Who would have thought it would come to this. The game of golf, wrapped in tradition and history, has started to falter, stumble and fade away. Golf courses are closing their doors, golf club manufacturers are filing for bankruptcy, membership sales are down, and tee-sheets are looking scarce. What is the future of our beloved game? Is there any hope?
In the USA, the number of golfers dropped by 1.5 million or about 5%, from 28.6 million in 2008 to 27.1 million in 2009.
The number of golfers is down about 9% (2.7m) over the past five years.
These numbers are based on a 2009 study.
What does this all mean?
Golf is a dying game. Even Tiger and all he brought to the game was not enough to help improve these numbers during the past five years. Now that he’s out of the spotlight, is there any hope? Is a single player even able to re-engage the public?
What’s to blame?
In my opinion, there’s one detrimental factor that’s killing the game of golf. It’s not Tiger Woods being out of the spotlight, the economic recession, or the lack of personality on Tour – it’s simply that golf courses don’t understand supply and demand.
Golf is no longer for the masses; rather than looking to the future, golf has taken a step backwards, and once again become elitist. Year after year, we’ve seen this ritual of green fees going up 2-10% at most clubs. Membership rates are in the same boat. Private club shares are increasing and now some super-exclusive require $100K+ shares just to become a member. How can rates keep skyrocketing while the demand is going down?
What’s being done?
Golf Club Manufacturers are trying real hard to find new revenue sources. Prices for golf equipment over the past few years have remained relatively stable if not gone down. Still many companies like Callaway are suffering, and smaller manufacturers like Yes! Golf had to shut their doors. Their traditional stance on equipment has not enough to attract new customers to the game.
So what’s the answer? Lately, there’s been a fundamental shift in the way golf equipment is being marketed to the public. Golf club manufacturers like Cobra, TaylorMade, Whitlam, Scotty Cameron, True Linkswear, LoudMouth Golf, Vibrant Golf, J Lindeberg and many more are moving away from the “tradition” of marketing to baby boomers and instead going after a younger crowd.
Over the past few years, these manufacturers have started to market their products to a much younger demographic to help get new players interested in the game and balance their financial reports. This is why we’ve seen the “white-driver” trend, the colorful clothing, re-invented golf shoes, and bright, colorful golf clubs – it’s all an attention grab for younger golfers.
Will it work?
It may piss off the baby boomers, but this is necessary shift to help ensure golf’s survival. Traditional golf clothing and values will slowly kill the game – we need to be open to change. But even with this change, it may not be enough. If golf courses continue to increase their rates year after year, they will ultimately alienate new players from joining the game.
It’s time to re-think the game we all love, before it’s gone. So the next time you want to scold that junior golfer who is playing in a loud, colorful un-tucked golf shirt and bright shorts with flip-flops on, you may just want hold your tongue – they may just be golf’s salvation.
What are your thoughts on this? We’d love to hear your opinion, share your thoughts in the comments below.
13 CommentsLeave a Reply
Yeah I think this is a very appropriate article here. I’m a PGA Professional working in the south coast of Spain and I have been talking about this since I first moved here (3 years). Unfortunately the clubs are doing exactly what you said, raising rates/memberships each year and they are all wondering why they are struggling so much. Most of my clients are high end earners but they are all reluctant to pay the current rates and all the Golf courses are pretty much empty most of the time. Something needs to change otherwise we will be seeing many of our favourite clubs closing their doors.
I agree prices for one round of golf is way too expensive. I’ve been playing golf for 7 years now and I love it. The only thing keeping me away and getting better is the price of a round. Why don’t golf courses see that if they keep raising their rates I won’t go play. They need to wake up other wise the game will be in bigger trouble.
2 things keeping me from playing more.
Rates and Time.
Given the current state of the economy, rates still remain high and the courses are not in great shape.
Golf should take no more than 4 hours. Most times it’s 4.5 – 5 hours to play. If I’m paying that much $, employ a ranger who actually moderates the pace of play. Require the 12+ handicaps to move up from the back tees. Tell people to hit up to a par 5 if they have more than 240 yards to the green so that we can tee off.
Let’s keep it moving and wrap up in 4 hours.
Hi guys, thanks a lot for all the comments. It’s nice to see we’re all in agreement that golf course green fees and membership rates are getting out of hand. It’s nice to see what these major manufacturers are trying some “out-of-the-box” thinking, but I really hope it’s not in vain.
Nick, couldn’t agree more… the problem though is newer players will take longer to play a round on the course. It takes some practice to learn to how to play under 4 hours (for most people). It’s kind of a double edged sword – we need new golfers to play the game.. yet we don’t want them to slow down the course.
If golf courses do listen up and start lowering their rates, we may have to suffer through more 5 hour rounds… a small price to pay, that I’m okay with as long as the beer cart is nearby.
Yeah, yes and yep! After I get clubs, balls and gear for the short season in NE Washington, its hard to afford to go more than once a month. I love the game of golf, but my girlfriend is a full time student and we have to young boys. My job at EWU do’s not include pay for golf. I would love for my boys to play and hope they do, but I would have to take out loans to get them on the course. I love you golf but you are a spendy mistress.
Agreed and I should have clarified.
These new golfers should be educated. Play the correct tees, be realistic about the shot you can hit. Don’t wait for a green to clear before tee-ing off on a 350 yard hole. Par 5’s; If you hit your drive 220, you’re not going to reach the green in 2 from 280. Some of this etiquette can be best received when it’s told by the rangers (or the starter). It’s the little things that can help.
I have friends that shoot well into the 100’s and we can still keep up with the group in front. It may not be a four hour round, but we’re doing our part to keep up the pace of play.
I work in at Moore Park Golf, Sydney, Australia, and although we are a public access course we are suffering from a drop in new member recruitment and from public players accessing the course and driving range.
Unfortunately the company answer is to raise green fees, raise the cost of a bucket of practise balls and they then wonder why we have seen a drop across the board.
I believe the first companies and courses to wake up and compare themselves to other service industries and sports in dropping prices and offering more ‘bang for your buck’ will not only revitalize golf but will find themselves laughing all the way to the bank.
Hey Nick, I actually spent much my of 2006 in Sydney, and hit up Moore Park a couple of times. Sorry to hear it’s going through a rough time. Three level driving range right?
Anyways, thanks for taking the time to comment, and I couldn’t agree with you more.
hi..I would sugest the golf courses start by lowering thier prices. You can’t expect the average person to shell out over $ 100 bucks to play around of golf.
Many courses continue to relegate women to second-class status. For instance, scorecards often make it clear that women should be playing the red tees while men should not. There are many men with worse games than mine, yet they are still encouraged to play the white tees. This is just part of it. I do not feel welcome at quite a few courses. With this backwards attitude is it any wonder that golf is dying?
Hey Kate, thanks for your comment! I couldn’t agree with you more… it’s long been the stigma of the “red” or “ladies” tees. There’s the on-going joke with us guys about not making it past the reds being one of the worst mistakes off the tee… or at least one you’re golfing buddies won’t let you hear the end of.
Personally, I have the utmost respect for ladies taking on the whites or even the blue tees. But I know that feeling doesn’t transcend to all golf courses. I have noticed some courses moving away from the “red” tees… and more of a focus on handicap-based tees. A local course I play at has black, silver, gold, peach, green tees. Many of the ladies play from the gold and even silver tees.
Still, this isn’t enough. Tees should be geared to fit a players skill level, not sex. It’s my hope that golf courses catch on soon.
Many reasons for golf dying, but the one that never gets examined is the wide perception that golf culture and gold clubs are full of corporate assholes, and lots of young people have no desire to be seen in that culture. True fact.
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