Mike David is the executive director of the Indiana Golf Office.
In charge of all things golf in Indiana, he is in his 25th year on the job — a vocation he began in 1990.
Prior to that, he was a standout player at Ball State University.
Before that, he was one of the state’s top high school players at Columbus North.
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He began playing golf at age 7. He still plays regularly and has a handicap that fluctuates between a 2 and a 4.
He’s only 51.
As all of the above reflects, golf has been a lifelong passion for David, a Franklin resident who for a quarter-century has been the game’s chief advocate in Indiana.
On his watch, the Indiana Golf Office has grown in both staff size and mission scope. It has launched myriad initiatives, particularly on the junior golf side, to promote and grow the sport in the state, and directs more than 130 tournaments during the playing season.
Located in Franklin, the office has a full-time staff of seven and nearly two dozen interns who operate the five associations under the organization’s umbrella. Those associations are the IGA-PGA, the Indiana Golf Association, the Indiana Section PGA, the IWGA and the Indiana Golf Foundation.
Each has its own unique function, and David supervises all five.
Although he virtually has no free time during the golf season and only slightly less down time during the offseason months, David regards his vocation a true labor of love.
“I love what I do,” he said. “The job has really changed dramatically in 25 years. There’s so many different aspects to it now. When I started it was focused really on running golf tournaments. That’s probably the most visible thing we do, but it’s only a small part of what we do.
“So it’s really changed a lot, and there’s enough change that it continually keeps my interest, and there’s always a new challenge ahead, so it has been fun. Can’t complain too much about working in a sport that you love, and that’s why I got involved.
“I grew up playing. I started when I was 6 or 7. I love the game, and it’s just a treat to be able to work in this industry.”
But the industry, nationally and locally, has changed in the past 25 years and not all for the good.
In the 1980s and 1990s, recreational golf was at the peak of its popularity. Jam-packed courses and long waits for tee times were the norm. To keep up with demand, new courses seemed to open daily, and the cost of a round was on the rise.
But much has changed in the past 15 years.
Courses are no longer congested. Few new ones are being built. The number of rounds are down, and so is the cost of playing.
Industry leaders aren’t exactly sure why. Too many courses (there are 14 in Johnson County) is a common lament. But other factors, such as competition for recreational dollars and misconceptions about the game itself, are suspected to play roles.
Although the definition of a “golfer” varies (Is it someone who plays once a week? Once a month? Once a year?), studies by the National Golf Foundation reflect a sharp decline in participation.
In 2000, about 28.8 million golfers in the United States played 518.4 million rounds, according to the NGF. In 2012, about 25.3 million golfers played 489.5 million rounds.
Reversing the downward trend, or at the very least halting it, is the No. 1 objective for golf leaders such as David.
In Indiana, David has invested much time and energy in recent years to youth outreach. The signature effort is The First Tee program, a national initiative first launched in the state in 2012.
Designed to introduce kids between the ages of 5 and 18 to the game, First Tee is expected to reach nearly 90,000 Indiana youths by 2016.
What follows is a Q&A interview with David, lightly edited for clarity, who discusses everything from the function of the Indiana Golf Office to the state of the game locally and nationally to what’s being done to reignite interest in recreational play.
What exactly is the function of the Indiana Golf Office?
To really put it simply, it’s to market and promote the game of golf in Indiana. That’s in its simplest terms, but then you break it down into our major areas of involvement.
Certainly, tournaments are one of them. We’ll run over 130 tournaments a year during the golf season in Indiana. That’s certainly one of the more visible things we do. Overseeing and monitoring the handicapping system in Indiana would be one of our other major areas of emphasis.
And the third major area is all junior-golf-related, trying to bring more playing opportunities to kids, not only developing future golfers, but really focusing on passing along the life skills that go along with the sport. And I think with all of our different junior-golf-related activities, we really focus on those life skills.
We like to ask the question, “What other sport are you taught to call penalties on yourself, other than golf?” There aren’t very many. If you’re playing football and you can get away with a hold here or there, or in basketball if you can stay in the lane more than three seconds and get away with it, it’s OK. But golf’s one of the few sports where (playing fairly) is all up to the player.
What is the state of the sport today?
