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Is Scotty McNealy and his Flogton onto Something or Just on Something?
Thursday, 10 March 2011 08:28

With the golf industry obsessing about the triple whammy of fewer players, a down economy and a lack of time to play the game, any new idea should be listened to. Not panned.

According to a Wall Street Journal post from a few weeks ago, Scotty McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, John Donahoe, CEO of eBay and Bill Campbell, the chairman and former CEO of Intuit, all Silicon Valley big wigs, are proposing a new form of golf called Flogton. Visit their site HERE .

What is it? According to the article :

The least restrictive forms of play would set purists' teeth on edge: teeing up shots in the fairway, legalizing one mulligan per hole, allowing 6-foot "bumps" (no nearer the hole) to get relief from trees and other obstacles, and requiring the second shot from a bunker to be thrown. These games would be geared primarily toward kids or rank beginners. For each format, Flogton handicaps could be established. Different social mores would also be encouraged, from trash-talking during backswings to wearing cargo shorts.

Now, before you go off and say that is the dumbest idea you’ve ever heard, just hear me out.

We’ve got a major problem on our hands and just talking about our problem isn’t going to make it go away.  Last year, according to the National Golf Foundation, a net 72.5 courses CLOSED last year.  That is a continuation of previous years. We also hear that people have less time to play the game and as many people drop the game as pick it up.  Equipment is too expensive.  The game is too hard, etc., etc., etc.

All are probably true and in its present form, golf won’t be able to do much about reversing these trends.

Yet, look at skiing.  Snowboards have probably saved that industry. Even as skiing has turned around, have more ski slopes opened? Have people gained more time to ski? Has the economy improved for those that like to ski?  Sound familiar??

What has happened is that young people have taken to skiing because of snowboarding.  How many kids do you know cross country ski? Downhill? What new innovations in ski technology have your read about?  Not very many. Yet, snowboarding is what kids of today are doing.

Do we see that with golf? No. Why? Because of all the reasons we hear about.

So we’ve got to think outside the box. Make what we have more attractive.  Grow the number of people who can play and give them reason to start.  Bigger holes, shorter courses, more player-friendly equipment, faster games, cheaper greens fees are all a start.

When Mr. McNealy pitches his new idea he does it like the software industry does it; as open source software.  No one controls the idea and everyone can make suggestions and improvements.  Sun Microsystems has a totally free option available that competes directly with Microsoft and it’s called OpenOffice….and yes… its competing versions of Excel, Powerpoint and Word all do similar things. And they are FREE!!

Golf is part of a sociological trend that trade and social organizations are also experiencing across the country.  People of today aren’t joiners like they used to be in the 50s – 80s.  They don’t have time to join a golf club. They don’t want to just play golf. They want their spouse and kids to be able to enjoy it as well. They’ve got a hundred other places to spend their money and golf is only one option.

While I’m not necessary advocating a switch to Scott McNealy’s Flogton, I do believe we need to think outside the box.  What’s disappointing was to read some of the responses that accompanied the Wall Street Journal article (overlook that some of these people don’t even know how to spell):

This was our solution to the "college education". Most people are simply not smart enough to qualify for college. Many of those with the appropriate IQ may not posses the skill set and training required to attend. To make America "greater", we simply lowered standards of learning and testing. So, this group of "college educated" folks now hit the golf course. They were forged from the "lower bar theory", and it seems reasonable that they would lower the bar for golf to incorporate cheating into legitimate rules. It didn't go well for stocks and housing, but our government bailed them out. The rich were richly rewarded. Golf is a rich man's game, and they seek the reward. I have a 5 handicap, and I earn it the hard way - spending more of my time on driving range and putting green than on the course.

If you are not following the rules you are playing some other game. Using the handicap system golf opens the door. We all cannot be a Tiger just because we feel we diserve to be. Removing a standard always has consequences.

People who start playing golf by the red-neck rules that this guy proposes will ingrain those habits and take them to "traditional courses." If this guy wants to start a game called "flogtron", he should do so. Hopefully, the jerks who play on some courses, the ones who yell across fairways, wear jortz, and wife-beater tee shirts, will be content playing the game. There are those of us, who play golf the way it was designed. Golf is about the challenge between you and the course design...not about who can interrupt a backswing, hit further with an illegal driver, or drive a cart across a tee box.

What I think should be where the discussion should concentrate was expressed by Pat Gallagher, the CEO of the Alternative Golf Association which was founded by the three Silicon Valley entrepreneurs:

Great comments and we understand your initial reaction. We love the same game you do and everything about it. The sobering facts are, however: there are more people leaving the game than coming in and it isn't all "the economy". Many golf course owners and equipment companies, the ones with the biggest investments in the game are fighting for survival. Our idea is to develop a competitive version of the game "for the rest of us" who want to play, but are turned off by the frustration, expense and time required to play golf. We are confident both versions can co-exist on a golf course without modifications and we are finding that there are many others who agree. Golf course operators will decide ultimately, just like ski slope operators adding snowboarding to save the ski industry. Our goal is to bring more people into the game, which is good for everyone...Pat Gallagher, CEO, Alternative Golf Association

There is a strong sense of tradition in golf, but when Old Tom Morris and his son put golf on the map on the other side of the pond, it was a radical idea then. When the Beatles landed in the United States it shook up the music world.  When Elvis swiveled his hips on the Ed Sullivan Show it created waves and when Lady Gaga comes out in “interesting” outfits, it gets everyone’s attention.

If golf’s future are today’s 15-year-olds, maybe it would be better to actually ask them what they think than try to impose a set of old rules on them that they won’t listen to. Maybe they have some ideas that will get the sport growing again. Tennis found its way so did cycling and skiing.  What about golf?

Although I think Flogtron goes a bit too far, I commend Scott McNealy and his group for suggesting an alternative that should be seriously debated.

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