Dottie Pepper has always been passionate about golf.
Her fierce drive and her steely determination led to 17 LPGA titles including two major championships. Her candid and straightforward views have earned her numerous accolades as a broadcaster and analyst. And her experience at every level of golf has made her an invaluable "Director-at-large" member of the PGA of America Board of Directors.
That same drive and determination is now being channeled into a new golf mission: Growing the Game. Golf, as a sport and industry, faces some tough and unique challenges. Pepper was recently invited by the PGA of America to join a special task force that will brainstorm ways to grow golf using some non-traditional routes and outside-the-box thinking. As someone who knows golf at the highest professional level and has spent so much time encouraging it from the entry-level, it seems to be a perfect fit.
Pepper spoke with PGA.com about the biggest challenges facing golf's continued growth - and shared some ideas on how to address them.
Access: "I was lucky because I had access to a golf course and had family that invited me, at times - dragged me - out to play. My grandmother bought me clubs, bought me a junior membership, gave me all the support I could ask for. The guys who owned McGregor Links (Saratoga Springs, NY) also recognized my passion for the game and that I had some talent at it. At the time, the club had a rule that prohibited children from playing before 2pm on weekends. But they relaxed the rules so I could not only play, but play with (and against) the better players. It made a tremendous difference in my development. How much talent are we leaving undeveloped because we're not allowing, or creating the proper environment for attracting new players?"
Compete for the kids: "The one thing we can't do is create more time. 24 hours is 24 hours. So how do we convince kids that they should be spending time playing golf? We have to make it cool, we have to make sure that the fun side of golf is emphasized. I look at what the ski industry did, combining resources, lift passes, marketing dollars, etc. We have lots of unused tee times now, why not find ways to use those times to attract more kids into the game? Half price or free options could do wonders on the local and national level. Find some alternative golf ideas to use the space. Get kids excited to come to the course. That should be goal number one."
Motivate the kids to excel: I think it's very important for golf to be "fun" but that's quite different than promising that all golfers will excel at it. While it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy golf at any level, I do have a problem with kids - or parents more often than not - thinking that every junior golfer should be the next Tiger Woods. Golf is a game of ownership. It's one of the great life lessons that it teaches. Let's embrace that. You win on your merit, you lose on your own. There's no entitlement in golf, not everybody gets a gold medal. That's not how the real world works. One of the greatest things about golf is how it teaches important life lessons - it teaches how to deal with adversity, and challenges and overcoming disappointment. We can make golf fun and still embrace that important principle. And then, when you do it well, it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Reverse the architecture trend: "The trend in golf now has been to make courses longer and more difficult. How is that helping to grow the game? As our core golfers get older, we're actually giving them reasons to not play more. And this isn't helping bring new golfers into the game. We can find ways to keep the beauty and challenge in golf and make the game easier to play. New tee complexes, slower greens, wider fairways, less rough - the ideas are there, they just need to be put into practice."
Dottie Pepper is currently a member of the PGA Board of Directors. She is also an ESPN analyst/reporter and author of books "Bogey Tees Off Vol 1: a lesson about being truthful" and "Bogey Ballton's Night Before Christmas. You can follow Dottie on Twitter at @DottieandBogey  or join her on Facebook