Tom Buzbee
Vail, CO, Colorado

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September 13, 2012
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Vail Valley Voices: How to get golfing out of the rough

The Vail Daily recently put together an informative and detailed study of the state of our local golf industry here in the valley.

Gypsum Creek Golf Course and the town of Gypsum are proud to be a part of what is probably the finest collection of mountain golf properties in the world. The golf experience we have all worked so hard to create is clearly changing, and we appreciate the Daily's effort to tell the story. We would like to expand on a few items that golfers and non-golfers alike may find of interest.

The first paragraph of the first article in the series says "the sport of golf isn't experiencing the same level of success and growth as its winter counterpart" (snow sports).

This depends on how you look at it. As our resort community has evolved, over a dozen quality courses have emerged in close proximity. All of these facilities work together to provide a varied and memorable golf experience for our residents and summer visitors.

Their individual balance sheets have fluctuated over the years, but overall, this effort has been quite a success story, especially considering the challenges that were overcome to bring these facilities to maturity.

Unfortunately, as the series points out, the golf industry got a bit ahead of itself, both locally and nationwide, and the current supply does exceed the present demand.

This is due to a variety of factors, and the Daily touched on many of them over its weeklong series. Many other facets of the U.S. economy are experiencing the same type of fiscal hangover as they evaluate the after effects of a buying and building binge that got a little carried away.

Even our beloved snow sports industry went through turbulent times and has persevered thanks to the emergence of a snowboarding population that literally saved skiing when it was stale and withering on the vine.

These snowboarders were uncomfortably "different." Thankfully, snowboarding, teleskiing, backcountry, sidecountry, snowshoeing, tubing, snowblading and other forms of sliding down the hill have been welcomed and integrated into the winter recreation lifestyle. This variety has allowed the aggressive expansion of terrain and facilities at our winter resorts to realize its potential.

Now the golf industry is faced with a similar challenge. After years of building thousands of hard, expensive courses that are not always fun to play, we have to take a hard look at the golf experience and ask ourselves how do we make this fun again? We, too, will have to take a different look at our game and the experience.

The Monday, Aug. 27, piece, "The next generation of golf," focused mostly on growth of the game, and it was spot on.

The town of Gypsum, Gypsum Creek Golf Course and Western Eagle County Recreation District have been working year-round, mostly behind the scenes, on this challenge. To round out the informative series, we wanted to take a minute to explain a bit of what we are up to in our combined efforts to grow the game.

The town of Gypsum is in its third season of ownership and operation of the former Cotton Ranch Golf Club. This year, the Gypsum Creek facility pledged to focus on serving the entire community, including our summer visitors.

In order to accomplish this, a healthy, balanced attitude toward the game and the experience was embraced. This would be a fun place to come to, and new players would be comfortable here. Growing the game became an immediate priority at all age and demographic levels. We reached beyond the typical avenues and knew we had to touch people where they were, not sit back and expect them to wander in.

With this in mind, we immediately embraced the Colorado Golf in Schools program. The program is a collaborative effort between the Allied Golf Associations of Colorado to introduce school-age children across the state to the game of golf and the valuable life skills it teaches. This statewide program is in more than 60 schools and has reached more than 10,000 kids to date at no cost to either the student or the school!

Our small part involved over 300 local students at Gypsum Creek Middle School and Eagle Valley High School who were introduced to the game on the golf course during their normal school day over the past year. We even pick the kids up at the front door of the middle school in golf carts! All earned the privilege to return to the course to play and practice with family and friends at little or no cost. The program is being fine tuned and ready for expansion in the coming school year. Our goal is for every kid in the schools to spend time on the course.

In the Monday segment, Eagle Ranch Director of Golf Jeff Boyer noted that kids tend to drop off from the junior programs as they get older and involved with other sports. Very true. Colorado Golf in Schools is targeting this problem, and the town of Gypsum is doing whatever it takes to turn this around.

