Where is Golf going?

Bradley Klein works for Golfweek in the US and has an interesting column in their business publication addressing Remedies for the Malaise. Some parts of it are relevant, even to this old pro.

He states that golf is a business and the sooner everyone involved realises this, the better the golf industry will be. However, as a business it’s not doing too well. The Canadian Open can’t find a sponsor is one indicator perhaps, the number of rounds is flat or decreasing per year, and in 2006 the US had more courses close (146) than open (120). Klein lists several “reasons” for this, including youth thinking golf is boring, it takes too long to learn the game enough to find out the real rewards golf offers, the land needed for golf is too highly priced and better used for other things (stadiums?). He even blames the lack of caddie programs as a cause of fewer people being introduced to the game (of a lifetime). Gen-X is not playing golf. Golf is “too hard, too expensive, and too slow”. X-boxes are the new sport.
In my humble opinion I think it costs too much to play golf – everywhere! Courses are spending too much trying to get their courses as green as Augusta during Masters week, this raises the golf fees. Huge companies have taken over the golf business and they are governed by one principal – they need a return on investment. Clublink seems different, still unsure how they work!

Sure there are a lot of new “golfers” being introduced to the game. It will be interesting to see if they become golfers, after their new caps and t-shirts grow old, where will they play? We just hosted a First Tee group from the US, using their funding to bring 72 adults and a few kids to the Bahamas for a week. They had great uniforms (adults and kids) and no game. My wife offered a 10 year old some of her used Callaway balls. “No thanks, I only play ProVs”. We watched as he rolled his ProV off the first tee. At the Western Open a few years ago, I saw two bus loads of kids come through the gate, get their caps, shirts and pictures with Tiger, get a few photos, take a few swings, and then did they watch the tournament, no, they got into the buses and went back into Chicago. I wonder if they are golfers now!

So who will survive in the golf (business)? My guess is the back-bone will remain the Burlington Springs of this world who still provide low priced golf to anyone who wants to play. Operated by the owner, it doesn’t take long to react to any type of economic swing. Larry Bunkowsky’s prices don’t go up and down by $50.00s, he adds a dollar here and takes off a dollar for quiet hours, you choose when to play. How many Burlington Springs are out there?

The RCGA will be going through some changes. What is their role in the golf industry? Is it to provide championships for the elite players (Pros and Amateurs) or is it to develop players for its member clubs, who urgently need members now and in the future? Same for the USGA, the GAO, the PGA, CPGA, all a wee is famillee!

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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  • Clearly there are going to be lots of changes at the RCGA now, Gary. How that impacts player development is a really key question….

    Nice start to your blogging!

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