Font Size
Join our Mailing List
Home Adversity can mean opportunity

Anyone who has followed the golf industry over the years is acutely aware of its challenges. In the past five years, more courses have closed than opened. Participation levels of recreational players have been sliding. The tracking service for the number of rounds played domestically has been the equivalent of a slow drumbeat to the tune of steady decline. The factors many point to is the game itself takes too long to play, is difficult and too expensive. Very little has been addressed in any of these three areas to try and find a way to stem the tide let alone reverse its direction. Before any of this can happen, if it’s going to, a change in thinking is going to be required. Golf prides itself on tradition and, therefore, change is not something many race to embrace. However, for the betterment of the game some level of compromise is going to be necessary.

To date golf is essentially a one trick pony. Consider other sports/fields of play have multi-game variants in order to grow. Snowboards have saved the ski industry, some believe. Operators have found ways for skiers and snowboarders to co-exist at the same facility. Ice rinks offer hockey, curling as well as speed skating. Consider the advent of the X Games and some of these sports have even gone to be a part of the Olympics.

Golf needs an alternative way to attract and retain players. Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy, who presided over the Silicon Valley giant from 1984 through 2006 as CEO, and in 2009 sold the company to Oracle is championing a cause to find a realistic solution to what ails the game. "I love golf," said McNealy, a 3-handicap. "I also believe golf is the hardest game on the planet.” He has joined forces with the Alternative Golf Association in which he presides as Commissioner. "The Alternative Golf Association encourages 'golf for the rest of us.'  We hope to preserve and promote all of the characteristics we love about golf while relaxing its rules, social restrictions and technological limitations to popularize a game -- a competitive sport -- where more of us can have success and more of us can have fun,” explained McNealy.  “And I think the AGA can do for golf courses what snowboarding did for ski slope operators."

McNealy, by virtue of his involvement offers validity to the project. He also has a few other heavyweights in his corner to help with getting his ideas off the ground. Pat Gallagher is the CEO and founder Bob Zider have a plan to engage online social networks for the creation and evolution of new games that could be played on existing golf courses. Gallagher gained acclaim as a sports marketing pioneer during a 33-year career as the top marketing/business executive with the San Francisco Giants. Among his many accomplishments was that he developed plans for the first privately financed ballpark constructed in more than 30 years, San Francisco's AT&T Park. Zider was president of his class at Harvard Business School (1976) and went on to success as an inventor and entrepreneur in shape memory alloy products, medical devices and aircraft engineering. He also has experience in the industry through his involvement with Pixl Golf.

Zider said he first envisioned Flogton more than 10 years ago, when the Harvard Business Review did a case study, Beta Golf, that convinced him that golf was a no-growth, dying industry. But the plans he drew up to launch an alternative sat in his files for 10 years. Three years ago, Zider -- an inventor whose biggest success story is Flexon, the durable eyeglass frame material -- was called before the USGA after it reviewed one of his patents and advised him it was probably an illegal club. Zider left the meeting frustrated at not receiving guidance or parameters for further advances. Last year, he had lunch with Gallagher, who had recently retired after 33 years with San Francisco Giants. Zider pulled out his AGA concept and watched Gallagher's eyes light up. "What I've finally realized is that although I do love baseball, it really never was about the baseball for me," Gallagher said. "It was about putting on a show that entertained and connected people in ways nothing else can. The AGA has the power to do that." The more Zider and Gallagher said they researched the slump in the golf industry -- the decline in rounds, the closing of golf courses, and of course the dearth in equipment advances that could help the player with the average score of 100 -- the more convinced they became that the AGA's time had arrive.

The AGA development team includes legal and Internet consultant Damien Eastwood, and an advisory panel lists former Giants owner Bob Lurie and CourseCo founder/CEO Tom Isaak among supporters. "I was hesitant at first to endorse this because I'm kind of a purist," said Lurie, who will play in the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am next month at age 82. "But as I got into it, I think it makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. This game is more fun than going out to fight the little ball the way you usually do." Isaak, whose firm oversees 20 golf courses in California and the Northwest said, "This is an intriguing idea from serious people who are also genuine golf lovers. Easing people into the complex and magical experience that is golf will be good for the game."

The AGA said it would establish a brand that develops both rules and equipment with the help of its online community. It will un-cuff inventors, engineers and scientists for the challenge of creating tools to take the average player to its goal of 25/100/200: "That's 25 percent longer drives, 100 percent higher wedge spin and 200 percent more fun," Zider said. Project Flogton ("not golf," spelled backward) was launched in 2010 with test outings and was recently unveiled at The site includes areas for golf course operators and equipment developers as well as a social network application to open the dialogue with players, course operators and inventors. The AGA said it has set aside current USGA conformance standards and seeks innovation on what might be possible, so any equipment on today's market may be used for Flogton.  A set of four games on the site outlines instructions that range from using a mulligan on every hole to taking a 6-foot bump to teeing up the ball on the fairway. The games provide a foundation for players joining in the project, but the development team emphasizes its grassroots approach. "We want new ideas, feedback, inventions," Zider said. "We aren't tied to any existing rules and we don't have to observe any current limits -- everything is open to discussion, including our name and our logo, and especially the game formats and rules, and the equipment possibilities."

A recent test outing confirmed Flogton's appeal to a wide range of golfers and non-golfers. Using just two game formats and a few equipment variations -- including long and straight nonconforming golf balls, driver face lubrication, and some alternative-face wedges participants affectionately nicknamed "the cheese grater" and "the sandpaper" -- the players found the game easier and more fun than golf. Most were eager to try any future equipment innovations that could help them hit the ball farther, straighter and more precisely. "The golf industry has allowed technology and innovation that could attract millions to the game to become trapped behind a dam," said Casey Alexander, a Wall Street analyst specializing in the golf industry, who hosted the AGA/Flogton announcement at the PGA Show. "This dam was specifically designed to hinder the touring professional, but it trapped everyone else in the bargain. Let the AGA burst the dam and amazing technology will pour through, and so will the fun."

Its been said that desperate times require desperate measures. Some who are presented with Flogton will consider it perhaps offensive since it doesn’t resonate with them to be golf, especially in its purest form. However, its interesting that we are at a point in time when the PGA TOUR commissioner is challenging the rules to be modified or at least revisited when it comes to rules infractions called or emailed in by television viewers. Tim Finchem said he would meet with USGA officials about the specific subject this week. This isn’t the first time golf has been presented with this particular challenge. Ask Craig Stadler about it. In 1987, he was disqualified when it was determined that he used a towel to build a stance. What’s different since 1987? Another proponent of change is TaylorMade’s CEO Mark King. "They (the USGA) have to change the rules of the game, bifurcate them (one set for "serious" golfers; another set for recreational players). Make it easier to play golf,” he stated to Golfweek. "The USGA says its responsibility is to protect the history of the game, but it should be to protect the future of the game," King added. "I think what they're going to suggest are tweaks, and tweaks aren't going to work."

Flogton isn’t likely to be the absolute answer to all of golf’s participation problems. But it has some powerful people behind it and it offers a chance to be a solution without interfering with anyone that wants to continue to play the game as it stands today or in the future. That in itself should give it a fighting chance to be successful. Timing is everything they say. Flogton may have arrived at the right moment to be taken seriously and supported when it might not have been in previously years. There are several stakeholders in the industry that would like to see the US market rebound. Flogton offers the possibility of taking a challenge and turning it into an opportunity for course owners and operators to equipment manufacturers that decide to support it. Anyone can become a member to it, which is a simple step process at