Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the World Golf Conference, organised by The R&A at St Andrews. The R&A is the governing body of golf in the world outside the US and Mexico. My role was to be part of a panel that discussed high performance, in sport in general and in golf specifically.
Having been away from golf now for more than 10 years this conference was a bit like coming home again. At the same time it was evident how different many things are, both in terms of golf then and now, and in terms of how golf compare to other sports that I have seen more closely over the latter years.
One thing that struck me is how broad a conference on golf is. A World Conference in most sports would be about performance on the world stage. The golf conference is too, but there are so many other topics, from the golf course to equipment, that also need covering. Golf in this way controls its own destiny, much more than other sports, as all things relating playing the game are in control of the game itself. On the other hand, the issues around the performance side of the game are likely not to get the same attention, as they do in sports that have little influence over facilities or other infrastructural factors.
Awakening number two for me was how much golf related innovation that is happening right now, as a result of developments in technology. This includes everything from virtual reality golf gaming to Top Golf point scoring. Whether it is this fact, the pandemic, or something else that has had the greatest impact is hard to know but according to the R&A, more people (66 million) than ever before play golf around the world. And the last five years have seen a dramatic increase.
This is exactly where things get both interesting and difficult. The traditionalist in me admits that the numbers may look positive, but, many of those new golfers are not really playing golf. I mean, they are not members, they play a few holes at best, or they bang balls at a driving range. And do not even get started on trying to convince me that anything that can be done indoors have anything to do with the beautiful game that I love.
The alternative would say that perhaps the stale, pale and male me should open up, realise that following the times, and developing with the opportunities that innovation brings is exactly what a sport that is to be relevant in 50 years from now needs to do. And will benefit from doing.
I am just gradually getting used to it…