Golf is seen by many as an exclusive sport, reserved for elite players or those who belong to a club or league. This impression has made golf a high-end sport and limits its potential for growth. But Glen Murray and his team at the Ritz Carlton Group in Sarasota, Florida, hope to change that by opening the sport to families, women and special groups like military veterans.

Murray has been a member of the PGA since 2005 and has been working with Ritz Carlton for the last 10 years. He participates on the board for Northern Florida PGA, which represents 1,500 of the group’s nearly 28,000 members and is the fourth largest golfing section of the nation. Murray has seen the game evolve over the years and is well aware of its elite reputation.

“With golf, there’s a bit of a stigma around it, going to the golf course can be very intimidating just because it’s very much a club,” Murray said. This is just one of the limits that he has seen with the sport, and he is working with others to help boost interest and growth in golf.

“I have seen the game peak in terms of growth, I’ve seen it flat line,” said Murray. “And really it’s created an environment where those involved in the game have spent the last couple years talking about how we’re going to get it to grow again.”

One solution is through a new initiative dubbed Golf 2.0, which reaches across industry lines to bring together all kinds of organizations. The program will involve the PGA of America, equipment companies and golf course companies, who will all double and triple promotional efforts for the game. Of course, this is only one step being taken to stir growth.
In an effort to break down the barriers, Murray said the Ritz Carlton Group has implemented programs to target different groups, especially families. It began a “Kids Learn & Play Free” program to promote golf as a family-friendly sport. Children accompanying an adult can play for free at the resort course and receive free lessons. This allows kids to not only pick up the sport of golf, but also lets them actually play with their parents and spend more time together.

There are also a few programs with the military that let veterans play courses at a discounted rate. Murray’s team partnered up with Adaptive Golf Academy to implement a program that works with disabled veterans and helps them play golf. According to the AGA website, “adaptive golf means making any modification(s) (big or small) to how the game is learned and played via some form of a modified/adapted swing technique, equipment used, and/or the delivery of instruction.” The organization works with PGA instructors, as well as coaches at the resort, to train them on how to develop an adaptive golf program. Through this joint effort, the game of golf can be opened up to a wider array of people than ever before, particularly those in the military who thought they could never play it again due to a disability sustained in combat.

While military veterans and children are key target groups for golf, Murray said the biggest potential for the game can be found with women. June is women’s golf month, and the Ritz Carlton Group will celebrate the national initiative along with the PGA by providing programming and instructional offerings for women at its facilities throughout the month. Apart from that, the resort does a women’s “Intro to Golf” afternoon class, which gives beginners a great environment to learn in, since they will be surrounded by others of the same ability and skill level.

Ritz Carlton Group-Glen Murray
The message is, come to this class, you don’t have to have any ability, you just have to have a desire to learn.

The industry is also reaching out to current and new players through the national tour, junior league events, and various tournaments around the country. One of the best ways to get the word out about golf is working with the , Murray said, since it is active in the community and has connections all over. The association has been a solid partner when promoting tournaments at the Ritz-Carlton, according to Murray, and the facility certainly hosts a lot of events.

“We host a number of competitions at our club for the best players in the state,” he said. “We had the 2012 Florida Open on our course this year, a lot of state qualifiers. Three years running, we’ve had the American Junior Golf Association here.”

When the course hosts the national tour, Murray said there are always spots left open for locals to try and qualify. This is just another way to make the sport more accessible and break down barriers.

The ultimate goal of all these initiatives, promotions and programs is to encourage more people to pick up the game of golf and boost overall growth in the sport. The golf industry is eager to welcome more members to courses around the country, opening the pearly white gates of its elite clubs and saying “come on in.”