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USGA's O'Toole: "The health of the game is in trouble."

Dan O'Neill looks at the state of the game and uses his hometown of St. Louis as a guide. First there were these surprisingly strong comments from the USGA's Tom O'Toole, who certainly can't be accused of having his head in the sand when it comes to the health of golf:

"It's a tough time all the way around," said Tom O'Toole, USGA executive committee member and executive of the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association. "The health of the game is in trouble."

The 2013 Senior PGA Championship will be conducted at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, followed in 2018 by the PGA Championship. Otherwise, there is nothing pending, certainly not the succession of USGA championships the city enjoyed over a period of time.

"It's a very interesting discussion with the health of golf," O'Toole added. "The plethora of championships and interest from clubs in hosting those events, that we had in the past, simply isn't there because of the economy. There's really nothing on the horizon."

And there was this uplifting thought...

For all the technological advancements and agronomic improvements, golf remains quite costly, difficult and time-consuming. Davenport attended a "State of the Industry" seminar recently, and Stuart Lindsay of Edgehill Golf Advisors caught his attention with a statement.

"It was kind of shocking," he recalled. "He said, 'Do you realize that kayaking is now more popular than golf?' And I'm not sure of the context, if there was some fine aspect of it that he was referring to. But I mentioned it to another PGA pro and he said, 'You know, now that you say that, my neighbor down the street has a kayak on his car.'"

Davenport laughed, but added, "For those of us who have been in the industry for a long time, that's hard to take."

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Reader Comments (32)

so many seem to understand the problem....but are the right things being done about it???
04.14.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchicago pt
Going to get a paddle board for the lake this summer...hit the RBZ 3wd this week but passed on it for now.

Truthful but painful article
Length and size of golf courses creates a great cost of ownership. That cost is passed onto the consumer, but the consumer will not be able to pay for long.

Length also equals time. To many a 5 hour round of golf is too much time away from family or business.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt A
From a selfish point of view, does it matter?

Quieter golf courses are good for amateurs. In the pro game, even if there is less prize money, the players are still the best in the world. I don't think the prize money is going to drop so much that pros are going to leave the game to get regular jobs.

The main issue is around the jobs that the golf industry creates (including journalists, manufacturers and other opinion formers). And these jobs may just get transferred to the kayaking industry (or whatever is now more popular).

I’m kind of playing Devil’s advocate here, but I don’t think this is really the disaster it’s made out to be for most people who enjoy the game.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenteract38
If the costs deter new players then the diminishing numbers will continue and clubs will close.
Cheap golf is epitomised by Tapora Golf Club New Zealand (annual subscription USD120 unlimited play, visitor green fee USD7)- a sheep farm with very small greens with electric fences round them. The farmer mows the greens on Fridays and moves the sheep to other fields. Placing on fairways of course but it's real golf. Probably not unlike 19th century golf in Scotland. In dry cimates courses are built on sand with oiled greens and almost zero cost and maintenance.
I know I've said this before...but why does the game have to "grow"...why not bring it back down to affordable, playable levels so it can be enjoyed? And I agree with act38 about the pros...they will play for whatever money is available. My feeling is that the game has already "grown" too big and too expensive. On the amatuer level, if the game stops growing, courses will become less crowded and cheaper/faster to play. Course superintendents are already starting to re-configure their layouts to include less green grass, more scrub/waste areas that don't need as much water or maintenance to save money...this is a good thing, not bad. Some say if the game does not continue to "grow" the trickle-down effect will mean lost jobs, less golf on TV, less tournaments, etc. I say probably so, but hasn't golf reached the saturation point? You have these top-heavy gangs like the PGA Tour, USGA and First Tee spending gazillions with even more gazillions in the bank...for what? So more VIPS can have jets? So Taylor Made can sell more $500 Rocket Launchers? I don't see a need to "grow" the game...I feel it has already "grown" too much and that's why it is in trouble.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterrb
I've said it before, golf is a niche sport by it's very nature. Specialized equipment, very difficult learning curve, limited access to the sorts of spaces needed to play. Hasn't The First Tee demonstrated that throwing massive amounts of money at urban kids can't get them to the course? They should just buy buses. Kind of reminds me of a Sam Kinison joke.

I'll admit I'm fortunate to live in an area where 18 holes is 35 bucks and a choice of about 5 "decent" courses. Year long memberships are $1,200 to $1,500. No pools, tennis courts, or even restaurants. The country club doesn't exist here. A 6 month season is another negative. I know I'm sounding parochial, but I'm not interested in 12 hole rounds or executive layouts. Rounds are about 4 hours almost always.

You see I'm a golfer, period. I like the challenge of the game and company of my pals. It's a niche. Golf will survive in some form. It's just adjusting to the ebb and flow of the economy on a regional basis. It will never be mainstream regardless of the wishes and plans of those "in charge".
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Golfer
I have a kayak.
so the USGA can't find a venue for the women's amateujr? what they gonna do? cancel the event? i'm sure clubs are still lining up for the usopen
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMedia driven
I'm thinking about a kayak, too. A double for Mrs. Ghost and me. Lots of rivers and lakes plus the beautiful estuaries of the Georgia coast are only a few hours away. Of course, I also just ordered a new set of irons. And then there is what everyone says here. The pro game and the manufacturers' marketing juggernaut are hypertrophied beyond hope. A bigger crash for them is likely. But, so what? We don't need Rocketballz to enjoy the Greatest Game. Choices, choices...
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKy Laffon's Ghost
Hey Ky ... make sure you take a bunker rake to shoo off dem gators!
I like both kayakng and golf. I can go kayak with my friends for as long a period as I choose, we don't have to be any good, nobody will look down on us for what we wear, or accuse us of disrespecting a game, and renting the kayak will cost about half as much.

