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December 2019

The Case for Diversity

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By Jay Karen
CEO
NGCOA

In today’s America, it’s hard to escape the topic of how demographics are changing. I’m always thinking about how these greater societal, economic and political issues – specifically changing demographics – relate to golf.

I think there are two ways to look at the prospect of diversity and inclusion in the golf industry: passionately or dispassionately. When I say dispassionately, I mean looking through the spectrum of cold facts and numbers. The passionate perspective may derive from feelings of right and wrong or justice and injustice, and wanting to do something about it. Whichever path you choose, I believe there is a strong case to be made for extending the invitation to audiences that traditionally have been left out or left behind by our industry.

If you take the dispassionate approach, you could sympathize with the position that marketing consultant Andrew Wood takes in his advice to his social media audience: going after “ghetto kids” (his words) is a waste of time. Instead, he proclaims course operators should invite back the bread-and-butter demographic (middle-aged white guys) who have money to spend and their old clubs hanging up in the garage. Because, well, young minority boys and girls aren’t going to give your business a game-changing lift next quarter or next year. If you look at the facts, he’s not wrong about the short-term. The chasm is too far to achieve transformative and widespread change overnight (although I think at the local level, one could see change pretty quickly with the right approach). Yet, if you look at the facts of where demographics are going in America, it won’t even be one generation until there are more non-white than white people in our country. If you’re in a business that has culturally been tied to a shrinking demographic, at a minimum you’d better consider the facts.

Then there is the passionate case for diversity and inclusion. Simply put, golf has a checkered history of cultural exclusion. For generations, golf clubs had white-only and men-only policies. The pendulum was inextricably stuck on one side, and many leaders in our industry believe we should push the pendulum in the opposite direction. There’s a feeling we have a chance to get this right, and several organizations are doing very good work. We would do well to remember the opposite of exclusion is inclusion, and by inclusion I do not mean the door to your business is open to anyone who may want to pay for a tee time. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and going into the world to seek out women and ethnic minorities, and literally invite them to come.

Knowing small business owners and operators as I do, it’s not always practical to think about about 20 or 30 years from now. You’re rightfully concerned with how the business will do next week or next month. It may not always seem practical to spend time, energy and money on diversity work, when the “pay off” may not be seen for a very long time. But I believe inviting the “old guys” back to the course, who gave up the game 10 years ago, and reaching out to the underrepresented gender and ethnicities are not mutually exclusive. 

I’m reminded of that old saying, “Save money like you’re going to live forever, but buy life insurance like you may die today.” It’s possible to simultaneously take care of today AND look out for the future. It’s our job as association leaders, who run organizations that presumably will exist in perpetuity, to look at the next quarter and the next half-century. Ignoring the diverse future would be passionately, dispassionately and irresponsibly wrong. 
When faced with the opportunity to invest time, energy and money to create a more inclusive reality in golf, we should look at the facts and listen to the better angels of our nature.

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