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"Fitness, Family, Fast and Fun."

Ron Sirak offers good common sense ideas about the state of the game and what needs to be emphasized to "grow" (really sustain at this point) the game. The question I have though as I read it is: which of the five families will have the desire to guide the sport to a healthier future?

Sirak says the emphasis should be on the four f's, fast, fitness, fun and family.

On fun:

We need to focus on the Fun in the game. My father was a 35-year-old steel mill worker when he took up golf. The factory had a nine-hole league -- inspired by our local working class hero, Palmer -- and that league got my Dad hooked on the game. He started playing nine holes on Tuesdays and eventually was playing 18 on Saturday and Sunday, and soon he had a club in my hands.

These sorts of fun, social/competitive events are also a way to get more women in the game. Only 18 percent of rounds played in the United States are by women. The growth potential there is enormous. How about courses encouraging that growth by having daycare centers or play areas so Moms can bring their kids to the course?

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Reader Comments (17)

Or Dad's can bring their kids to course and not get too much crap from their wives for leaving them with the kids all day.
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGus
The problem Sirak overlooks in this is affordability - and it's not just affordability of courses, it's also affordability of equipment. If you want to take up the sport and go to the course with your family you not only need to pay greens fees, but also rent clubs (you're prob not going to buy a set right out of the gate - which is an expensive investment).

As an example from the northeast: to play my local muni it's 25 for 9 holes (no range), but it's another 20 to rent the clubs to play with. So the aforementioned family of 4 is out $200 for a 9 hole round of golf. Golf isn't going to work when its price point is higher than a mlb game - including the food.
01.8.2013 | Unregistered Commenterelf
I gotta go with elf, golf is NOT a family game, at least not in this country (USA of America), and it doesn't need to grow, it needs to grow up.
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
Used clubs are ridiculously cheap to buy. You can walk into a store that sells used clubs and come out with a decent bag for under $100. I think the pace of play is the biggest hinderance to growing the game.
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJW
I have an honest question, and am interested in thoughtful replies. Other than to allow more people in the golf business to make more money, why does the game of golf need to grow? Why do I care if Titleist can sell more balls, or more courses can be built? I have enough balls and places to play. I'm not sure I want more useable land taken up with more golf courses. And if the game shrinks, I won't be deserting it. In fact, it would likely be cheaper. I realize that one argument is that there is potential for job creation, but that is the case with the growth of any industry. Why do I get the feeling that this impetus to "grow the game" or even "sustain" it is coming solely from the people who stand to make a buck off of it? Basketball and tennis offer many of the benefits of golf, are better exercise and are easier and cheaper to play, but offer very little in the area of profit to be made from participatory consumerism. Is that why we don't hear as much about growing those games? I am genuinely interested to know how a core golfer like myself and many on this blog stand to benefit from the growth of the game, presuming that we make our livings doing other things? Sure, the First Tee is great if the alternative is a kid taking up life on the street, but if the alternative is that the kid will play baseball or learn to paint or just hang out with friends talking about girls, why should it be important that they understand all that we love about golf? Life can be enriched by a lot of things. I want to understand this better.
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRES
@RES wish I had said that
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D post of the century!
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
@Res to me "growing the game" is really about removing barriers to entry. I don't really care that much how many people play, but I want everyone (esp kids) to have the opportunity to do play it, if they want to. And their aren't a lot of sports that can be played well across generations.

