death of golf

Stick A Fork In Her – She’s Done

In Golf News And Rumors, Shanks Rants by The Golf Drill Guru10 Comments

What has become of our beloved game? Interest in golf is still declining nationally, golf courses are suffering, golf stores are closing their doors and even some national retailers like TaylorMade are consolidating and selling parts of the company brand. What gives? In just a few years time, the game has gone even further into the whole despite our best efforts to reverse this trend. There’s a whole lot of bad news out there for the golf industry. Golf Town, Canada’s largest golf retailer is in credit protection, and likely to be bought by their creditor (see link). Golfsmith in the USA recently filed for bankruptcy protection in September as well, and blames declining interest in the game as its major factor (see link). TaylorMade and Adidas are splitting, and their golf-specific part of the business is being sold, including such brands as Adams Golf, Ashworth and Adidas golf clothing – so much for the #1 Driver in Golf being their saving grace (see link). There’s also been many published studies and articles about the decline of the games interest (see link here, here and here). Interestingly, many of these studies show that there are more people taking up the game than ever before, however very few stick with it. The question few people have an answer for is why.

Here’s Why:

1) Few Golf Courses Understand Supply & Demand

While you may hear about a few courses here and there lowering their rates to drive interest, few courses are doing it. Most are actually increasing their rates to try and make ends meet, thereby alienating all but affluent people. Basic common sense economics seems not to cross the minds of many professionals and golf course managers.  If there is no demand, prices should fall. But we’re seeing the opposite. Which leads to empty tee-sheets.  The real problem is that golf, like many sports becomes habitual, and when a golf course puts a barrier in place (ie. high prices), people will start doing other things, and then golf is no longer a focus, or even on the radar.  Those weekly golfers all of a sudden become tournament-only golfers, and only play once or twice a year. So in a really short timespan, a golf courses jacking up prices just alienated and changed the habits of hundreds of people – this move alone has a compounding effect.  People talk about the game less, there’s less need to go and buy and test the latest equipment, they cancel their Golf Digest subscription, they take less lessons, which leads to less professionals being able to make a living.  All of a sudden, this simple move by golf courses has snowballed to kill the game of golf.

2) Few Golf Courses Know How To Attract People (or Who to Attract)

When sales are suffering, you have to cut expenses. But cutting off your advertising is like getting rid of your life jacket to save you from drowning. Advertising needs to be targeted, measurable and scrutinized to hell when revenues are slow. Doing the same old won’t cut it anymore and it hasn’t for years.  There’s some really dated thinking when it comes to advertising in the golf industry, professionals who have been in the position for decades have yet to realize that the traditional mediums don’t hit younger audiences, they only hit the same older ones. Change needs to happen at the course level before any of this has a hope in hell of changing.

3) Golf takes too Long, Is too Difficult To Learn, Is Too Difficult To Play

This is been talked about to exhaustion, but what have clubs done about it.  We’ve seen a bit of effort in making more executive style courses and nine hole mini-courses at many golf club across the country, and this is great, but its too little too late. Golf is a slow game, it is difficult to learn, and golf courses are designed to be tough.  Golf courses are now built for regular golfers, not beginners in mind. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.  If you’re only appealing to a market that’s slowly dying away, you haven’t really done your due diligence when it comes to your business plan. Build courses that will appeal to beginners and better players, or build options for both.  Without this, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

4) Golf is not Athletic

There is a movement across the nation to become more active and healthy, but most don’t think of golf as an athletic sport. Most people sit on a golf cart get chauffeured around while they drink beer and greasy hot dogs/burgers. When you consider that a large portion of golf courses now are mandatory-carts because either A) designers made holes miles apart or B) there’s so much undulation that its required just for an individual to finish 18 without collapsing on the final green. Speed golf was a thing once, but it likely died because you basically need a course to yourself to do it.

5) Golf’s Expensive

It takes a lot of time and money to get good at golf. You need to buy clubs, lessons, green fees, even clothes… whereas basketball/soccer takes $20 for a ball, and free courts are everywhere. Its no wonder its a hard game to get into, you need money.  Why would anyone bother who doesn’t have the money to afford it.

How are we going to fix this problem? Truth is, it’s not going to be easy, or cheap, or even viable. Golf may be on its way out… I’m literally shocked at how tournaments are maintaining their ridiculously high purses. Why have sponsors not caught on? To fix this game we need an intervention.

Golf needs to be cheaper. Golf needs to be easier. Golf needs to be more inclusive. Golf needs to be more fun. Golf needs to be more athletic.

If we can hit these marks, golf may have a chance. May.

What are your thoughts? does golf stand a chance?

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  1. Glen Bonham

    This is a sad truth. Golf is declining, and mostly because of the costs to learn the game, purchase the equipment and pay the high green fee rates. The problem I think also is that people have just become lazy, they don’t want to try and learn how to get better. They just go out there and when they try to hit the cover off the ball and it doesn’t work for them they get disheartened.

    I have played for most of my life, and yes I can get a ball off the tee with a lot of distance. When people see me do it and then can’t replicate it the get frustrated. I tell them that I have played for many years, but that just seems to go in one ear and out the other.

    I just wish they would stick with it and try to get better, listen to experienced players and take advice on board. instead of just having their macho mindsets and believing they know what they are doing. If they would then they would surely see how rewarding and enjoyable the game of golf can be.

