By: Larry Bohannan, The Desert Sun
“There are a lot of really great things happening out there and I think sometimes, people like talking about what’s bad as opposed to what’s good,” said Levy, the new PGA of America president, during a keynote speech at the Coachella Valley Golf Industry Summit on Monday at PGA West.
Levy, who is also general manager at Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells, was just one of the highlights of the second annual summit. The summit was organized by Desert Classic Charities, the non-profit behind the CareerBuilder Challenge.
The summit, hosted by the tournament’s director of sales Bob Marra, brought together golf officials, golf course owners, managers and superintendents and manufacturers of golf-related products. The idea is to provide a forum for an exchange of ideas for an industry that has struggled in the last 10 years.
Those struggles have included golf course closures and a drop in participation in the sport in the last decade. But Levy, who has helped develop several courses for Sunrise Company, said the negative talk only hurts the golf world.
”One of the key things we have to do, and I am going to talk to you a little bit about collaboration, is that we as an industry, especially the leaders, we have to talk positively about the game of golf,” said Levy, who began his two-year stint as PGA president in November.
Levy noted that in many areas, the news for golf is not as bad as it has been portrayed. He admits that golf was overdeveloped in the 1990s and into the 2000s, and that golf course closures were a natural correction to that overdevelopment.
Levy added that not all of the golf course closures were because of a decline in golf. Many closed courses were either nine-hole courses or courses with green fees under $40, he pointed out.
“There is a pretty good percentage of them, and I haven’t been able to find the statistics, where of those courses, the land was too valuable,” Levy said. “Even if the course is doing okay, making a little money or breaking even for the owner, the course was there 30 years ago and it was out where, as we say in Louisiana out on the boondocks. Today it’s on the beltway, or it’s in a geographic location where they couldn’t help but sell the land.”
Levy also highlights gains for growing the game, as did members of a panel that included representatives from the Southern California PGA, the Southern California Golf Association and the First Tee of the Coachella Valley.
Nikki Gatch, who played high school golf at Palm Desert High School before attending Oklahoma State, is player development regional manager at PGA of America for Southern California and a member of the board of directors for Southern California Golf Association. She said the golf industry should be focusing on junior golf to help produce a new generation of players.
“It is our responsibility to provide additional programming for them,” Gatch said. “We are starting to see so much more of that. We are seeing a lot more interaction with juniors. It is the center of golf where we have seen the most growth.”
Gatch said that after being stagnant at about 2.5 million junior golfers in programs like the PGA Junior League or First Tee programs, in 2015 that number grew to more than 3 million.
“That’s tremendous. That’s a great growth in that area,” Gatch said. “And with juniors comes more introductions to the parent, mom and dad.”
Other programs, like the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation program providing discounted rates and access to courses, and the First Tee instructional and educational program, were also discussed.
The summit also featured a panel on how golf courses can work to improve themselves in difficult times. A third panel, moderated by Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, talked about ongoing water issues in California even as the five-year drought in the state appears to be easing. Word in the last week from federal officials is that with heavy rain and snow in Northern California in the last few weeks, 42 percent of the state is no longer in a drought. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is at about 150 percent of historical averages.
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