Has this golf course cracked the code for the future growth of the game?

Boredom Spieth
Boredom Spieth
Boredom Spieth
Contributor

We’ve all seen the wellspring of doom and gloom related to golf industry participation and the future of the game. But one Minneapolis-area course is doing something about it.

The number of golfing Americans has slipped from 30.6 million in 2003 to 23.8 million in 2016, per the National Golf Foundation—a 22 percent decline in 13 years.

But in any bull market, there’s still money to be made, and golf professionals are getting creative to keep the cash coming in.

Carlos Gonzales of the Minneapolis Star Tribune talks to Michael Turnbull, head pro at Brookview. Turnbull is using his expanse of, well, lawn, in an interesting fashion: lawn bowling.

“Pros have always been survivors,” said Turnbull.

Turnbull and Brookview haven’t gotten a lot more creative than just lawn bowling. At the city-owned facility in Minnesota, a bevy of activities not usually found on the golf course are available year round.

During winter months: cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking, and disc golf are available. In the summer, something called “Happy Hour Yoga,” a beanbag-tossing league, and several golf clinics aimed at women (Chip and Sip, etc.) dot the course’s schedule. The course has both golf carts and golf bikes, as well as FlingGolf, which is like a golf/lacrosse hybrid.

“We have a lot of ideas,” said Ben Disch, Brookview’s golf operations manager. “Not all of them work, of course. And excellent example is I wanted to host the world’s largest snowball fight. But based on some liability insurance issues, we pulled the plug on that one.”

That’s a damn shame, but it’s evidence of the course’s willingness to find anything that works.

Back to the lawn bowling, which has been widely popular. Turnbull enthusiastically embraced his role as both golf pro and lawn bowling pro, teaching the game with enthusiasm. The course’s Tuesday and Thursday night leagues have waiting lists and corporate outings pack the schedule.

Here’s a course adding something, lawn bowling, to its offerings as rounds drop, and it has become a runaway success. And when the pro is as eager to instruct players in the particulars of the golf grip or the lawn bowling toss, you have something that looks an awful lot like successful adaptation—and maybe even growth.

“There are always new challenges to growing the game,” said Jeff Hintz, CEO of the Minnesota PGA of America section. “Mostly, it comes down to time, money and degree of difficulty. We have so many good professionals that can really teach the game and make it more enjoyable.”

Hintz is right, of course, but he would do well to understand his definition of “the game” to include lawn bowling and disc golf. Perhaps the traditionalist finds it an abomination, but save for top-tier public facilities and prestigious private clubs with years-long waiting lists, all golf courses would do well to learn the Brookview model as rounds played continue to dwindle.

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