Norman: Golf Has To Change With The Times
Our Greg Norman Company has joined forces with Verizon to bring innovative technology to the golf industry and change the way people play and view the sport. We have undergone a three-year, in-depth study with Verizon on how this technology can help golf. I’d like to give you an insight into our forthcoming announcement without saying too much, while commenting on some of the problems that are plaguing modern-day golf.
The golf industry is struggling in many ways and we have a bold vision to make the game more cutting edge. Our primary focus is to provide the golfer with a better experience, introduce new people to the game and help golf grow.
Partnering with a powerhouse company like Verizon opens up a lot of opportunities through their connectivity platform. I think that together, we can really help the industry with Verizon’s technology and our experience and knowledge of the game. We believe we can help golf in many different areas. However, we can’t divulge too much at this stage of what we are going to announce.
We’ve already seen what Verizon’s capabilities are within the wine industry. They have had incredible success improving the yield of grapes and quality of wine using their iOT technology – and that is a big indicator of what we can do from a golf course design perspective. In terms of energy-saving, use of fertiliser, use of irrigation, sustainability, better management can be improved – and that’s all through connectivity!
When we build golf courses today, Toro does a fantastic job with their irrigation system. It’s all computerised with sensors everywhere and it’s great. But let’s take it beyond the irrigation issue. There are many other ways that we can save every golf course a percentage of their maintenance budget. That’s my ultimate goal and we will be revealing all of our ideas in due course.
One thing is clear with golf in the situation it is in, in terms of attracting new people to play the sport, we all need to start looking outside the box. It’s good that the European Tour is looking at innovative new ideas. Often you don’t know whether something different is going to work until you try it. There’s no harm in ever trying something new.
This month sees the introduction of the Tour’s GolfSixes tournament in England where teams of two players representing 16 different nations will battle it out for a £1 million purse, one country against another. The six-hole course circles an activity-packed fanzone. Now that really is different and it will be interesting to see what sort of impact it makes.
As far as growing the game of golf, the European Tour has, in all honesty, a hard time. They’re not in such a strong position as the R&A and the USGA and the PGA Tour of America. Their main responsibility is to their constituents, to their Members.
Their role is to look after the prize money and the corporate money coming in. If, in running the Tour successfully, it helps to encourage young kids to go to tournaments and follow their favourite players, then that’s great but the kids are more likely to watch them on TV.
Let me give you a prime example of the position golf is in. Go back 25-30 years. I took my two kids to a ski resort in the United States. My son wanted to be a snowboarder, my daughter wanted to be a skier. Back then, pretty much every ski resort in the United States banned snowboarding. In their mind, they had an image of snowboarders as grungy guys with long hair who didn’t care much about rules and etiquette.
So what happened? The ski resorts went into decline because family holidays were taken elsewhere because one or two members of the family wasn’t allowed to snowboard. When the ski resorts realised what was happening they decided to allow snowboarding on their slopes. Accordingly, things changed in the industry almost overnight. Their switch in attitude worked. This is precisely what golf has got to do. We’ve got to think outside the box and do things differently. The ski resorts had to get out of their old ways of thinking and that’s exactly what golf has to do.
Cricket and the shortened limited-over Twenty20 cricket is another good example for the rest of the world. It’s not a game that’s played in America so it’s a hard analogy to explain to Americans.
I love Twenty20 cricket. I watch it on television when I go home. It’s great fun. It’s over and done with in half a day and there’s always a winner and a loser on the day. It’s a different, faster form of the game. You can also see some wonderful techniques that you’re not used to seeing in Test cricket. However, in cricket you’ve still got your big international Test matches and in golf you’ll still have the Majors, regardless of any other shortened version of the sport.
Golf is not quick to change, though. When you look at some of the more traditional golf courses in America like Augusta National and Shinnecock Hills, their members most likely have their iPads and smart phones and a PC on their desk but they don’t want their golf club to change. Certain clubs in America are too set in their ways to want to see anything change. They just will not embrace it, and that’s unfortunate.
One answer is to speed up the game at both the amateur and professional level in every way possible. We’ve been fighting the cause of eradicating slow play for as long as I can remember but, again, it’s tough to change it.
Drive down any motorway and you may have one or two slow drivers up ahead who are holding up all the traffic on the road but you can’t take 50 fast drivers and drive through them. Slow play has been an irritant on the US PGA Tour for 40 years. Watch tournament golf on TV any day and you’ll see golfers pulling out their little books with all the arrows marked up, and referring to their yardages and how the greens slope and then discussing the options with their caddies.
I think that golf has got to really test a player’s skill and ban these books from tournaments. Jack Nicklaus ‘invented’ the yardage book but it really has no place in tournament golf. Before yardage books, everyone played by look and feel. If the guys are good enough then they don’t need a yardage book. When I go out to play a round with my son, if we don’t finish within three-and-a-half hours, shame on us. Golf is something you should play naturally, not by constantly referring to course guides. And it should be fun.
When I nearly won The Open it was raining and blowing a gale for the first two days. I didn’t use a yardage book for 50% of the shots I played. A practice round should tell you what you need to know about the golf course. It’s far better to look and feel the situation, which will enable you to play the right shot. Remove the use of yardage books and you would speed up the game for the benefit of players and spectators.
I’m a big fan of match play. Many amateurs prefer to play match play instead of stroke play. It’s one thing I always looked forward to, playing in Europe, where there were more match play tournaments. If you had a big match play tournament on the schedule, say four times a year, I believe that would be popular with players and spectators. Man-on-man match play is certainly more exciting for the players and the fans. The sudden-death element certainly makes it more appealing.
One thing I find far from appealing is the quality of some of the commentating on TV. They’re as boring to listen to as it is to watch boring golfers play. You get that constant monotone voice: everyone hits a great shot, nobody has an opinion, nobody wants to upset the applecart, and everyone’s got the greatest short game in the world.
When I was in the gym watching The Masters on TV last month I turned the sound off and listened to my favourite music and simply cranked up the volume.