The National Golf Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)6 not-for-profit trade association founded in 1936 by journalists Herb and Joe Graffis to promote golf -- particularly new golfers and golf courses. It was created as an effort to reverse the game’s decline that began with the stock market crash of 1929 and grew steadily worse, even as other segments of the nation’s economy were shaking off effects of the Great Depression.
The Graffis brothers received $17,000 from six of the game’s leading equipment manufacturers, all of which were on the brink of bankruptcy, to support the NGF’s mission. For more than 80 years since, the NGF has fostered the growth and vitality of the game and the golf business while continually evolving to provide the industry with what it most needed at the time.
The NGF’s initial efforts included publishing a book on golf course construction (How to Build a Golf Course) along with the development and upkeep of a first-of-its-kind record of the nation’s golf courses. Both of those early efforts helped the NGF gain widespread recognition as the research organization of the golf industry. They continue to be reflected in the Foundation’s important modern functions: the tracking of industry data and trends, and consulting for golf facility development and operations.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the NGF’s field staff worked with small towns and municipalities to encourage the development of public golf. In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus shifted to helping create more competent golf teachers and instructors. The NGF developed model teaching methods, produced thousands of videos and trained high school physical education teachers how to introduce their students to golf.
The Foundation assumed a major golf business leadership role in 1981 by calling the first industry-wide “Forum for Golf” in Dallas, Texas. The meeting established the NGF as the umbrella organization serving the golf industry. The NGF is still supported by the game’s major equipment manufacturers, but also counts thousands of members representing every facet of the industry: apparel companies; retail; media; turf maintenance equipment and course suppliers; software and consumer technology; individual and multi-course owners and operators, course architects, developers and builders; appraisers, brokers and consultants; companies offering specialized services to the golf industry; private and public golf facilities; national, regional, state and local golf associations. All support the Foundation’s work through their membership.
Today, the NGF is trusted by the most important businesses and organizations in golf as the foremost authority of accurate and objective measures of the game’s vitality. Golf companies from every sector rely on the NGF’s data, research, reports and insights to keep them informed on overall industry trends, with expertise delivered by the world’s largest research staff dedicated to the golf business. Additionally, NGF Consulting, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary formed in 1989, provides one-on-one proprietary services to help clients become more successful in an ever-changing business environment.
NGF is the only trade association for everyone in the golf business, serving as a trusted strategic partner and expert advisor while advocating for growth by educating and connecting its members. NGF’s research arm works with individual companies to help them better understand their markets and grow their businesses.
NGF is also the leading marketing services provider in golf, leveraging a database of 2.5 million golfers and the industry’s most comprehensive worldwide database of golf facilities. Additionally, the organization’s 501(c)3 education division is currently focused on improving the onboarding of new and returning adult golfers.
The NGF is based in Jupiter, FL. As of 2024, the organization is led by President and CEO Greg Nathan, who reports to the board of directors. Nathan succeeded Dr. Joseph Beditz, who headed the NGF for 35 years before assuming the role of Executive Chairman at the start of 2024.
Helping golf emerge from the great depression.
The foundation’s early work concentrated heavily on golf course development. NGF promoted the game nationwide through publications (How to Build a Golf Course) and created the first database of courses. During WWII the NGF golf ball refurbishing program helped keep the game going as most of the nation’s rubber (balata) supply was devoted to military needs and new golf balls could not be manufactured.
Making golf accessible.
The NGF field staff worked with small towns and municipalities, encouraging the development of public golf. The balance of course supply shifted from 45% public to almost 60% by the end of the 1970s. While we continued to work hard at creating golf courses, this period was really about the accessibility of golf. Our burgeoning “Clubs for Kids” program to provide youth equipment grew so successful, it was eventually taken over by the PGA of America.
Creating more teachers.
NGF was very high profile during this period, and very well thought of for its advocacy and actions aimed at growing the game. With the help of the best golf instructors of the day, NGF developed model teaching methods and trained high school physical education teachers how to introduce their students to golf. We produced thousands of videos, like the TV series “How To Play Your Best Golf” with Dr. Gary Wiren. We also distributed volumes of publications. Charles Schultz even granted us royalty-free permission to use his Peanuts characters to illustrate the NGF golf rules and etiquette booklets, which were distributed in the millions.
Promoting course development.
We worked with McKinsey & Co. to develop a strategic plan for the growth of golf. A major finding was that course supply could become the limiting factor in golf’s future growth. And so, we advocated strongly for golf’s growth and the development of golf courses. The good thing is, people listened. The bad thing is, they were only partially listening. They built high-end, difficult courses, meant to sell homes, not golf. These were boom years for the game, but what goes up must come down.
Supporting the efforts of others.
When our research showed that golf participation was stalling, we updated our strategic plan. We brought McKinsey in again to help, and it became clear that what was once a “supply problem” had become a “demand problem.” If we didn’t significantly grow participation there would be trouble. As a result of our second McKinsey report, Golf 20/20 was born, helping grow the game globally while driving participation and interest in the game.
Fostering golf’s growth and vitality.
The NGF today is trusted by the biggest businesses and organizations in golf as the foremost provider of accurate and objective measures of the game’s vitality – golf’s record-keeper. This position is reflected by the breadth of our Board of Directors and our unique network of connections that spans the industry. Golf businesses from every sector rely on the NGF’s data and research to help them succeed, with expertise delivered by the world’s largest research staff dedicated to the golf business. The organization also continues to evolve and adapt, as it has throughout the years, and is expanding entrepreneurial and educational efforts in an effort to positively shape the future health of the game.
The Graffis Award
The Graffis Award is named in honor of NGF’s founders, Herb and Joe Graffis, and recognizes outstanding contributions to the game and business of golf. It's been awarded, in different forms, dating back to 1970.
The first Graffis award, named in honor of brother Joe Graffis and meant to recognize excellence in golf education, was presented in 1970.
In 1977, the Herb Graffis award was added to recognize overall contributions to golf. That same year, Herb Graffis was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame for his extensive contributions to the business of golf and advancement of the game.
Both awards were presented annually thereafter until 1992 when the awards were combined into a single award recognizing “outstanding contributions to the game of golf.”
Past recipients of NGF’s awards include high profile golfers (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Patty Berg); equipment company CEOs (Karsten Solheim, Ely Callaway); golf administrators (Judy Bell, Deane Beman and Tim Finchem); and golf educators/teachers (Peggy Kirk Bell, Bob Toski).
Jerry Tarde, the highly-respected and influential editor-in-chief for Golf Digest, was the 2023 Graffis Award recipient. Other honorees in recent years include broadcaster and 26-time LPGA Tour winner Judy Rankin (2019), longtime First Tee CEO Joe Louis Barrow Jr. (2021), and longtime PGA Master Professional and Morton Golf CEO Ken Morton Sr. (2022).