  2. Carl

    So very true. The traditionalist in me says to keep the game the same and not make any of these newer suggested changes like bigger cups, etc. I still play with blades.

    I can see your point though that there’s got to be a change because the money is pouring out of golf right now. I went to the Golfsmith as it was closing in my area the other day and it was just a terrible sight. An absolute golf wasteland. Maybe it’s because half their employees were standing around most of the time instead of actually helping people.

    Either way, I’ll keep on playing and teaching others to play this amazing game.

  3. Joe

    Hidden in #3 (Golf takes too Long, Is too Difficult To Learn, Is Too Difficult To Play) is the “Rules of Golf,” as dictated by the USGA. This is great for the pros, for the rest of us the rules are too constraining. Golf as either a hobby or athletic sport should be fun and not frustrating. Most of us golf with buddies or meet new people while golfing and the camaraderie can be great, but we don’t need to adhere to draconian rules that serve little purpose for the amateur who isn’t competing for thousands upon thousands of dollars.

  4. Calvin

    Great article but only scratches the surface. It’s amazing how the golf industry, the golf media and I even have to say the PGA, LPGA of America are so detached from the amatuer player. If you look at other countries golf is booming. I’m sure you can name the LPGA South Korean player who sparked her country to produce some of the most dominate players on tour today. And those players are passing it on to the next generation in their country. I ask you, who do we see in the US? I’m not trying to put the PGA and the LPGA of America down. Just go to YouTube and see the content the PGA vs. what the Europen PGA are producing. The content is miles apart.

    As far as womans golf, that will die off faster then the mens golf. Have you seen the differences between the Tour and the Symetra Tour? It is a shame? And to see the LPGA expanding more oversea’s then putting some of the money into the Symetra Tour to elevate and create more interest here in the US. This will not and does not create interest enough to elevate the womens interest to play the game.

    And as a golf instructor I feel we need to take a very serious look at how the game is taught. The lack of creativity of how it is taught and the lack of teaching creativity within the game. We need to look into how to keep a young student interested when they are so interested in a world of social technology. We need to use this technology to our favor. We need to use this social technology to keep the student engaged.

    Then there is high school golf. An area that really needs to be looked into.

    Yes, I do agree this great games heart beat is very weak and needs some serious ICU so it will not it “staight line”. I have such a passion for this great game and will try everything to keep it alive.

    1. Rob Smith

      Here in my hometown we do have a golf team, its just that there are lack of participants for the most part. I think that a lot of millennials do not really like the sport.

  5. Single Length Irons Guy

    Maybe part of number 3 can be split out into it’s own “Too Difficult To Play.” The different swing planes, swing weights, swing tempos and ball positions required by a standard set of golf irons are simply too difficult to master for 95% of golfers because golf is not their profession.

    As you know, PGA Tour member Bryson DeChambeau has greatly increased the interest in single length golf clubs over the past couple years. And now that Cobra has launched their “One Length” clubs, 2017 may be the biggest year yet for this technology.

    Maybe it’s time for a major paradigm shift in golf equipment that favors “ease of use” and “fun” over “distance”.

  6. Siggi

    Come to Iceland. Golf is the most popular sport in the country for those over 16 years of age, and second overall. I am pretty sure we have the most courses per capita in the world if you include 9-hole courses. Every village has a golf club, even those with under 1,000 inhabitants. Pretty much every course has beginner and youth classes, and annual membership w. unlimited play is under $1,000 for most courses. The courses are run like local sports clubs, so not so much for profit but rather for community-building. The municipalities actually subsidize them. Why? Mostly because it keeps a lot of kids and teenagers busy and out of trouble in the summer.

    In Iceland, it is not about getting away from the wife, but rather a family thing. No carts, and the courses are HILLY. People get in shape the more they play. When I lived in the US, it felt like most of the players were actually deliberately taking longer so they could be longer away from home/the wife. Not kidding. In Iceland, playing a hilly 18-hole course rarely takes longer than 4.5 hours walking. When I lived in Baltimore, the average was 5.5-6 hours on the weekends, with carts.

    1. Rob Smith

      Well that is certainly some interesting information and I am glad to hear it. Would love to come to your country and play as you probably have some really great courses there!

  7. GolfCodeWeekly

    Here is something

    Golf is NOT declining, when you compare golf to other sports, SPORT is declining so the issue is not that people are moving away from golf (MMA being the exception) but people are generally spending less time doing sport.

    Golf had a natural peak with Cable TV, Tiger Woods and a surging economy, that was fun while it lasted no doubt but the reality is that once you reach a peak the only way to go is down.

    Weaker clubs fail and most should be dead by now, leaving a better standard of golf and facility.

    The scramble to discounting is an obvious thing to do, but discounting should only ever be for a short sharp burst to get new blood and as a ONE OFF.. offering discounted tee times year round is borderline insanity.

    My golf network, is set up to assist golf clubs in restoring the value of their tee and filling up their course with golfers who are not just turning up for a massive discount before moving on.

    Anyone, club or blogger etc who wants to set up a call, just drop me a reply

  8. Rob Smith

    Unfortunately, over the last few years I have seen the golf industry go downhill for sure. I think it is mainly economy as most people do it for a leisure activity and if they are in debt or have to many bills this will be the last thing that they will be spending money on. Plus, I think a lot of millennials think the sport is boring and do not want to play as well.

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