2014 PGA Merchandise Show, Annika Sorenstam, Donald Trump

Annika Sorenstam speaks at the State of the Industry Panel Discussion as (from left) PGA President Ted Bishop, Donald Trump and USGA Former Executive Director David Fay listen on Wednesday, January 22, at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.

State of the Industry Panel: 'Golf has started to turn the corner'

Donald Trump, Annika Sörenstam and PGA President Ted Bishop were among those at the conference who see the sport beginning to rebound in both popularity and number of players.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Golf appears to be in a better position to attract new audiences, and a panel of industry professionals agreed that dialogue to build the game among new audiences has markedly improved. The panel that gathered Wednesday at the 61st PGA Merchandise Show featured golf course developer Donald Trump, PGA of America President Ted Bishop, 2013 PGA First Lady of Golf Annika Sörenstam, Golf Channel President Mike McCarley, TaylorMade CEO Mark King and former USGA Executive Director David Fay.

Bishop said that he has been uplifted about the condition of the industry. "I feel like golf has started to turn the corner, and I think this is the best place that the game has been in for a while."

Trump, who owns 15 golf properties worldwide, said that an old business axiom "location," is the secret to building "great golf courses." Trump also said that he found golf more enjoyable in recent years.

"I love land and I love golf, and they go hand-in-hand," said Trump. "One of the things I thought about coming here is that I feel I'm a better golfer now than I was 15 or 20 years ago. As a golfer, the older you get you can actually get better. That's a great asset for golf. It's a great game and I certainly do see a great future in golf."

Sörenstam, who was honored for contributions to the game Wednesday night at the PGA of America National Awards, said she also was encouraged about 2014 and beyond. "Being a mom and a businesswoman, I really want to give back to golf," said Sörenstam. "Coming here (to the PGA Merchandise Show), you feel a sense of excitement."

McCarley spoke about the correlation of the increased popularity of Golf Channel and its role in growing the game.

"There's been a lot of growth at Golf Channel the last three years," said McCarley. "There's been a real focus on quality, and with that growth and with that focus on quality, come a real responsibility. When you have a larger voice in the game, and as your voice grows, we have a responsibility to do what's best for the game."

Among the topics discussed was the possibility of golf's ruling bodies one day "rolling back the golf ball," or restricting the distance that a ball travels, and golf returning to the Olympics in 2016.

"I think rolling back the ball would be a disaster," said Trump. "You don't want to make the game harder than it already is. That's not a good thing for golf.  I think you'll lose players."

Sörenstam said that any Rules decisions must first subscribe to determining if it is "about growing the game. "We've got to look at all the golfers around the world. As a professional golfer, I see both sides. We do this for a living, so it needs to be fair, it needs to be right.

"When you talk about rolling the ball back, I'm not for it . . . The game needs to be fun.  The more putts we make, the quicker we play. Pace of play is something I stand for and I think that's something we also need to address."

Fay said he is excited to see golf's return to the Olympics, "because, candidly, every other meaningful sport is in the Olympics. So, in terms of promoting the game globally, Olympic golf is going to be a very good thing."

King said that the "buzz" generated within the industry to build new golf audiences is healthy and has been elevated.

"How do we bring in kids, how do we get women to play, how do we get minorities to play, how do we touch people on the fringe, that have an interest in golf and how do we get those people to be interested in our game?" said King. "I think there's more conversation now than there ever has been and I think that's a big positive."

At the same time, King stressed that change in golf is a difficult path because of the inherent nature of an ancient, structured game.

"Our industry has been controlled by traditions and the protocol of how you play the game, and people who have been attracted to it for generations, have loved that," said King, who is the driving force behind the launch of HackGolf.org, a digital platform for consumers to express ways that the game can be improved. "We have to start to experiment with new freedoms and the expression of an individual. And when we can get there, then we'll see the game grow."