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Here’s a news flash: The game of golf is thriving.

Here’s another: Unless we’re careful, we’re going to screw it up.

If we want golf to stay healthy, all of us in the industry must be very smart about how we welcome the new golfers (while not alienating the old) and how we make the game fun as well as challenging. We must stop looking back at our fussy, old-fashioned ways and allow golf to evolve.

You may have read some of this before, but are you doing anything to sustain the boom?

Start by thinking about what the new golfers want: They want to play a game, have fun outdoors and be with their friends. So what if their shirts don’t have collars, their sweatshirts have hoods and they like to listen to music on the golf course? (I like to listen to music on the golf course, too.)

The future of golf — if it’s to have one — is being more casual and flexible. We need to adjust with the times and assess the needs of these new golfers. They’re the next generation and we want to keep them.

I’m all for preserving golf’s traditions and history, but the past is just that. Even what we think of as the stuffy, blue-blood private clubs are going to have to bend somewhat to the times if they want to survive. The smart ones already are.

Our new golfers are coming from every community, every diverse group, every social and economic class. That’s great! Now it’s our job to welcome them and help them learn what’s important to enjoy this great game with passion and without prejudice. It starts with each of us and remember: A welcome and a thank you goes a long way.

Helping us should be golf’s governing bodies, who have an opportunity to examine their missions and abilities and put them to work. Most important is the PGA of America, whose professionals need to teach more than swing mechanics. They need to explain everything from course etiquette to management, from playing the course to taking advantage of the unique social environment that a golf club, public or private, provides.

These same teachers — and us, the golf course superintendents — need to reinforce the simple things that veteran golfers are supposed to know: replace or fill divots, pick up tees, repair ball marks, rake bunkers. Golf is the most social sport of all, and we need to remind people that it rests on the Golden Rule: “Leave it better than you found it!” If you don’t want to putt on pock-marked greens, start fixing your own ball marks!

Superintendents can contribute mightily to sustaining the boom.

  • Be mindful of golf course setup. Especially on busy days, find accessible hole locations. Put the hole in the middle of the green, if you want. User-friendly golf makes for happy (and repeat) customers. And there’s nothing wrong with a par or a good bogey.
  • Slow the greens. Dial them back and people will enjoy their rounds more. Most players can’t handle fast greens and we don’t need the stress of trying to keep them artificially slick.
  • I repeat: Slow the greens. Fast greens produce slow play. Nothing impedes new golfers more than over-the-top course conditions.
  • Check teeing grounds. Align players toward the desired target. On a busy day, think about closing the championship or way-back tee. Consider moving the tees up. Besides quickening pace of play, you’ll be doing most players a favor by getting them closer to where they should be teeing from anyway.
  • Be especially mindful of the first and 10th tees. Getting golfers off to a good start makes them happy and speeds play.
  • Educate them. Even many experienced golfers don’t understand aerification, topdressing, Fraze mowing, etc. You’ll be doing them and yourself a favor if you give them a little knowledge. But it comes with an important lesson: sometimes if you want A you have to give up B. If you want to play all year long, the greens are going to be a little bumpy for a few weeks. Educate, explain, illuminate. (And for the record, it takes more than one tweet a week prior to the work.)

A few tips for course operators:

  • Be realistic. Close the tee sheet at a reasonable time and don’t accept more re$ervation$ when there isn’t enough time to finish nine holes. Sell them nine when there’s only time for four and they won’t come back.
  • Exercise restraint. No fivesomes. Avoid single carts. Don’t squeeze play intervals below 10 minutes.
  • Keep your regulars happy. All this change can be tough, so find ways to keep your stalwarts happy (guaranteed prime tee times, longer advance-booking windows, etc.). Not only do you not want to lose them, you want them to help the newbies have a better time. Get creative (give a regular a free round if he or she plays with a bunch of new people) and you’ll get results.
  • Why not six holes? Another way to be creative is to offer shorter “rounds,” like three, six or nine holes when the tee sheet allows. They’re great ways for new golfers to ease into the on-course experience. So are clinics.

I give televised golf a hard time for making everyday golfers think their course should look like Augusta National. Here’s a way the TV folks can help: Do some taped segments that explain what really goes into course conditioning and why greens are sometimes punched, why grass is sometimes brown and why those little signs say “No Carts Beyond This Point.” When can they run these segments? How about when yet another PGA Tour player rereads his 3-foot putt for the fourth time. And, by the way, tell the viewer there isn’t enough time to take six practice swings, check yardage and back away from the shot when a bird chirps. None of us are as good as we think we are.

Golf is evolving, and whatever you think it was before, the new bywords are fun, friendship, diversity, exercise and satisfaction. They’re the keys to a good walk unspoiled — and great ways to keeping the boom going.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan