ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jack Nicklaus, whose legacy as a champion can be rivaled only by his legacy as a global golf-course designer, businessman and philanthropist, has joined his industry peers on nurturing perhaps one of the most important and lasting blueprints in golf today-ensuring the future of the game. The golf legend, whose 18 major championships set a standard for excellence, joined The PGA of America, United States Golf Association and representatives of Boys & Girls Clubs of America Thursday at the 59th PGA Merchandise Show in support of Golf 2.0. The new comprehensive, strategic plan is designed to retain and strengthen core players, bring former players back, and welcome new golfers to the game.
The 72-year-old Nicklaus teamed with PGA of America President Allen Wronowski; PGA Chief Executive Officer Joe Steranka; and United States Golf Association Executive Director Mike Davis in a media roundtable discussion. They were joined by representatives of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America-The PGA's new Official Youth Development Partner-featuring Board of Governor member Ken Griffey, Jr., the baseball great turned avid golfer and BGCA Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications Evan McElroy.
Nicklaus said he is familiar with sobering statistics about those who have left the game, and has committed himself to supporting all efforts to secure the core players, engage those who have lapsed, and build the next generation.
"I care about this game; it's given me so many great things for me and my family through the years," said Nicklaus. "This initiative is not a PGA of America initiative; it's not a Jack Nicklaus initiative. This is a golf industry initiative, because it is a golf industry issue. We all have a stake in this. Whatever happens is because of all of us. It's our future."
Among the multi-pronged plan to engage new players is a partnership with Boys & Girls Club of America, a five-year mission that will introduce youth nationwide to the game of golf. Beginning in 46 selected cities, golf training equipment and instructional support from PGA Professionals will be provided through this partnership to help youth build character, develop healthy lifestyles, and learn the game of golf.
"Anything that you are trying to draw to this magnitude, you need the support of the industry stakeholders and partners and relationships," said Wronowski. "You also need very special individuals and great supporters and proponents."
The PGA of America's commitment to Golf 2.0 includes nine Player Development Regional Managers to foster growth in the game in key areas of demand throughout the country. Steranka explained that the retraining of the industry extends well beyond the 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals.
"Now we are extending that training to golf facility owners, operators and non professional staff," said Steranka. "We are going to realign our playing fields to make have some entry level courses in golf park like settings, whether they are at existing courses or whether they are remade through the [American Society of Golf Course Architects] ASGCA program or portable courses where we can bring a golf course."
Griffey, who began playing golf in 1994 after baseball's second strike, said it was not long before he "was hooked on the game." He said that his oldest son did not want to pursue baseball, and will attend the University of Arizona on a football scholarship.
"I was astounded that he did not want to continue in baseball, but I know that I can ask him if he wants to join me for golf, and he is the first to pack up the car with the clubs. He is now teaching my nine-year-old the game."
Griffey recalled his trepidation of having to play in the same foursome with Nicklaus at Pebble Beach, and was unable to get any sleep. "We get to the golf course, and start on the 10th hole. They read Jack's résumé, which says he's won this five times, that four times and something else three times. He hits it down the middle, Mark O'Meara hits it down the middle, Steve Nicklaus hits it down the middle, and I hit mine dead left. The first words Jack said to me were, 'We have to play our foul balls.'
"But watching over the next 17 holes, how Jack interacted with his son was unbelievable. It was just, they talked about everything, except golf. And, that was the one thing that I took away. I looked at being a young father at the time. That's what I want. When I play golf with my kids, I want to be able to do that."
Griffey said the Golf 2.0 initiatives to build a new generation of players, is part of his motivation when he enjoys time with his family.
"I play a little bit with my Dad here and there, and we talk about everything. I think it's the best time of my life," said Griffey. "I also have this thing called Griffey Force Family Fun. We play Sunday, we play golf; it's usually five of us. We go out, and my youngest is nine, and we have my dad there. And we will tear up a golf course, is what my dad would say. But how many times do we honestly listen to our kids? As kids, you would want your parents to listen to you. Well, here is an opportunity to really do that."
The PGA also announced the launch of a grant program with the ASGCA, its members and the ASGCA Foundation, to fund complimentary facility audits that would study and recommend land use to welcome new players to the game. Among the recommendations within the program are adapting available land for golf's version of "bunny slopes" to heighten the golf experience.
"We are going to take a page out of golf history," said Steranka. "Seventy-five years ago or so, The PGA of America hired A.W. Tillinghast to be a free consultant to America's golf courses to guide them on how to make their courses friendlier after the Great Depression. They had to introduce new players. They had to make the courses friendlier for women. Tillinghast wrote to them, the-then PGA president, that he had deconsecrated 7,000 bunkers in his tour across America."
Nicklaus cited golf's entry into the 2016 Olympic Games as a decisive moment for the game. "It's a pretty big deal in 2016 to be right," said Nicklaus, of golf's appearance in the Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, for the first time in more than 100 years. "There will be a decision in 2017 on whether to continue with golf in the 2020 Olympics.
"And if 2016 ends right and it is voted back in, think of the effect that's going to have on, not so much the United States, because we are a pretty mature golf market. But take Brazil that doesn't even have a public golf facility; take China, which is just barely starting into the game; take India, which is barely starting into the game; take Russia, which is barely starting into the game.
All of these places that have really supported Olympic sports. The gold medal has always been the prize. It's not the Masters and U.S. Open, PGA Championship or the British Open. It's been about the gold medal."
Steranka said the grant to the ASGCA Foundation is "going to provide the travel expenses for architects who are going to volunteer to give free reviews of American golf courses and how to use the existing land plan. Maybe it's rerouting a hole to expand a range and add in three to six short holes that can be 'bunny slopes' and bring that family out even more to the course."
McElroy pointed to the first meeting between The PGA and the BGCA late last year, and Steranka's ties to the organization from his childhood.
"This is a match made in heaven, and we are thrilled and delighted to enter into this partnership," said McElroy. "When Joe came to us as a former Club kid, he got it. He already understood what Boys & Girls Clubs were all about and he didn't have to do a selling job. He said, I know this can work in terms of fitting into our strategy to grow the game."
Nicklaus said time management works at home as well as the course.
"The parents are being dragged to the parks and the park systems, and they are playing soccer, lacrosse, football, baseball, basketball, you name it," said Nicklaus. "They don't have the time to play golf, and the kids are not being introduced to it…We need to introduce our kids to the game of golf. We need to introduce it to them in a way that is friendly and a way that they can have some early success and stay with the game.
"The same with women. And we can't do it on a five- or six-hour basis. You've got to do it on the basis of when they can find time." Nicklaus said the successful time strategy that could work is: 'I'm going to go play golf tomorrow, and I'll meet you at noon for lunch with the kids, and we'll go spend the afternoon.' They will be able to do that."
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Since its founding in 1916, The PGA of America has maintained a twofold mission: to establish and elevate the standards of the profession and to grow interest and participation in the game of golf. By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, The PGA enables its professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in the multi-billion dollar golf industry. By creating and delivering world-class championships and innovative programs, The PGA of America elevates the public's interest in the game, the desire to play more golf, and ensures accessibility to the game for everyone, everywhere. As The PGA nears its centennial, the PGA brand represents the very best in golf.