Global golf tours embracing change with fresh thinking

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It would be a little too clich├ęd to open a column about changing times by quoting Bob Dylan, but hey, those words helped win him a Nobel Peace in literature, which I believe is like a FedEx Cup trophy to the rest of the non-golf world.

And sure, if we're really going to discuss how the times are a-changin', we might want to start with the presidential election. Or at the very least, the Chicago Cubs.

By comparison, the golf industry is moving at a leisurely pace. But the better point to be made here is that it is indeed moving forward, which hasn't always been the case.

For years, industry leaders have cited declines in both the number of people playing the game and the number of people watching the game at its highest level, so much so that the grassroots movement to "grow the game" has become synonymous with the rhetoric of these leaders.

Too often this has just been lip service. Sure, efforts to increase the amount of people playing golf shouldn't go unrecognized, but the world's biggest tours have largely remained stagnant. The popular takeaway has been that these tours are all in favor of growing the game, just as long as they don't have to veer too far from the status quo.

Three announcements in the past week alone, though, have already triggered the changing times in golf.

The PGA Tour revealed that next year's edition of the Zurich Classic will be a team event, featuring 80 two-man pairings competing alongside each other in the only officially sanctioned non-individual tournament on the schedule.

The Web.com Tour, the largest developmental tour of the PGA circuit, announced that its season will begin with two events in the Bahamas that are played in consecutive rounds starting on Sunday and finishing on Wednesday in an effort to maximize interest on otherwise golf-less days.

The European Tour, fresh off a few non-competitive nighttime challenges before tournaments, is looking into the potential of contesting an entire competitive event under a dark sky and bright lights.

These are brilliant ideas, all of them, for the simple reason that they're not the status quo. That doesn't mean they'll all be endlessly successful or "grow the game," but they will break the mold. They'll move outside a box that has too frequently confined professional events to the usual conformist standards.

It can be argued that golf doesn't need such tweaks at its highest levels, at least not in the most literal sense, but it can more easily be argued that new ideas can be beneficial to helping the overall cause.

"Is it needed? I don't have any idea. I would probably say no," Zach Johnson explained. "But can it be a positive in the long run? Absolutely. To add something to a product that's already tremendous and make it better -- whether it's lights, dates, formats -- I'm all for it. If it can help the game, if it helps fans of the game and makes us players hungrier to play more, sure. I see no issues with it.

"It's a trial and error process," added Jim Furyk. "If it's good and the fans like it and the sponsor likes it and the players like it, heck yeah, let's go. Let's keep doing it. If it doesn't work, we'll come up with some new ideas. There's nothing wrong with trying."

Therein lies an inherent issue with outside the box thinking: It can't only serve one master. These new ideas have to fit the desires of fans, sponsors and players, which is a more difficult concept than it might seem.

Each of these ideas proposed in the past week meets all of the criteria. Each should help grow the game -- or at least enhance the entertainment factor -- without failing to fulfill the needs of one of these parties.

"Obviously, the tried and true traditional fan is always going to watch golf," Brandt Snedeker said. "But how do we get the casual fan involved? How do we get people who don't think golf is cool to watch an event? We saw that at the Ryder Cup; people who traditionally don't watch golf watched it. How can we use that to our advantage? It's good to try it, see how it goes, see the fan response and go from there."

For too long, golf has remained reluctant to stray from the status quo at professional tournaments. Finally the industry is starting to listen to its own "grow the game" implorations. Some of the ideas might be instant hits, others might prove to be flops.

But that's beside the point. The game's leaders are becoming more open to ideas. At least they're now starting to try some ideas and see what works.