In 1936, Joe and Herb Graffis set foot on a new course. Not of the links, parkland or desert variety, but rather an impassioned course that would change the trajectory of the game and business of golf. Was it fearless? Visionary? Or just plain crazy? Perhaps all three, but Joe and Herb Graffis loved golf and their ironclad drive was unmatched.
The Graffis brothers were journalists by trade and salesmen by choice. How else to explain their walking into the offices of the era's leading equipment manufacturers and asking them to fund a trade association. Especially when the mercurial market had many of these companies on the verge of bankruptcy. Joe and Herb believed that the entire golf business could operate on a fairway of financial prosperity.
The need for an association was so clear, and the Graffises' passion so clearly authentic, the companies agreed. And with a total funding of $17,000 from those companies, the National Golf Foundation was born.
Come walk the history of the NGF, and learn how our organization propelled the game and business of golf forward while continually evolving through the years to provide the industry with what it most needed at the time.
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.