There are a lot of challenges with the game right now, without a doubt. And not just in Indiana; it’s across the country. In the mid-’90s, the predictions were that it was going to continue to grow at a rapid rate and, boy, we need to build enough courses to keep up with it. And what happened was, the courses were built, but the game leveled off. From a growth standpoint, it’s almost stagnant right now.
I think the numbers are roughly 3 million people come into the game every year, but you lose the same amount. So it’s not growing, yet the number of facilities out there really went through a major growth spurt. So it’s a simple supply-and-demand issue right now. There are too many courses and not enough players.
From a player’s standpoint, that’s great, because all of those places that used to be $50 to $75 to $100 are discounting. A lot of places we have in Indiana discounted before they were even opened. They were discounting before they even opened their doors. So from a player’s standpoint, we’ve got more playing opportunities than ever before, but from an industry standpoint it’s tough, because courses are struggling to get enough people in the door.
The expectations the players have from a course maintenance standpoint are very high, and it’s tough to keep up with those expectations.”
How do you address those issues? What needs to happen to turn it around?
What we’ve always done here for the 25 years I’ve been here is, we’ve always focused on junior golf. We’ve always tried to get kids playing early in hopes that they’re going to be lifetime players. I think that’s worked fairly well for us.
Golf World just came out with the stat last week that Indiana ranks ninth out of the 50 states with the number of (NCAA) Division I college players, which is pretty significant for a Midwestern state. I think that speaks well for our junior program. It speaks well for the emphasis that we’ve always put on junior golf. But beyond the competitive opportunities, there are three key things going on right now.
One is, the PGA of America came out a few years ago with a program called Get Golf Ready, and we’re really pushing Get Golf Ready programs to our golf professionals around the state.
Basically, Get Golf Ready is a series of five lessons for $99. So it’s a very affordable introduction to golf, and it takes people that might be intimidated by (golf tradition and etiquette). So it starts from the very basics. It teaches them some swing basics, and the final lesson they’re actually on the course. That’s more geared toward adults and trying to get them to play more golf.
The other two major programs out there right now are both junior-golf-related, which obviously is going to take awhile to see the benefits of that.
Of the two key junior programs we’re involved in, first and foremost, is The First Tee. We’ve seen phenomenal growth with The First Tee.
We’re now in 11 different programing locations around the state, and we are in 200 Indiana elementary schools, offering the National Schools Program, so we’re reaching close to 90,000 elementary school kids. To have that opportunity is huge for us, because you really need to get the kids at a young age and get them hooked on the game, and that’s what the National Schools Program, we think, is going to do.
Then the third program is the PGA Junior League, which is a relatively new program, and we’ve been one of the leaders in the country the first two years that’s it’s been in progress.
Basically, PGA Junior League is Little League for golfers. It’s kind of a less intimidating way for kids to get a start because you’re teamed up with another player, and you play a scramble against teams from other courses or other clubs.
So you don’t have to go out and post a score on your own. The kids have golf shirts with numbers on the backs, so we’re trying to focus on that team aspect and capitalize on Little League and soccer and all the other sports that are out there that are drawing more and more kids away from the game.
I’d say those are the three main things we’re working on right now to try to grow the game, but it’s a slow process. We didn’t get to where we are overnight, and you’re not going to fix it overnight, either.”
What exactly happened in the past 15 or 20 years that caused the downward cycle?
That’s the million-dollar question. You hear all kinds of discussions about that. Every meeting I go to, that’s a topic of discussion.
Whether it was families being pulled in more and more directions, or more activities that are taking more of the kids’ time, or now you hear the talk about, well, the current generation are so fast-paced, and they want immediate gratification, and golf’s too slow. So you hear all of those comments out there.
And honestly, I don’t know. It’s probably a combination of all of those things.
There are a couple of perceptions out there that are incorrect, and I don’t think the golf industry has done as good of a job about trying to correct those misconceptions as it probably could have.
Those two (misconceptions) are that “It takes too much time,” and “It’s too expensive.” There’s discounting being done everywhere right now, which is not a positive thing to say if you’re in the golf industry, but for the consumer you’ve got all kinds of really good playing opportunities.
The average price for an 18-hole round is $27. I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of getting that word out there. If you go to Kings Island for the day, or you go to a Pacers game, you spend $27 pretty quickly.
