Golf 2.0. Grow the game? Just another expensive initiative
As the golf world convened in Orlando, Florida at the PGA Merchandise Show, the PGA of America trots out its latest version of “grow the game”, Golf 2.0. This is just another expensive, misguided, tone deaf initiative destined to fail just like all the others that came before it.
According to the PGA of America, an organization representing club pros in the United States, Golf 2.0 is supposed to be an industry-wide effort to increase the number of players and the revenue generated by the golf industry.
Specifically, the Golf 2.0 vision is to go from 26.1 million golfers and $33 billion in consumer spending in 2011 to 32 million golfers and $35 billion in consumer spending by 2016. The 2020 vision is 40-plus million golfers and $40 billion in consumer spending.
The PGA intends to accomplish this by “re-training” their golf pros to package the game to be less time consuming and more affordable and to, once again, target families, women and minorities. They will spend millions of dollars on Golf 2.0.
Newspaperman and philosopher H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) once said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Apparently that extends to the 27,000 members of the PGA. Golf 2.0 thinks they will increase the number of golfers from the allegedly 26 million today to 40 million in the next eight years? Seriously? Boys and girls, it is time to step away from the crack pipe, sober up and consider a few realities.
In the past decade the number of rounds played in the US fell from 518 million to 475 million. They have declined each of the last five years. The number of golfers has declined from 30 million in 2005 to 26 million today. According to a survey done in the fourth quarter of 2011 by the National Golf Foundation (NGF) 60 percent of the respondents don’t expect their financial situation to improve in 2012 and 56 percent say they’ve adopted more “frugal;” behaviors that they intend to continue even if things improve.
What in God’s name does the PGA see in this that makes them think they will get 14 million MORE golfers in the next eight years?
Previous projections by the NGF helped create the enormous excess of golf courses in the US that has led to a major bust in that part of the industry. The NGF predicted that there would be a major increase in “minorities” taking up golf based on the so-called “Tiger Effect” of Tiger Woods meteoric career path. With what turned out to be preposterous projections American developers and lenders went on a building spree in the late 1990s and early 2000s that led to several years of over 400 new golf courses per year being opened in the US. That is more than one per day over several years.
Guess what? The boom never happened. The minorities never showed up and the bottom fell out of the golf course business. Now, for the last three years, the net number of golf courses in the US has actually declined, a trend not seen in this country since World War II. More courses closed than opened and hundreds of others were foreclosed on and sold for pennies on the dollar of their original cost.
The golf industry and the PGA of America ought to be more concerned about trying to save what they have rather than kidding themselves about growing the game. The PGA is an industry group that needs to represent the interests of its members but why must we, the public, be dragged into their fantasies? Why is it our business to grow the game? The game has survived for over 500 years. Why must it always be “grown.” Personally I liked it better before the boom-it cost less and was less crowded.
The golf industry had their chance when business was good but they blew it. They were perfectly happy to open the door each day, stand behind the cash register and collect the daily proceeds. Where were the incentives then? All the golf industry had to do was look at the ski industry for a model. The ski industry bends over backward to bring new skiers into the sport. They give away learn-to-ski programs, offer equipment rentals, have beginner areas and slopes and have discounted children’s rates. Where is this in golf?
As far as re-training club pros, you can forget about it. Those old dogs are not learning any new tricks at this point. As wonderful as golf pros may be they are not particularly entrepreneurial and not overly ambitious. You can’t attract a certain type of individual for 100 years and then try to turn them into something they are not.
As for the attraction of minorities, why is it these golf industry groups must always take this patronizing attitude towards minorities as if the minorities are too stupid to realize what’s good for them and must be targeted? Lest we not forget, it was this very group, the PGA of America, who had a “Caucasian only” rule on the books until 1961.
If there was ever a period of time when African-Americans were going to come into the game en masse, it was during Tiger Woods heyday and that didn’t happen. African Americans and other minorities are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about which activities they will pursue and if they don’t want to play golf then that is their choice.
The game of golf isn’t going to grow in the next eight years or for the next 20 for that matter. The boom that occurred was a one time thing based on a confluence of circumstances.
The so-called Baby Boom generation in the US, the largest by far, came of age golf, income and leisure-wise in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The economy boomed and the housing industry took off based on access to easy credit creating an enormous increase in equity and personal wealth.
Now the economy has gone bust and the easy credit has dried up and the equity has been severely diminished. The value of retirement accounts has been cut in half and the Baby Boom generation has been replaced by the Baby Bust generation. The Boomers are retiring to fixed incomes and dying off slowly. The population numbers are not there
Golf is a great game and will survive but the industry leaders need to stop fooling themselves and wasting valuable resources on programs doomed to failure.Written by Wayne Mills
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