Has Australian Golf gone out of bounds?

Over the last few months, I’ve received an increasing number of emails/letters from disgruntled readers, denouncing our governing body, Golf Australia, for a variety of reasons (see this month’s Your Voice for just a sample of the many opinions I’ve received lately.)

There’s no doubt that you, the readers, feel that golf in this country has gone slightly off the rails. Courses are closing, land is being snapped up by councils or developers, players are leaving the game, fees are going up (or being charged twice – aka Double Dipping), Handicaps and Slope ratings “don’t feel right”, world golf is absent from Free-to-Air television, etc. The list goes on.

While there is no doubt that Golf Australia has done some good things for the game (like Golf Month, MyGolf, etc), the overwhelming sentiment from readers/golfers is that the governing body has lost its way, and needs to shift its focus to things that, you feel, REALLY matter. 

Personally, I find it odd that, when we have courses and clubs that are in real strife, Golf Australia is currently focussing on things like online podcasts and website stories/news. Sure, I’m biased in this case, as it currently feels like our governing bodies are trying to become media outlets, which directly competes with golf magazines like Inside Golf.  But nonetheless, you’ll recall that we used to receive regular columns from the CEOs of Golf Australia, The PGA of Australia and the ALPG. But now, only the ALPG continues to send us content (which, I might add, is always exceptional, and highly-read and valued by our readers). At any rate, on the surface, these podcasts and stories seem to be mostly targeted to current golfers, and do little or nothing to encourage non-golfers to try the sport.

Golf in this country, it seems, is still focussed primarily on the Elite Amateurs and the Professionals, while you, the club golfer, seem to feel like you are largely being ignored, or without a voice.  Golf Australia, for example, focuses a tremendous amount of time and money promoting the Australian Open, which is, for all intents and purposes, a professional tournament. Likewise, The Australian PGA spends a tremendous amount of time and money promoting their biggest event, the PGA Championship. The fields for these events often feel like a carbon copy of each other. And yet, we get players (like Sergio Garcia or Jordan Spieth) often coming all the way down here for only ONE of the events. Thus, only a small portion of the Australian golfing public will get to see them. And let’s not forget that Australia’s most golf-hungry state, Victoria, won’t get any “major” professional golf at all this summer, due to the short-sighted vision of GA to lock-in the Australian Open to NSW.

Despite all the time and money put into these events, the prize purses remain ridiculously small by world golf standards. Vijay Singh, at the recent Fiji International, noted that the tiny island nation of Fiji was able to secure a larger prize purse ($1.5million) than similar Australian events like the Australian Open ($1.25million). To me, this is mind-boggling (and embarrassing).

I think the way forward is crystal clear.

First, we need to accept that we are not the USA. Things that work in America will not necessarily work over here. I believe that, in their attempt to adopt too many US programs and initiatives, Golf Australia has become spread too thin, juggling too many balls in the air. So I believe we need full amalgamation, and we need it quickly. There has been a lot of discussion about OneGolf, which is a proposal to bring the state and territory governing bodies under the Golf Australia umbrella. This is a great step, but not all states/territories have jumped on board.

So it’s time to get rid of the egos and the politics, and create one all-encompassing organisation (combining GA with state bodies and even The PGA of Australia), with plenty of oversight to manage spending, while also streamlining efficiencies. Create two branches of the one organisation – one branch focussed solely on the thousands of professionals and elite amateurs (and their events), and one branch dedicated solely to supporting the one million golfers and their clubs.

This united, larger organisation could combine the revenue/fees and pump it into ONE major event that can more easily generate sponsorship (and thus larger purses), and can travel around the country each year (maybe with the State Opens acting as qualifying, etc). Next, align fully with a major tour (European Tour or the PGA Tour) awarding FedEx Cup or Race to Dubai points. Get MANY tour stars down here to inspire the juniors, etc.

Then, pump those profits into promoting the game at a grass-roots level.  Get golf into every school as a recognised sport. Support the clubs where they need it (clean up the GolfLink Database, help smaller clubs to stay afloat, etc), and lobby the state/national governments properly. Show the benefits of the sport to the non-golfers, not just those who already play the game.

Yes, there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. But if multi-billion-dollar organisations in the corporate world can merge successfully, surely we can do it in our tiny golf industry?

As always, I welcome your comments.

See you on the fairways,

Richard Fellner

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