Or I can try to talk these same friends into playing golf (who have played once in a while but don't do it regularly) into a random game of golf. Yeah, pretty obvious why more people kayak then golf.

And while in the shot term it might be better for some on this board if the riff-raff don't infiltrate their sacred golf courses, if new kids don't come into the game, it won't be self-sustaining at many places, because not to put to fine a point on it, but old people grow sick and die.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterelf
I don't have a kayak, but I do have a canoe. It's great to pitch balls into.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Golfer
wow, sorry, that post reads terribly, there needs to be a way to edit posts, after you post them
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterelf
I own two kayaks. No, wait, three! We got one for my daughter last summer when we realized she was old enough to paddle her own.

We all play golf too.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterErik J. Barzeski
In too many of America's pro shops you'll find a 29 year old guy who can't break par but treats his customers like crap. I'm talking about the sort of jerk who calls a 65 year old man "boss" or "champ"--if he doesn't just ignore him. Fire those guys first.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterhighside
Put me in the why does the game have to grow camp. I'm not a equipment junkie and play most of my golf at one course for which I pay $1700 a year for. Great course tops out at just under 6500 yards, a moderate dress code (jeans if clean and decent are allowed) and lots of weekly membership inclusive events.

The area in which I live has a few golf courses stalled in the planning process which will I am sure will get moving again on the next upswing of the economy and all of them will be aimed at the high end of the industry, one of which Geoff has some knowledge of (Union Bay). Not one of these courses will be priced to be very inclusive and all make the assumption that golfers will pay lots for beautiful views and big name architects. This growth helps me how?

That those in the business of golf refer to themselves as an industry also makes me laugh. Industry/!?! really!?! I guess it is honest. Keep churning out product and hope the suckers don't realize it is the same crap with a shiny new ribbon.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBear
bull hockey.....the game is just fine.......
The costs for the avg family and/or retiree, which I am has gotten out of range for most. I would love to buy updated clubs but can't justify spending the amount of money needed to get anywhere near the latest equipment. When is it going to stop? The equipment manufacturer's just don't seem to get it.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterfrwys-n-grns
The game of golf has many different groups within it. There is pro golf. Competitive amateur golf. Private club, public, and municipal. Senior groups for fun, senior groups competitive. The list goes on. Everyone has their own idea of what golf is and what they want it to be for them. For some, like the posters above, everything is fine and they are unaffected because of what they want out of the game. Others are upset with things because of the equipment barrage and high costs to play and time involved and so on. Competitive amateur golf is definitely struggling to fill fields in many towns across America and to me that is because of one thing: COST.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarter K
@Mr. Wozeniak, PGA:
This is a very good Mike Young design. It was reasonably priced in a decent location. How many times has this been repeated across the country in the last few years? How many more times will it happen? Right now I am somewhat fortunate, but have been and will be again in the situation in which frwys-n-grns finds him(?)self. That is the norm in this economy. Please explain again, how is the game just fine?

c&c: Thanks for the reminder. I'll lash a rake to the deck. LOL. Having said that, I once paddled over a gator the size of my canoe near Ft. Myers, Florida. I remained calm, sort of, but was calculating the unlikelihood of springing off the thwart and into the overhanging tree while he slipped a bit deeper as I passed over him. Kept my eyes open on the return trip...
"the game is just fine......."

the game itself is fine...but the people running the show?...not so much.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterrb
The causes, the diagnosis and the remedies are in my book - Life as a Way of Golf but Geoff said it all first in The Future of Golf. Will the USGA and R & A pay any heed? On past evidence, they are only a bunch of wafflers.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
Serious golfers, generally start as casual golfers first, 1700 for a club (which sounds like a cool club) is cheap, but still for the serious golfer. To go play 9 holes for a casual golfer (so renting clubs) at a local muni easily costs 50 a person.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Are these comments 100% diametrically opposed to those of certain equipment suppliers that were highlighted a week ago? Or is that just my imagination?
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDel the Funk
It is too costly - it was $80 for my 16 year old and I to play a muni today in bad shape - on the 15th hole my son who likes to golf said "dad it is too expensive" - I agree
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Spachler
Where I live $80 for one player would be like a gift from the Gods. There is nothing reasonably foreseeable that can halt the inexorable decline of golf played by the amateur.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffett
Want to grow the game... cater to rich people. Cause the middle class is dwindling in numbers here in the USA and no one has the time anyway unless your retired and only want to pay 15 a round. Cheap muni's or Bandon Dunes or private. everything else will fade away.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterA3
I played Sunday. Not well. Good thing I wasn't kayaking - I would have drowned.
04.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBud
The game is just fine......this is the natural order of things......

If too many facility's are built some will go under, if they are not run correctly, they will go under.........
Shorter courses = less maintenance = lower costs = lower green fees = more players.

An architect who can't design a short but challenging course, even with today's gear, isn't worth a thimble of pus. At 310 yards, the 10th at Rivera is theoretically drivable, but it has an over-par scoring average. The twelfth at Augusta plays to 155-165 yards and is among the most difficult par-3s in the world. There are courses on tour that are around 7,700 yards. A challenging 6,000-yard layout could make for just as much drama while saving a MILE of turf to maintain. If you could knock down a course's length by 25%, you'd save just as much in maintenance. Why isn't there more of a push to do this?
04.16.2012 | Unregistered Commenterbjturk
@Bud That's hilarious. Why I like oarsmen and golfers both.
04.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBif

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