Golf is a game for life, and men and women with a penchant for athletics and competition will be drawn back to the game sooner or later if they learned it early on.
It’s March, and like the swallows to Capistrano, golfers are headed back to your club or course. Some have already showed up, and many more will follow.
Despite the optimism that comes with the start of a new season, the prevailing story line in the mainstream media holds that golf is mired in a perpetual state of decline. But our experience reporting on the industry suggests otherwise.
The “Chicken Little” siren call that the game has endured for some time is a function of course closures (14,500 courses today, vs. just over 16,000 at the peak) and fewer golfers playing the game (25 million today vs. 30 million at the peak).
The numbers don’t lie, but they hardly suggest the demise of the game, or of the industry.
Most would agree that golf was overbuilt in the ‘90s. The subsequent “thinning of the herd” was inevitable and is now largely behind us. The truth is that many of these courses should have closed, and the net effect is a more robust inventory of high-quality public and private courses.
More importantly, the largely untold story about golf in the past five years is the vast amount of capital that has been invested in club renovation efforts. These projects range from complete clubhouse tear-down-and-rebuild projects to substantial upgrades and expansions of existing facilities. The projects range from a few million dollars to well over $20 million. The trend is sustainable, and these well-conceived and well-executed renovation initiatives are delighting existing members and attracting new ones—including non-golfers. The golf and country club model is alive and well.
The decline in golf participation is the greater cause of angst for the game, so let’s put this in some perspective. First of all, golf ramped up and peaked in the years of Tigermania, and some attrition should have been expected. Participation has remained steady at 25 million players for the past few years, so it appears we have found equilibrium. And if it makes you feel any better, know that golf’s popularity is still considerably higher than for other athletic and recreational activities, including: 11 million skiers; 12 million tennis players; and 16 million boaters (and the numbers for each of these interests are down from peak levels as well).
The lifeblood and future of golf lies with a serious commitment to junior golf programs, be it at a public or private golf facility. I hope your club has embraced this investment in golf’s future. The game needs to be introduced to kids in their formative athletic years, it has to be fun to learn and play, and the training has to include instruction on the integrity of the game and of those who play it. The dividends will come.
Many of these golfers of the future will defer to team sports in their grade school, high school, and college years. Golf, however, is a game for life, and men and women with a penchant for athletics and competition will be drawn back to the game sooner or later if they learned it early on.
Golf’s glass is more than half full. Rounds played were up last year and with dry weather and fast greens, I am betting they will increase this year, too.
Spring will soon be in the air, so let’s get at it.
Quote of the Month
“Columbus went around the world in 1492. That isn’t a lot of strokes when you consider the course.”