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.
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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