So for four hours of being outside and getting exercise, it’s really a bargain at that price.
And then I think the other misconception right now is, “It takes too long.” With the number of courses we have now, if it takes more than four hours to play, that’s abnormal. There’s enough free spaces on golf courses right now that it just doesn’t take that long to play.
So I think those are two misconceptions that are out there that have had an impact on how many people are playing the game. I’ve also heard that it’s too difficult.
Well, I don’t buy that. It’s not that easy to put a ball through a hoop or to do a lot of other sports. It’s not easy to run a marathon, either, so I don’t know that “golf is too difficult” is a valid reason, but I’ve heard that one thrown out there, too.
I think the key to golf is, you can play it forever. My dad passed away a few years ago, but he was still playing when he was 90. There just aren’t very many sports that allow you to do that.
So, hopefully, as this younger generation ages a little bit and quits playing video games, then they’ll look at, “OK, what can we do for recreation?” Golf’s always going to be there as that sport that you can play for a very long time.
Are you optimistic about the game’s future?
Yes. The values that the game has always had are still there. And I think when you do look at the number of youth programs that are out there, and the fact that the country kind of as a whole now is more focused on junior golf, I do think we’re moving in the right direction.
Will it ever hit the heyday that it once had? I don’t know. That remains to be seen, but I certainly don’t see golf going away anytime soon. I just think there are way too many values and too many benefits of the game. There will always be golfers.
Name: Mike David
Position: Executive Director of the Indiana Golf Office
Years in position: 25
High school: Columbus North (1982)
College: Ball State University (1986)
Golf background: Played on the varsity teams at Columbus North and Ball State; handicap fluctuates between 2 and 4
Wife: Betsy; son, Adam, 23; daughter, Amy, 20
Johnson County Golf Courses
Bluff Creek;2710 S. Old State Road 37, Greenwood
Cypress Run;7265 W. State Road 44, Franklin
Deer Valley;5357 E. County Road 300S
Hickory Stick;4422 Hickory Stick Blvd., Greenwood
Indian Springs;6721 S. County Road 200W, Trafalgar
The Legends of Indiana;2555 N. Hurricane Road, Franklin
Orchard Golf Center;251 N. State Road 135, Greenwood
Otte Golf Center;681 S. Sheek Road, Greenwood
Tameka Woods;4849 S. County Road 450W, Trafalgar
Timbergate;151 St. Andrews Ave., Edinburgh
Valle Vista, 755 E. Main St., Greenwood
Whispering Pines; Johnson County Park, 2949 E. North St., Edinburgh
Dye’s Walk Country Club;2080 State Road 135, Greenwood
Hillview Country Club;1800 E. King St., Franklin
ABOUT THE INDIANA GOLF OFFICE
Located in Franklin, the Indiana Golf Office encompasses five associations. They are:
- The IGA-PGA: One of only two such organizations in the country, Indiana Golf Association-Professional Golf Association is an amateur-professional partnership that promotes golf, develops future players and honors the game’s traditions.
- The IGA: The Indiana Golf Association is the governing body for amateur golf in Indiana as recognized by the United States Golf Association (USGA). The IGA administers the handicap program for amateurs and conducts amateur championships for Indiana players, including the IGA Mid Amateur, Senior Amateur, Match Play and State Amateur.
- Indiana Sectional PGA: The governing body for professional golfers in the state, the Indiana PGA is one of 41 sections for the Professional Golfers Association of America. The Indiana section administers tournaments, provides educational opportunities and assists with membership-related items for the nearly 600 PGA Members and Apprentices in the state.
- The IWGA: The Indiana Women’s Golf Association is the governing body of women’s golf in the state. Its primary mission is to promote women’s golf in Indiana and administer tournaments for amateur players, including the Mid Amateur, Match Play, Team Championship and the Indiana Women’s Amateur Championship.
- Indiana Golf Foundation: Established in 1994, the IGF’s mission is to create learning opportunities for young players. Funded by private and corporate contributions, IGF initiatives and activities include the Indiana Junior Tour, the Gongaware Junior Academy, the First Tee of Central Indiana, the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame and college scholarship programs.
SOURCE: Indiana Golf Office