (or Sweden), but let’s not compare ourselves to the wrong end of the list.

Why aren’t we able to win? Here’s a comment I received from Kiwi Bob (on this post), it sums up much of what I think (edited slightly):

I’m a PGA pro 50 year member. Tell me about it , the coaching is getting worse!. What about the top tour pros who’ve been screwed up by the gurus. The bullshit is getting worse. What with launch monitors etc it’s all crap. I’m a Kiwi and your so called high performance academy is screwing them up so is ours.

Australia is good at producing golfers who look technically sound. They have nice swings at all, but we’re not producing winners. My take on the coaching scene is we’re too obsessed with technique and looking “good” that we’ve taken our eye off the ball with the real objective – getting the ball into the hole. When one is under the pump and feeling the pressure, a good swing isn’t going to help you if you’re mentally weak. And what good is that “pretty” swing if you can’t trust it?

There needs to be more of a focus on playing golf and shooting a score. The current belief that you must build a swing first and then the scores come second is flawed. While this may help getting young kids onto the main tours, it’s not helping them take the ultimate step and become major winners. Something needs to change as it’s not working.

This week sees the lowest number of Australian participants in the US Masters in a decade – only 4. We seem to be getting worse. We’re at a stage in our sporting history where most of our top sports are struggling to compete: cricket, rugby, swimming, tennis and soccer (football). I think it’s all related to over-coaching and something needs to be done about it. We’re fitter, stronger, taller and healthier than ever before, but why can’t we win?

If we calculate our golf coaching success on the number of professionals out there making a living, we’re doing ok. But if we use a different metric, like number of golfers in the top 100 or major winners, we have fallen a long way behind.

Golf businesses are stuck

I’ve been doing this golf thing for a while and am noticing two trends in the golf biz world. 1. Golf businesses are struggling all over Oz. It is getting harder and harder to make a buck and many are disgruntled.

2. Golf businesses are either getting lazy or don’t care. And maybe both.

Late last year I wrote about my experience at a local Melbourne public golf course. The reaction from many was this is hardly an isolated event. At a similar time, I was searching for some golf range equipment for my little golf farm and found a local Aussie company specialising in what I was after. I emailed them for a price list and they got back to me right away, saying, “we’ll call you next week and let you know”. Perfect. But this is where the service stopped.

They never called. I called them and finally got through to someone. I wanted to view their merchandise but this was like pulling teeth. They took ages to send the quote through and I was already on my way to QLD. I called (and emailed) when I arrived here. Still haven’t heard from them and have long since given up.

In fairness to this company, mine wasn’t going to be the biggest order (around $3,000). I know they do million dollar plus fit-outs and I was probably an inconvenience to them. But sometimes you can’t get the big stuff until you do the small stuff properly.

I tried a second company and have received a quote after a few weeks (they lost my biz card). The wet weather has delayed my purchase but there has been no follow-up from them. A two-minute call from the sales rep would secure the order. It’s basic business and they can’t get out of their own way. Yes, the golf market is struggling, but many aren’t prepared to lift their game. It’s a shame because the only way out is to get better, not drop the ball entirely and give up.

It’s laziness and they’re forgetting about the people they should be serving. And Golf Clubs can be just as bad. Fuddy Duddy rules, outdated dress codes and old-fashioned attitudes are not helping attract new players and then keeping them. There’s more competition than ever and golf here really need to get with the programme.

I could go on. Magazines, golf retail, public golf courses and clothing outlets are all struggling. I don’t have all the answers but we must start thinking differently. It’s time for a change.

The Australian golf industry needs an attitude adjustment. The world has changed and unless the golf industry can adapt it’s in big trouble. There’s no entitlement to success and we need to work smarter not harder. We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves because we’re a small nation and we certainly need to stop settling for mediocrity. We’re better than that and have to stand up and be counted. It’s time for the excuses to stop and for the rose coloured glasses to be removed.

The fish always stinks from the head and it’s time the powers that be make some tough decisions. If something isn’t working it needs to change and adapt. If not, it will get left behind and eventually be overrun. I’d like to see Australia return to the top of the world golf tree and not just be making up the numbers.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Steady

    Reply Reply April 11, 2013

    One word Cam. Apathy.
    This attitude is rampant
    In all areas of life. People take no pride
    any more in what they do. Whether it be
    Work or play. Australians have always had
    The “she’ll be right mate ” attitude but now
    We as a nation are starting to see the fruits
    Of our labour. We reap what we sow.
    We ask questions about this, then point the finger
    At technology or some other thing to blame.
    In a nutshell people are lazy and will
    Always try to find the path of least resistance.
    As for “Golf” in this country and I mean industry as well
    As you said an attitude adjustment is needed otherwise
    We wil be the poor little kid sitting in the corner while
    The world looks at us and pitiy our decline.

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply April 11, 2013

    Firstly Cam good blog and my take on it is yes the whole golfing scene needs a good injection of old fashioned service and placing the customer first regardless of whether the person is taking a golf lesson trying to buy golf equipment or whatever. It’s a little like going fishing once you get a bite you have two options you can reel it in or let it go (how many fishermen would let it go).And as for golf coaching I remember talking to Glenn McCully (golf teacher)over a beer and he made the comment then that the A.I.S had an inflexible way of teaching (my way or the highway)and he lamented that good junior talent may never realise their full potential let alone achieve their dreams. As for the PGA building their own course and do it their way has great merit.
    Cheers Lukey

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