As the 2017 edition of the PGA Fashion & Demo Experience wound to a highly successful close (and three-day run), I sat down with PGA of America President Paul Levy and tapped into this considerable understanding of this grand game and where it finds itself at this point in time.
Who is the PGA of America? You are the leading association for teaching professionals, you run a major and the Ryder Cup, and you have a massive customer base of eager students of all ages.
We like to say we are the tangible connection.
Tangible as in the new relationship with Topgolf?
The PGA of America needs to be very progressive, needs to think outside the box, and how can a company like Topgolf be seen as anything but progressive? They are opening, we like to say, the funnel through which a lot of people are coming to golf. Topgolf is like going to the bowling alley. If you’ve never bowled in your life you just throw the ball down the lane and you are engaged. Topgolf is like that. It’s fun. It’s social. It’s not intimidating. I think Topgolf has been really good for golf. They have opened the game to an entire new group of people.
And that wasn’t y’all’s first rodeo.
What we’ve done in the past few years is to create strategic alliances with employers, and that is something we never used to do. We did that with Golftec. Golftec is the largest employer of PGA of America members in the country. I think when it is all said and done we would rather be able to say we were proactive, that we had our hands on the steering wheel in the employment arena for the betterment of our members, creating those strategic alliances, rather than sitting on the sideline.
Golf can be staid. How is your membership doing with these various alternative-golf or non-traditional initiatives?
I think our membership is growing in that direction. Do I think every member thinks that way? No. But I think the people who get it, those thinking ahead, the shakers and movers, they know we need to grow the game. Period, end of discussion. Any time you have a stick and ball in someone’s hands, how does it hurt?
Any thoughts on the USGA's rather far-reaching rules proposal?
I applaud the USGA for this. Any change that makes the game more fun, more exciting, and that attracts more people to the game is a good thing.
Shorts, at a major? Blasphemers, heretics!
Forgetting that the European Tour already allowed shorts: It goes back to being that tangible connection. Allowing shorts in the practice round of our championship connects with the younger crowd, with Millennials. It wasn’t as much a function of the weather; it wasn’t even that hot in Charlotte that Tuesday. It was more a function of us trying to set a new standard, thinking out of the box, appealing to the younger people, showing ‘em that golf is cool. We’re an athletic game, it’s a sport, these are athletes.
Study after poll after analysis suggests that Millennials are interested in the game and the PGA seems to be one of those institutions that grasps that.
We are trying to reach out to them. We sure are. Look at the Baby Boomers. As that age demographic moves on, well, golf can’t survive just from retirees. We have to broaden this game across all generations. That is very important to us, we have to find ways to connect with them.
Some things might have to give at the old clubhouse.
(Take) the being-wired thing, it’s where we are today. As clubs start changing over, as boards and leaders who were in their 60s and 70s give way to folks in their 30s and 40s do you think they are going to continue to say you can’t have your hat on, you can’t have your cellphone? You are going to see those things change. They have to change. That is good for golf.
Another seeming kid took down another big trophy.
You look at these younger players – Jordan [Spieth], Rickie [Fowler], Justin, [Thomas] Smylie Kaufman. We’ve never seen a group of young players come on that aren’t just passionate and great players with great personalities, it’s that they care so much about each other. The fact that Rickie stayed there, that Bud Cauley stayed there [to greet Thomas on his PGA Championship victory], we’ve not seen that type of connection among players in a long while. I like that and I think it is good for the game. Look at Brooks Koepka. We see it with Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko, Lexi [Thompson] on the LPGA Tour. We’re talking these young kids, these young guns so to say, and they are so good for the game.