View From the Spire: Golf’s Big Problems
July 25, 2011 3 Comments
On one hand the business of golf is blooming – televisual interest is on the up, players are earning more than ever before and, due to a number of UK based major victories, interest in the home grown elite is probably higher than ever before.
However, underneath the elite games’ increasingly celebrity-esque exterior, lies the other side of the business of golf: a world where many Clubs are struggling to generate revenue that keep them solvent; a world where the most elaborate, well thought through and supposedly well financed of new developments fails to complete, a world where the governing bodies and stakeholders appear to be doing little to stem the haemorrhaging that in time threatens to kill the game altogether.
There are a number of significant factors that contribute to the potentially sorry state of the global game and these should be addressed to ensure the continued success of our sport. I will touch on a few areas (although I know there are more) largely highlighted from experience mostly in the US that may spark the answers for the UK and further across the globe before it is too late.
Too many courses, not enough players
The US National Golf Foundation reports that the number of golfers in the US has declined by 3 million since 2005 and the number of annual golf rounds played has dropped by more than 30 million since 2000. The economy’s slowdown, family considerations, work and other time and monetary constraints are cited for the falling numbers of participants and there has been no surge of players taking up golf and sticking with it as was forecast by some pundits a few years ago. With no overall “demand”, what has to happen to create the demand, increase facility use and get golf back on track?
There are too many golf courses that cost too much to play, not enough players to fill their empty tee-times, and a continuous trending towards exclusivity. Corporate golf is on the decline and the current economic situation must be the biggest problem facing the golf industry today. Do we need to close or change courses across the globe in order to create more affordable, usable and ultimately useful ones that attract the younger or those learning the game?
Residential real estate
Residential real estate (the root cause of the recession) had been the driving force for golf course construction. With real estate on the rocks hundreds of golf courses are in trouble; many bankrupt, others closing and many more on the precipice of survival. It is suggested that we have as much as 25 percent too many courses and as such we will continue to see courses failing. Even if there is a quick recovery, will the industry ever be the same?
With the advent of online retailing, many golf retailers in the sector are constantly battling a pricing war – not helped either by short product cycles of manufacturers. However it is noticeable that the humble Club Pros don’t appear to be keeping up; instead still believing it is right to charge 70 or 80 pence for Mars bars, several hundred pounds more for standard stock equipment and green fees and lesson costs disproportionately high for the calibre of course or the Professional. So does the future of golf just hinge on getting its pricing right?
Women and children
The philosophy of nearly every club right now is that kids get in the way of adult play. The industry is set up for men and advanced players and golf courses in the future have to be places for families. And the facts back this up: in the US, the number of golfers aged 6-17 dropped by 24% to 2.9 million from 3.8 million between 2005 and 2008 while the number of rounds played is down causing many courses to close.
Many agree that the future of the game revolves around the appeal to young people who are more accustomed to holding a video game controller in their hands than a golf club. However, women (both current and former golfers) were interviewed and also said courses investing money to make “women-friendly” changes would receive more play and more significantly they would be willing to spend more money to maximise an investment in membership of an “ultimate” golf facility.
The future of golf is in the hands of those who listen closest to what the average players want or pay the likely consequence as golf is a game that at this point in time requires true global leadership to help steer us away from its current self harming practices.
For further information or to add to these discussion points, please leave your comments below.