Boy Scouts could be crucial link to saving golf

Sam Waltz, Founding Publisher
Sam Waltz, Founding Publisher

It’s midsummer, a time when one’s thoughts turn to …

Golf!

However, for more and more of us in Delaware, the traditional charitable golf outing benefit targeted to community business and civic leaders feels less and less attractive.

It’s no secret that as a recreational pastime, golf has been in freefall for about a decade. Golf courses around the country are being abandoned or repurposed. Any of us can name the three or four notable examples in Delaware.

Some have been saved by a taxpayer bailout, with politicians courting favor to maintain open space by spending tax dollars to take public and subsidize a failed private golf course.

In one of the most disproportionate examples, Inniscrone — regarded as one of the more rigorous golf courses in Greater Philadelphia area — in nearby Avondale, Pa., developers ultimately invested a reported $30 million or so in developing a course that sold to London Grove Township for about $850,000 when it failed less than a decade ago.

Although cost of play has been something of an issue for the everyday golfer, particularly the blue-collar golfer, time of play has been a bigger issue for business leaders and execs in a changing business culture and environment, with elapsed time for a full round often reaching six. Issue is the economy of time.

Enter the charity golf outing, where business leaders more focused on time demands mean fewer golfers, hence, less revenue for the event, including some reductions in corporate support from execs feeling left unable to participate. And such events — which depend on a “critical mass” of business golfers for some gravitas — often have been a mainstay for charitable organizations, an essential part of their lifeblood.

When Delmarva Power VP Glenn Moore, Capital One VP Jason Heupel and Christiana Care VP Lynn Jones late last month stood in front of 200 or so business leaders at Newark’s Deerfield Country Club (now a Delaware taxpayer-owned course, formerly a DuPont- then MBNA-owned course), as volunteer leaders in the Boy Scouts, they were speaking to a crowd bolstered by a savvy organizational move to promote the BSA’s golf outing and reception as linked but separate events.

As event volunteers, along with Scout Executive & CEO Jason Pierce, and other volunteers like WSFS Bank VP Ray Abbott, architect Bill Holloway, CardioKinetics founder Thomas Hall, and others they successfully promoted the after-golf event to non-golfers like me.

With about 140 golfers playing that date, Pierce told me a few days later they turned out 100 non-golfers for the post-event, up from five non-golfers a year ago.

“It was something we decided to do this year, and we focused on it,” he said. “We help support 10,000 Boy Scouts on the Delmarva Peninsula, some of them from disadvantaged backgrounds and ‘on scholarship’ with us, and this event raised $75,000 for the Boy Scouts Del-Mar-Va Council.”

I swore off golf about 15 years ago. Golf wasn’t played in the rural Illinois county where I grew up, although I learned to play at the University of Illinois in graduate school. I played 10-12 times a season in my 20s, business golf a couple times a season in my 30s, and perhaps every other season in my 40s. And when my kids, now all in their 30s, were young, I spent my Saturdays on the ballfields with them and in other activities including, yes, Scouts.

When I was in my early 50s, a friend I’d helped when he was ‘in transition’ wanted to thank me by taking me for a round of golf with a couple other guys, and he mentioned a course in New Jersey that — as by then a non-golfer — was unknown to me.

I resisted, then finally acquiesced, and, a few Saturdays later, I found myself with a morning tee time in the Pine Barrens at a place called Pine Valley, unknown to me by name or reputation, but (I later learned) rated America’s No. 1 golf course.

I played so poorly that my foursome stopped keeping my score after the 3rd hole. When friends asked me later about it, about all I could say was “beautiful scenery!” (And if/when when a friend today starts to jokingly harass me about being a non-golfer, I puncture the effort with the postscript, “well, the last time I played was at Pine Valley!”)

Rob Martinelli, the CEO and proprietor of Today Media, which publishes this paper as well as Delaware Today magazine and a variety of other publications, is an avid golfer. We’ve been friends for 30 years, and we’re often in Florida in March at the same time. Rob occasionally leans on me to join him in golf, to which I pass, with the comment, “Rob, I couldn’t inflict my game on a friend!” Never a truer statement was spoken.

But, as someone enthusiastic about civic affairs, I thoroughly enjoy my engagement with Delaware’s business and civic leaders in the context of the charitable events which are so often a meeting ground for us, some of which I feel privileged to MC.

Congrats to Jason and the Del-Mar-Va Boy Scouts for their astuteness in responding to changing market conditions, and I hope many of our others take a page from the BSA lesson guide in development!

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