A couple of points from John Paul Newport's Saturday WSJ column on the possible parallels between the 1929 market crash and today.
For golf, the 1920s were a Golden Age, headlined by a boom in new courses and the hero-worship of Bobby Jones. The 1990s into the early 2000s has often been called golf's second Golden Age, epitomized by another explosion of new courses and the glamour of Tiger Woods. Most golf histories depict the 1930s as a bleak and uneventful period: Mr. Jones retired from competition in 1930 after winning the Grand Slam, and golf clubs by the hundreds were boarded up. But the era actually was transformative, says Rand Jerris, director of the U.S. Golf Association Museum in New Jersey.
"This was the period during which golf became acceptable to a much wider range of people," he says. Many of those defunct private clubs reopened as public ones. The Works Progress Administration built more than 100 new golf courses nationwide, opening up the game to thousands. Women, forced by circumstances to work outside the home, took up the game in unprecedented numbers. And the professional tour, though it struggled financially, began to establish itself in the public imagination as charismatic pros like Walter Hagen and Byron Nelson stole the limelight from the blue-blood amateurs, like Mr. Jones, who had dominated golf until then. When golf blossomed again after World War II, it was a different game.
But if you were thinking there's no room to grow, I suppose there is merit in these numbers. Still, it'd be nice for golf to use this slump to address a few weaknesses (as Newport notes later on in the column):
Golf through the last few downturns has fared relatively well. "It isn't recession proof, but neither does it have those 20% or 30% peaks and valleys that some other industries have," says Tom Stine, a co-founder of Golf Datatech, a leading industry statistic-keeper. Golf rounds played this year were down 1.4% through September, the latest month for which data are available, and retail spending on equipment was down 3.4%, according to Golf Datatech. "That's down, but it's not that bad," Mr. Stine said.
The game's resistance to economic swings is rooted in the avidity of its core players, who number (depending on the definition applied) from eight million to 12 million, out of 29.5 million U.S. golfers total, according to the National Golf Foundation. "Golf is their passion, it's what they do, it's central to their lives," Mr. Stine says. They don't stop playing.