Former PGA tour player Gary McCord noted, "The game has got to get younger." Well put. In order to keep the kids playing, Gypsum Creek continues to be the home of the Eagle Valley Devils golf teams. The teams use the facility to practice and play, with several adult players pitching in to donate supplies and equipment. The kids have an area in the clubhouse where they keep their stuff and can even do homework after school. Three high school tournaments are held each year at Gypsum Creek at little or no cost to all of the schools that attend.

A related effort is ongoing via a partnership between the Western Eagle County Recreation District and the town of Gypsum. The WECMRD-PGA sports camp launched its first sessions this past summer and was sold out with a waiting list. This academy is a fun, interactive approach to growing junior participation in golf with PGA and LPGA professionals at the forefront of the experience.

The objective is to develop core golfers who will continue to play socially or competitively, based on an individual's desires. The progressive curriculum introduces golf while developing long-term athletic development. This program is designed to take the golf experience to a higher level while complementing The First Tee and other successful junior golf programs. Next year's offering promises to be bigger and better.

Monday's story also referenced golf legend Jack Nicklaus and his concerns that the industry needs to get creative in its approach to growing the game. Jack is convinced that the game needs to meet potential new players on their own turf (like Golf in Schools).

Jack believes, as we do, that the parks and recreation systems across America have done well at interesting kids in team sports, and golf can reach out and meet kids and families there, in a less awkward environment, too. WECMRD and the town of Gypsum believe this and innovative programs are being discussed to make this happen at local ballfields and playgrounds with clubs and balls that are easy to use and safe.

The reference to "Golf 2.0," pioneered by the Allied Associations of Golf, is also much appreciated. Get Golf Ready is a cornerstone of this initiative in which never-ever golfers are prepared to play for a very reasonable fee. Gypsum Creek hosted several Get Golf Ready groups this season with great results. This has been done by reaching out to local employers and encouraging coworkers to form small groups and come to the course.

Learning with people you know makes it fun and removes a bit of the awkward feeling. Just ask the flight instructors at the High Altitude Aviation Training Site! These are all thriving programs that yield rewarding results at your local community golf course. But perhaps the most important effort of all is the one that goes on every day. Everyone, even first-timers, are now welcome not just at Gypsum Creek but at thousands of facilities across the country.

The barriers of entry to the game are coming down. Golf facilities everywhere are on board, realizing that we need to attract people to the game on their own terms if this great sport is to grow and flourish.

Gypsum Creek encourages those new to the game with a smile and an offer to borrow clubs and balls at no charge if they are new to the game. A junior can play free here with a paying adult. No coupons or tricks. Borrow clubs and balls, too. We help out with free supervised practices whenever we can.

Gypsum Creek wants a spouse or friend to try the game a bit as they ride along in the cart with an experienced player. Families can play very reasonably with our family rate during quiet times, and don't feel intimidated. This is becoming the norm as the industry reaches out to bring the game to the people.

Yes, there are challenges and mistakes were made over the years, as the series points out. Golf has dug itself a bit of a hole that it is now climbing out of. But we want everyone to clearly understand that the industry is ready to conquer the challenge and will be successful in the long run.

The closing piece mentions David Hueber's point that we have mistakenly created "a product that customers don't want to buy." This has been true, whether we know it or not, even right here in our own backyard.

The good news is that Gypsum Creek and other facilities locally and across the country now realize this and are determined to turn things around at the grassroots level. Kind of a "trickle up" approach.

And it's working. Come and see for yourself. Two holes, four holes, or just walk along. Maybe just chip and putt. Stop in for a relaxed and affordable lunch.

The kids and new players have a blast when they get out on the course and see firsthand what a beautiful, wondrous place a golf course really is. Our courses are invaluable assets to our communities and quality of life.

The ongoing challenge is to find creative ways to introduce current and future generations to this game of a lifetime.

We are always open to suggestions. Hmm, a "slopestyle" golf park, perhaps? Believe it or not, lots of similar ideas are already in the works.

We will succeed because, as McCord says, "People like to play it." Golf, the game of a lifetime. What a great game it is!

Tom Buzbee is the director of golf at Gypsum Creek Golf Course.


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The VailDaily Updated Sep 13, 2012 04:11PM Published Sep 13, 2012 04:10PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.