G4 Summit Galvanizes Colorado Golf Industry

Annual Broadmoor confab welcomes national experts on the health of the game.

G4 Speakers and Panelists (left to right): Rand Jerris, David Lorentz, Rhett Evans and Dottie Pepper.

Geopolitically, the G4 refers to aspiring U.N. Security Council members Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan.

In the nominally apolitical sphere of Colorado golf, the G4 refers to the four organizations comprising the Colorado Allied Golf Associations: the Colorado PGA Section, Colorado Men’s and Women’s Golf Associations, Rocky Mountain Superintendents’ Association and the Mile-High Club Managers Association.

Their annual G4 Summit took place at The Broadmoor on February 16, and while issues of global importance weren’t at stake, issues affecting the golf world certainly took center stage.

At issue were national participation levels, which have dropped 17 percent since 2003. They’ve hovered around 25 million for the past few years, but, critically, since 2009 have dropped 13 percent among people between the ages of 18 and 34—the “Millennial” generation.

To address these issues, the G4 invited national experts to weigh in on the ways in which golf can successfully meet the challenges it faces.

The formidable foursome consisted of David Lorentz, Senior Research Manager at the National Golf Foundation; Dottie Pepper of CBS Golf; J. Rhett Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America; and Rand Jerris, the USGA’s Senior Managing Director of Public Services.

Before they teed off, however, the podium belonged to Alan Abrams, the Head PGA Golf Professional at Indian Tree Golf Course and—it was announced—the first president of the newly formed Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado. Abrams, a national PGA award winner for his junior golf program at Indian Tree, got the audience to shout out the slogan, “I’m Jacked for Junior Golf” that appears in the Alliance’s video:

First announced last October, The Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado merges programs of the Colorado PGA, Colorado Golf Association and, now,  the Colorado Women's Golf Association to provide a “path to success” for junior golfers. Learn more about it here.

A Millennial himself, Lorentz dissected what made his generation somewhat golf-averse, dividing the demographic into “Throwbackers” (traditionalists who learned the game before high school and play often); “Dabblers” (those for whom golf is incidental at best); and “Breakfast Ballers” (those who learned in high school or later, usually on their own). The last group comprises more than 1.4 million people, he said, and to them golf is a social activity. “They go out with their friends, play music while they play, don't keep score and think golf needs to reform its restrictive policies.”

Millennials, Lorentz explained, are always “in search of something new, exciting and epic. Is golf? Fifty percent said 'no.'” The measure, he continued, is that golf isn't “share-worthy” on social media. To illustrate his point he cited the lack of #golf group photos on Instagram in comparison to those on #topgolf, where happy golfers brag about how much fun they're having and how they “suck at golf.” These posts, he said, are “honest, authentic, Millennial. This is how you recommend something.”

Pepper, the former LPGA star and television commentator, segued into her presentation by drawing a parallel between golf and skiing—two sports she learned as a young girl in upstate New York. The ski industry, she said, was in the same position as the golf industry until snowboarding came along. “It brought in a new demographic,” she said. Moreover, skiing became more welcoming and family-oriented, with more beginner and intermediate terrain. “The more accessible and fun golf is, the more the game will grow.”

She drew laughs when she compared the Saratoga Springs country club of her youth (“as children, we had to walk on eggshells”) to the one of today (“a vibrant, happy, year-round playground for kids and families.”)

In his keynote address, Evans admired the G4's multi-organizational collaboration, believing it embodied what the golf industry needs to advocate successfully with local, state and federal governments and agencies. These issues range from enviromental regulations and water management to employment, immigration, disaster relief and more.

A national coalition of golf's leading organizations, We Are Golf, regularly communicates the game's economic, charitable, environmental and fitness benefits to Congressional leaders. The organization also stages National Golf Day May 18, 2016 on Capitol Hill. “We have to make sure every Congressperson understands that golf is responsible for 2 million jobs, 2 million acres of greenspace and annually generates $3.9 billion in charity.”

As an officer of the USGA, Rand Jervis, the last speaker, took on “sustainability”–not solely from an environmental perspective but from an economic one as well. Using “big data” for “fact-based decision making,” he covered the many areas in which the USGA has invested. Among them: reducing overall water consumption, improving the flow of golfers through the course and developing LEED certification for course and clubhouse designs. Jervis also projected a World Handicap System (currently there are six different ones) would go into effect in 2018.

The G4 Summit covered a vast amount of territory even before the four speakers became panelists fielding questions.

Perhaps the most resonant of the many good soundbites came from Lorentz, the Millennial, who, while answering a question about how golf courses could embrace social media, cautioned, “You don't want to oversteer a 500-year-old game.”


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