Golf club and golf ball

Let The People In: The Accessibility Problems In Golf And Publishing

It’s a somewhat known fact that, at times, I play golf. Well, I attempt to play golf. I don’t do it with any frequency, and so I have only a moderate level of success when I do play.

There are a lot of reasons I don’t play more often. A round of golf can take a lot of time, especially on weekends. I live in a place where the courses are closed for five or six months of the year, or they are open but it’s 40 degrees and raining. Traveling to play golf can be expensive.

I like the sport, and I like playing with other people (even ones I’m paired up with for the round, as long as they are good-natured about my lack of skill). It’s just a commitment I am unlikely to make, most days.

Apparently I’m not alone, as interest in golf has been flat to down for more than a decade. The trend led Thomas O’Toole, the incoming president of the United States Golf Association (USGA), to say last month that the organization needed to find ways to “make golf more accessible, sustainable, affordable and welcoming.

O’Toole may have been motivated to speak out by HackGolf.org, a somewhat unorthodox effort that launched in January. The site solicits crowdsourced content as it tries to answer the question, “How do we make golf more fun for everyone?”

HackGolf was announced at the annual merchandise show of the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA), which represents about 27,000 golf professionals, including those who manage courses and teach the game. The PGA followed that up by convening a task force “charged with growing the game beyond traditional means.” Its president, Ted Bishop, spoke plainly: “The golf experience needs to be redefined.”

This isn’t quite the position taken by the more traditional USGA. After acknowledging that other forms of golf might be useful in growing an audience for the sport, O’Toole quickly added, “We’re not going to call it golf.” So much for making golf more welcoming.

As Bob Carney pointed out in a response that appeared on the web site for Golf Digest:

If I play hoops in the backyard I call it basketball. And so does the NBA, I’m quite sure. It promotes the heck out of “the city game” and yet is quite happy to include suburban kids playing on adjustable hoops in their driveways. “Oh, I’m sorry. You can’t call that basketball until you’ve raised the hoop to 10 feet and played on sides of 5.”

Carney’s mini-rant came to mind earlier this month when Michael Kozlowski, editor in chief of Good e-Reader, posted “Self-publishers should not be called authors“. There, Kozlowski argues that anyone who doesn’t earn some minimum amount (he appears to think $5,000 is a good target) for a self-published book should be described as a “writer”.

In Koslowski’s world, only those who make some sort of living from their work (or are released by a traditional publisher) get to be called “authors”. His argument:

Calling everyone authors who puts words on a document and submits them to the public devalues the word so much, it makes it meaningless … I would like to see the process simplified, you are either a writer or a professional author. If you can earn your living from your writing, you are a professional author, anyone else is just a plain old writer. Indie authors and self-published authors who claim they are real authors makes me laugh.

Seriously: this comes from the editor of a web site dedicated to digital reading. “Please, just give me eBooks from traditional publishers. Life is too short to read the work of ‘writers.'”

As I argued last month, publishing needs to become more open to new voices, new approaches, new formats and, well, growing reading. Overall demand for traditionally published works has been static for the last several years. People who study the market describe it using terms like “limited pie”. We sound resigned to making the best of this relatively weak hand we’ve been dealt.

Writing for GolfWorld, Ron Sirak last month argued against the notion that “golf will never be more than a niche sport.” Building on the early promise of HackGolf.org, Sirak suggested that the USGA add public-golf representation to its executive committee, have private clubs offer scholarships to students who have demonstrated academic success and/or community service, and fund caddie programs to broaden the base of players.

Compare Sirak’s recommendations, Carney’s rant or Bishop’s support at the PGA with “The next chapter in protecting IP”, the theme of the most recent annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers. Circle the wagons, folks. We have IP to protect.

That’s the position the USGA has traditionally taken, as well: “We have something that works for us. Let’s make sure we keep it as it is.” The results in both cases follow a predictable path: limited interest, stagnant or declining demand and a world view that equates new entrants with breaking the rules.

The idea of crowdsourcing a solution to a far-flung problem doesn’t come naturally to the incumbents. HackGolf brings many voices into the discussion, in ways that established associations and industry organizations sometimes struggle to offer. As it happens, HackPublishing.org is available. What industry association would like to take the lead?

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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