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LEAN GOLF: What is the Root Cause of Golf's Participation Problem?

golf root causeIn a piece I authored last weekend I introduced the concept of using Lean Six Sigma and change management methodology to solve golf's participation problem. Over the next few weeks (or however long I decide to continue tackling this problem) I will introduce additional methods that could be used to solve this growing issue. If we find a solution, great. If not, then at least we can generate discussion on the topic.

When faced with any problem statement -- any at all -- the knee-jerk reaction many people have is to start throwing out solutions. Problems make people uncomfortable. Solutions ease that discomfort. However, how do you know if the proposed solution is addressing the root cause of the problem, or just a symptom of something much bigger?

A tool commonly used in both lean and change management methodology is the "5 Whys;" a simple way to drill down to the true root cause of any problem. As the tool's name suggests, all you have to do is start with a problem statement and ask "Why?" to each resulting "answer." Let's give it a shot.

Problem Statement: Golf is losing players every year and at an alarming rate.

How alarming? The Wall Street Journal suggests as much as 1 million players a year. That's insane. Like, really insane. Let's dig deeper.

Why is golf losing players?

There are many ways to answer this question. One reason might be that golf takes too long to play. Does it make sense, then, to find ways to speed up the game (i.e. a 15-inch golf hole)? Or would we just be addressing a symptom of a much deeper problem? Hmmm...

Why does golf take so long to play?

Again, lot's of roads to take here. One reason why golf takes so damn long is because people suck at playing it. In fact, the average golf score still hovers around 100 strokes despite decades of new technology. That's a lot of whacks during a golf round, and every swing takes time. That $500 driver won't do you any good if you still swing like an orangutan.

Why are people so bad at golf?

Because golf is also really, really expensive. That includes new equipment and golf lessons; both of which can improve your game in their own right. For example, I took golf lessons for 12 months recently and it cost me about as much as my entire set of clubs. That's not cheap.

Why is golf so expensive?

The million-dollar question. Does anybody really know the answer? Golf course maintenance costs a boatload, but so does keeping up park district baseball fields, soccer fields, nature walks, and basically everything else you can do as an alternative to playing 18 holes. Yet the cost of those activities pales in comparison to what golf courses charge you. Add on the cost of actually learning how to play the game better (i.e. lessons) and you've got a second mortgage payment.

By using the tool expressed above (and yes, I know I only asked 'Why?' four times), we can see that had we stopped at "The game takes too long" and started implementing solutions, we would have not addressed a much bigger problem in golf: cost. I propose that if we lower the costs associated with playing the game and actually encourage people to improve their skill, the average score will drop, which will speed up pace-of-play problems, encouraging more people to play the game over time.

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