A Rant in Defense of Golf

        The following screed by your editor ran in our Home On The Course monthly newsletter last month.  If you would like to subscribe to our free publication, please click here.       

        Judith Shé, the editor of Bowden's Market Barometer, a fine industry publication chock full of information and observations about the golf industry, circulated a recent Washington Post article to a group of friends in golf-related businesses, including yours truly. The piece by Drew Harwell (click here to view) greatly exaggerated the imminent death of the game most of us love, and for all the typical reasons –- the sport is elite, it takes too long to play, it's too expensive, blah blah blah.
        We've heard it all before. Although the golf industry does have its problems, most of them are a consequence of a lack of creativity. When times get tough, most golf directors and golf professionals rush to lower prices because, heck, that's easier than brainstorming. Just an hour before Judith sent me a copy of the article, one of my readers in Arizona wrote me about a conversation he had with a concerned pro who was smart enough to get people around a table and think about how to attract and retain customers. Two ideas he decided to implement: Cart girls drive ice cold towels out to golfers in sweltering heat, totally complimentary; and the pro himself makes an appearance at the practice range before a foursome heads to the first tee to offer customized tips on how to play the course. I can't tell you how many pros I have met who spend all day in their offices, except for the trip to the snack bar or clubhouse dining room. (These are mostly public golf course professionals; most private club members wouldn't stand for such behavior.)
        I also wonder why the nattering nabobs of golf's doom never compare golf with skiing. An estimated 20 million people made an appearance at a ski, snowboard or cross country venue last year. An estimated 24 million people played a round of golf. Skiing is more expensive than golf, is difficult to access because slopes are typically far from home, which means you have to pay for lodging, and you spend more "waiting" time prior to action than you do in golf.
        And yet no one ever seems to write the end of days articles about skiing. Golf gets especially beat up because those who don't play the game perceive it as elitist when, in reality, more Joe Lunchbuckets play golf than do hedge fund managers. How often do we read articles about "elite" demographics of the skiing crowd?
        We do have too many golf courses in the U.S. for the number of players, and that has been the case since before the recession of 2008 and before young people allegedly traded in their golf clubs for iPads. The explosive building of golf communities in the 1980s and 1990s contributed to the over-production of golf courses, but there is no reason to assume that the huge baby boomer cohort will turn away from golf as a retirement pastime. That group has another 20 years or so to play out. Overall, we do need to lose a few more golf courses the way J.C. Penney needed to lose a few stores, the way Kirstie Alley needed to lose a few pounds, and the way a forest occasionally needs to burn down -– all in order to promote health and stability.
        The game of golf itself is in great shape. Call me a chicken but, given a choice, Pete Dye's fairway moguls seem a lot more appealing -– and safer –- than the snow covered ones.