The focus of the Crittenden Golf Conference in Dallas on October 1 – 3 was how to grow the game of golf and attract new club members. Some highlights from the conference follow.

According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers has declined during 2005 to 2011 from approximately 30 million to 25.7 million, declining each year. The decline in number of golfers has impacted the market, with 157 golf courses closing and 19 opening in 2011. There are some recent encouraging signs. The number of golf rounds is eight percent higher for the first part 2012 compared with 2011. However, conference participants attributed most of the increase to the dry weather in 2012.

The PGA is implementing two programs to grow the game of golf. First, Golf 2.0 is a targeted, focused, long-range strategic plan to substantially increase the number of golfers, the rounds of golf played and the revenue generated from golf over the next decade. The goal is to increase the number of golfers from the current level to 40 million by 2020. The program identifies 12 initiatives designed to retain and strengthen core golfers, engage the “lapsed,” and drive new players.

Second, the PGA launched the Junior Golf League in 2011, which is designed to better socialize the game for boys and girls, ages 13 and under. Borrowing from popular children’s team sports such as soccer, it features team vs. team competitions in structured leagues. In 2012, PGA Junior League Golf saw close to 2000 participants on over 120 teams in more than 20 select markets. In 2013, it will become available nationally.

One panel focused exclusively on increasing female and minority participation. It was noted that over 91 percent of U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2010 was from minorities. Some strategies suggested to increase golf participation among women and minorities included hiring women and minority staff, encouraging family golf and activities, using targeted advertising and marketing, developing community outreach, targeting minority business networks and shortening the courses.

A panel of club operators mentioned using concierge and reciprocal programs to enhance the appeal of club membership. One management company highlighted its software program that allows the club manager to track spending and facilities use by member over any period of time, allowing management to target members whose use is declining.

Golf is at a crossroads. The industry is paying attention and taking active measures to increase golfer participation. Time will tell whether golf will become a secondary pass time or once again become one of America’s great traditions.