CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The game of golf has roots that can be traced back hundreds of years. But within the last decade, concern has grown over the game attracting the next generation of golfers.
"The number of golfers in 2016 dropped, a familiar no-growth refrain in the National Golf Foundation's annual report on golf participation," the Golf Digest said.
But counting in the millennial enticing creation of Top Golf as well as other off-course factors, the NGF says they are not worried.
"We decided it was time to add off-course participation in order to track the dynamic growth we have seen there, and which we believe will continue," NGF president and CEO Joe Beditz told Golf Digest.
As for on the course, the greatest growth of golfers is girls.
"Right now, junior girls is the largest growing segment in the game of golf. So I think that's really a great thing for golf and where golf is going in the future," said Dana Rader.
Rader is molding the next generation of golfers at her golf academy, the Dana Rader Golf School, located in Ballantyne.
Rader began golfing at age 16 at Myers Park country club in 1980. After attempting a professional career and attending qualifying school, she realized her real passion was teaching the game she loved so deeply. Today, Rader has been teaching golf for 37 years.
We caught up with Rader to pick her mind on the game's future, the PGA Championship being held in the Carolinas, and why golf is so meaningful to her.
Q: What does it mean to you to teach this game to the next generation of golfers?
Rader: I think anyone that comes to a structure like this program is serious about wanting to get better, they're serious about investing the time that it takes to play the game so we take it very seriously. That's all we do here is really two things, we teach and we club-fit. We make sure we have the right equipment and make sure they're armed with the right information and practical information to improve their game.
Q: Why do you think the junior girls area of golf is the one that's growing the most?
Rader: I think it's a lot more communication now. I think you're seeing a lot of synergies between the PGA and LPGA. The KPM Championship with the PGA for women has been a great thing to bring into women's golf. I also think in like 2009 there were about 7,000 junior girls. Now there's an upwards of 60 to 70,000 girls playing the game so the LPGA has done a great job and PGA introducing different programs and really building those programs for girls.
Our junior program for both boys and girls are growing and that's where the growth has to be. So I think more PGA and LPGA professionals around the country have put more emphasis on growing the game through the grassroots programs for junior golf.
Q: Would you agree the overall numbers of golf participants are declining?
Rader: The game has had a sifting period. There's a lot of people that took up the game, didn't really like the game so we've had a lot of surge in people joining the game then dropping the game. I think what you've seen now is people that are playing the game are really invested and they're staying with the game so the numbers have leveled off.
Really, I think the game has grown in terms of people staying in the game rather than jumping in and jumping out. Also, it's important to know that the game of golf brings in more money to charity than any other sports organization in the world, that includes the NBA and NFL. So golf brings in a lot of money for charity and great reasons.
When you read a lot of articles that golf is in decline, I don't think it's in decline, I think it has just leveled off.
Q: What do you think the PGA and golf organizations are doing to entice the youth and next generation of golfers?
Rader: The PGA has done a great job for these junior programs in terms of having a junior league, so it's kind of an inner club around different towns so a lot of kids are joining. They love it, there's competitions, there are colorful shirts. So I think the PGA and LPGA are doing programs now that are not the old stale programs but they've put some energy behind it, color behind it, more fun and kids are not going to play the game if it's not fun. It has to be fun, a lot of color and exciting for them.
Q: Technology is completely changing the game of golf. For example, professionals are now able to track their swings and study them. How do you think technology is changing the future of golf?
Rader: I think technology is an important part of golf, but I emphasize part.
Part of it is understanding the mechanics of it. Understanding path and plane and the technology really helps emphasize that. But also it's a teacher that is able to communicate in a way that a student understands and can make changes. So, reading a number is one thing, being able to communicate it as a teacher to the student so they can make the change is an entirely different process. I think when you've got a great teacher and great technology, that's a great partnership.
Q: What do you hope the future of golf has in store?
Rader: I hope the game continues to change in terms of getting better and golf courses become a little more user friendly, not so difficult. But I think the game is really on a good track right now and I think the programs we have with the PGA and LPGA are going to continue to get better. The main thing is keeping people focused to play the game.
Q: How excited are you that the PGA Championship is in Charlotte?
Rader: I think it's amazing that the PGA Championship is going to be here. I think it's great for the Charlotte area and the Carolinas to have a major championship. It's incredible for that to be here.
Q: What would you tell people that don't realize the significance of this event coming to our area?
Rader: I think with Wells Fargo, we did have almost all the top players here. So, they might equate that to the same thing. But you've got all the top players in the world here (with the PGA Championship) and that's a big significant difference. And the fact that it's a major, you know there's only four of them, so this being one of them is an incredible opportunity for us to see that right here at our back door.
Q: Have you seen any of your students go on to play at a professional level?
Rader: Some of them have. Less than five percent who play the game can go onto play professional golf.
I've had a lot of players that want to go embark on that. I have players now that have a great chance, I have two players right now that are in college that have a great opportunity to go to the professional ranks but in any case it's a very small percentage of people.
I'm more of a grassroots teacher. I love working with collegiate players, I love working with high school kids and help them accomplish their dreams to get a college scholarship and go on to play professionally if that's what they want to do. But I'm really grassroots, I want to teach people the fundamentals and I want them to enjoy the game and keep coming back and have some fun with it.
Q: What does golf mean to you?
Rader: It has taught me discipline, it has taught me a lot about the parallels of life because you're going to deal with disappointment, you're going to deal with a bad day and bad luck. You're going to deal with things that parallel you to life.
It taught me about discipline, commitment, hard work, great work ethic. The game across the board has taught me a lot of things about life and a lot of things about understanding there is a process of learning and you cannot shortcut that.
If you try to be really good at the game, that's really difficult so you really have to have a process and work on it with a plan.
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