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LAGC personnel tackling new initiative to re-energize game

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By Mike Cote

Steve Wickliffe has plenty of items on his plate right now.
Along with all the usual summer happenings at Los Alamos Golf Course, Wickliffe also has the extra jobs of heading for meetings with Los Alamos County officials, preparing for the upcoming improvements at the course and making sure the course is in the best condition it can be.
On top of that, there is a new nationwide golf initiative that LAGC has adopted in order to boost participation numbers.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Wickliffe, LAGC’s manager. “At the same time, we know at the facility, Donnie (Torres), Mike (Phillips) and myself, the county recreation staff, we have to be proactive. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Golf 2.0, which sounds like it might be a new software download, is actually an initiative spearheaded by the PGA and the U.S. Golf Association to grow participation in the game.
Nationally, the number of active golfers has slipped for most of the last decade. According to Golf Week magazine, 4.6 million players had left the game since 2005, while rounds played have fallen from 518 million to 475 million, alarming numbers for those in the industry.
The Golf 2.0 initiative is three-tiered — to retain regular players, to get players who have left golf or play infrequently to get involved and to introduce new players to the game.
The golf industry appears to be into Golf 2.0 for the long haul and the LAGC crew is no exception.
“The game has been challenged the last decade or so,” said Wickliffe. The declining rounds are because of competition with other recreation activities, just a bunch of other things to do.”
Unless the game and the business adapts to that competition, things could worsen for golf. To that end, Wickliffe said LAGC is doing several things to get people excited or re-excited in golf.
Among the programs LAGC wants to broadcast are its Get Golf-Ready and its Golf-By-The-Hole programs.
The Get Golf-Ready program was designed for infrequent or new players who might be intimidated at the thought of going out and having to stumble around to figure out what they’re doing during a round.
The program, which was begun in May but may be reinstituted before the end of summer, consisted of a week-long series of 90-minute classes. The classes focused on introduction of clubs, swinging and strategy.
About a dozen players took part in the May session and was successful enough that LAGC is hoping to hold it again, possibly as early as the end of this month.
The Golf-By-The-Hole program has actually been around for sometime at the golf course but hadn’t been marketed as diligently as a lot of its other programs.
According to the PGA’s research into declining rounds, time constraints is among the most cited reason for participation drop — an average 18-hole round can take four hours or more to finish.
As an alternative to playing a full 9 or 18 holes, LAGC allows golfers to play a few holes for around $2 per hole. Wickliffe said it’s also more economical for those who can’t afford to pay for several rounds each season.
Additionally, the course will loan out equipment free of charge for beginning golfers who want to try their luck on the practice range and see if the game is something they might be interested in.
Other programs include LAGC’s Family Fun Nights, which include lessons, play and dinner for interested families, and its Starting New at Golf, or S.N.A.P. program, for very young golfers, which meets at East Park. LAGC also offers specials for new golfers, such as combination lessons and punch-card packages at a reduced rate.
Wickliffe said one of the main goals of the newcomer packages is to make golf more affordable for those who shy away from the sport due to the price.
Through June, the number rounds played at LAGC had gone up 14 percent over 2011, although weather conditions have been more favorable and the course didn’t lose several prime days of play due to wildfire as it did last summer.
Wickliffe said needed maintenance was done early in the summer and the course’s antiquated watering system got some repair work done and is operating more efficiently than last year.
It hasn’t been all good news this summer, though, as the Atomic City Invitational, the longest-running match-play tournament in the state was called off due to low registration numbers.
There are no shortages of challenges at the course, not the least of which is prepping for some major course improvements, not the least of which will be the construction of a modern clubhouse.
The reconstruction efforts at the 65-year-old course — the second-oldest in the state — will bring with it plenty of headaches for what Wickliffe thinks will be a 4-5 year process and could make a big chunk of the course unusable during that time.
“The biggest challenge will come when the renovating begins to take place,” Wickliffe said. “When the work around the course is going, we’ll try to incorporate golf and keep golf going during the restoration process.”
The schedule for how golf and construction will co-exist at LAGC is still up in the air. A groundbreaking ceremony/photo-op for the clubhouse is scheduled for Aug. 24, with actual groundbreaking to occur sometime after Labor Day.
Wickliffe said he hopes when LAGC’s upgrades are completed, the facility will be in a stronger position to compete for golf business against the likes of Pojoaque’s Towa Golf Course and Black Mesa Golf Course in Española.
“I’d like to see a situation where those that are hosting events give Los Alamos Golf Course a second look,” he said. “I’d like to see us in a position where we could compete favorably for that business. I hope we’ll have a practice facility that would encourage more players to take up the game and continue playing the game.”