and @JW even if that were true (and it often isn't) for a family of 4 that's still a 4 hundred dollar investment, before they've even decided if they liked the game or not. I don't know about you, but that's a decent chunk of change & you still have to pay the greens fees
01.8.2013 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Said it before.... Golf is a niche sport for a variety of reasons, none of which are going away. Locale, accessibility for the masses, equipment costs. Very much like downhill skiing.
01.8.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Golfer
The number of members of golf clubs, certainly throughout the English speaking world, is declining. So much so that some clubs close, or fees rise because there are fixed costs to maintain a course which are spread over fewer members.
The issue right now is not growth but just keeping the number of members the same. It's not about making more money- it could be a matter of survival. There are some sports that drastically decline as the players age and no youngsters replace them. Lawn bowls is one. Squash is another. These are "British" sports, there may be sports that have declined in the US. That is unlikely for golf but is a warning not to be complacent.
In New Zealand many (18 hole) clubs charge half annual fees for nine hole members and women particularly like this. Tee off at 9 home by 11 or 12. Also In NZ par 3 courses are rated for NZGA handicaps- excellent for young beginners and parents to play together.
You might clarify one of your thoughts "if the game shrinks, would likely be cheaper." How?
Interesting debate started by RES, worthy of a thread to itself. There are a lot of sports that can be enjoyed across generations, some with greater health benefits than golf, like swimming. Some are cheap like swimming, some more expensive with tons of barriers to entry like snow skiing.

RES may be on to something, the ulterior motive for growing the game is money. If the game grows, demand increases and prices certainly go up.

I think your info about New Zealand is an example. If the game shrinks, i.e there is less demand, then golf courses and equipment manufacturers and clubs will need to make things more enticing and affordable in order to keep business up. Of course, if
operating budgets stay the same, they will all go under, but if maintenance costs and marketing and r and d costs
are reigned in (leading to shorter courses that play F and F and fewer renditions of the same
Taylor made driver being released every six months, then the courses and companies can find ways to stay in the black with lower revenues and offer less for less, which to the core golfer should not be a problem. In fact isn't it the "growth" of the game, or at least the perception that the game needs to grow, that has lead to all of the equipment and thus course length issues we've been bemoaning for years?
01.9.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRES
Here are some thoughts, some of which may have already been covered.

Staying ''the same'' is actually declining. As a Manufacturer's Rep, I had an awesome customer base, but still needed to find new customers, because businesses get sold, and the new owner has a supplier already, etc. And so golfers die, move, get new hobbies, etc, and someone needs to fill those shoes, or costs for existing players go up.

Addittionally , golf knows no age, so one can learn as a youngster, and play for decades. I didn't start playng until I was almost 40, though I enjoyed watching it played on TV. Half the fun of golf is the views, the nature... you don't get that on a basketball or tennis court.

I agree, the ''need'' for more courses is over in the US, the ''growth'' for equipment is a sad byproduct of corporate ownership, instea of private companies, who ae interested in product quality, not quantity. The TM new driver a year is marketing 101, and sadly, even Ping has jumped in to this merry go round. So yes, you questioing ''growth'' has some merit.

So the answers are varied, but the reality is the discretionary income and time situation deems a need for trying to atract new players.
01.9.2013 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
Digsouth --

thanks for your thoughts. is it true that costs would go up? My thinking is that if people drop out of the game, the weaker companies will fold and the larger companies will contract, but how will that raise prices? We certainly don't see that with the growing number of country club closures -- it has gotten less expensive to be a member at all but the most prestigious clubs. Equipment companies like Dunlop and Ram had clubs available for a fraction of what Titleist and Callaway are charging before they eventually disappeared or were taken in by other companies. If the companies expect to remain behemoths, then, yes, prices will go up. But if they face reality and decrease their size, then costs can come down commensurately. Of course, raising prices will only kill the game faster, so it seems that market forces would keep the cost down and lead to restructuring of the golf business to account for that. But I'm not an economist.

