Seven and a half years ago, I started a blog as the (then) new CEO at NGCOA. In my first blog post, I shared a story about taking my two small children (both under the age of 9) to a local course to beat some balls on the range. They were dressed just fine for wintery, outdoor activities (see photo above), but I was politely admonished by the golf staff that my son (and strangely, not my daughter) did not have a collared shirt on. Keep in mind at the time he was five years old. I opined to the industry on the cultural baggage attached to a three-inch strip of fabric around the neck, and urged the golf industry to loosen up a bit (while at the same time understanding the value that stricter dress codes can offer, too).
My argument has been that the golf industry should not be pigeon-holed into the assumption that we are monolithic. Just like the restaurant industry, we have every variety of culture, codes, rules or no-rules. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, should be our brand as an experience. Enormous variety! Pick your flavor and enjoy.
Why am I bringing this up? Fast forward to January 2023. I was at the PGA Show, having just concluded an industry leadership meeting, when I ran into some friends who work for an allied association that’s been around for over a hundred years. This allied association has a long history of requiring coat and tie at their official events. I was wearing a tie (they weren’t), having just finished up duties at the Golf Business Conference. These friends, like they were my college buddies, were giving me a bit of hell for wearing a tie, as though they were about to break out some scissors to teach me a lesson. We had a good laugh about it, and how times have changed.
But it made me stop and think about how QUICKLY things have been changing in golf. Over the arc of time and history in our industry, to be in this moment is a pretty wonderful place to be, in my humble opinion. This is a time when, it seemed, that the biggest footprints on the PGA Show floor were from large technology companies. When resorts and clubs are priding themselves on having fun, short course experiences (“see how fun and cool we are now!”). When PGA Tour players are wearing hoodies and joggers. When some of the most elite private clubs have chicken coops on property!
Some may pine for the days when golfers wore hard shoes, long pants and only collared shirts. Days when men played the white tees, and women played the red tees. Sure, I get it. It seemed like a simpler time, and who doesn’t value simplicity? But underneath that simplicity were complexities waiting decades, or even centuries, to be discovered and unlocked. And unlocked they have been. This is not to say there is no value in the old-fashioned. There is. When I put on my collared golf shirt, I feel like I’m putting on my uniform, or maybe even my super hero costume (if I’m feeling like I might beat my handicap that day).
My argument is that old-fashioned and new-fashioned can coexist, and our industry should embrace and promote all of it. It’s happening. You can sense it, if you pause for a moment and just watch and listen. For the sake of survival, growth and success, it’s a good thing.