As such, the salient points that you've made still strike me as being from the profit-driven point of view. I suppose that if it were true that costs would go up with the contraction of the sport, that there would be an impetus for recreational golfers who have no vested monetary interest in the game to be concerned with its "growth", but since that point seems theoretical at best and without much evidence in practice, I still feel confused as to why these ideas about how to grow golf affect anyone other than those whose business is golf. But maybe I'm reading these articles incorrectly. I suppose that they are directed solely at the businesspeople of golf, rather than the serious recreational golfer like myself. In that case, I suppose I don't need to wonder why I should care, because the articles are not meant for me. But if that is the case, whey do they keep showing up in mass-market golf periodicals like GD, GW and GWeek? I feel like they are there to exhort me to take up the call to arms. But in the end, the game is the game is the game, and it will always be here. I don't enjoy it anymore now with my Titleist 910 driver playing from 6900 yards than I did twenty years ago (before the "boom") playing 6400 yard courses with my BIg Bertha (retailing at 200 bucks). The growth of golf has done very little for me. Yes, I enjoyed that the growth of the game brought us Bandon Dunes, but I'd rather play at St. Andrews and Lahinch, both of which survived the game not being so "big".

So, am I missing something in asking why people other than those with a business interest in the game should care? I wouldn't be surprised if I were missing something big. I'm not saying that I'm necessarily right. But I've yet to figure out why I'm not.
01.9.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I'll preface this by saying that I make my living in the game of golf, so indeed I have a vested interest in the growth of the game. That said, other than the equipment companies who would directly benefit from a growth spurt, much of the focus we place as an industry on growth is simply to replace the players that have been leaving the game. And recent trends (say, the last 5 years) show a decrease in the number of players on an annual basis.

Also, I'll add that my perspective is more so from the golf course operations side of the business than the equipment side.

The challenge we face is demographics:

- An aging population. As seniors continue to age, play less golf and eventually quit, there needs to be a new golfer (or golfers depending on how much they played) developed to replace their rounds (good for the pga tour as these "retired golfers" sit in front of the tv and consume the sport for more hours, but bad for golf course owners and equipment manufacturers).

- A population base that is skewing more Hispanic. Statistically and historically this group plays far less golf than their non-Hispanic counterparts.

Where it impacts you as a golfer is the inevitable decline that we will face regarding the number of courses in America. It begins with cost-cutting, i.e. smaller staff levels and agronomy budgets (typically impacting course conditioning), and eventually leads to a number of courses that ultimately close. forever. Less courses = more demand on those that remain = restoration of higher fees and more impacted tee sheets = slower rounds of golf and tougher to get tee times.

Currently there are a number of courses that operate at a loss and are highly leveraged, and it's just a matter of time before they go under. Because of the forces that have been pushing prices down (declining rounds), there's no pricing leverage, and smart money will look for investments that yield better returns outside of the golf business. I tend to agree with you that it would be healthier to have shorter courses, walkable, less chemicals and water needed, etc. But unfortunately these 7500 yard beasts are already built and the loss of one of these facilities won't be replaced with a smaller budget, easier to play option. It simply won't be replaced...
01.9.2013 | Unregistered Commentere9golf

There are plenty of 'grow the game' initiatives in tennis.

I can also vouch that they are saying the exact same thing in bowling, another sport that is dying.

I understand what you are saying about no growth, but I don't really think you want shrinkage. Shrinkage seems like cheaper greens fees... until your local or favorite course closes. And really, since the game is currently shrinking, 'growing' is at this exact moment in time 'how do we get the same number of rounds to be played in 2013 as were played in 2012 rather than 10% less?' The goal is to stop the shrinkage that is occurring as get back to stable rather than increasing.

And while it doesn't seem likely now, there is no reason that there has to be 15,000+ courses in the U.S. If the game truly shrinks, that could easily be 10,000 or 5,000 or 500. And I don't think that anything associated with a shrinking game will be cheaper... if anything its rarity will make it more expensive.

The question is who will be last remaining golfers? I hate to say it, but I suspect it will be wealthiest, and hence the cost to play the game is more likely to go up than down.
01.9.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBignose
Golf's very much like downhill skiing, a niche sport that will swell or contract a bit with the general state of the economy. Relatively expensive initial equipment costs, difficult to perform well, limited venues, time consuming, weather dependent, no metro, high population presence. Still a great game though!
01.9.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Golfer

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