Friday, February 22, 2008

NY Times Confirms Participation Trend

I've done several articles about participation in golf over the years. No need to link to them, but the topics have included why people are leaving the game, if technology has an impact on reduced participation, what impact race has on participation, etc. Often times, I cite statistics from the National Golf Foundation that states that participation has not really grown on the whole since 2000 and that the number of golfers has remained flat or dropped every year since. Yesterday, the NY Times confirmed what I have talked about for so long.

Over the past decade, the leisure activity most closely associated with corporate success in America has been in a kind of recession.

The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

More troubling to golf boosters, the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.

The industry now counts its core players as those who golf eight or more times a year. That number, too, has fallen, but more slowly: to 15 million in 2006 from 17.7 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Interestingly, some golf course owners and marketers threw out some ideas:
Was it the economy? Changing family dynamics? A glut of golf courses? A surfeit of etiquette rules — like not letting people use their cellphones for the four hours it typically takes to play a round of 18 holes? Or was it just the four hours?
Who still plays golf in four hours anymore? No one on the PGA Tour.

Later in the piece (I am skipping around in this post), the family dynamic issue is mentioned in greater depth:
“Years ago, men thought nothing of spending the whole day playing golf — maybe Saturday and Sunday both,” said Mr. Rocchio, the public relations consultant, who is also the New York regional director of the National Golf Course Owners Association. “Today, he is driving his kids to their soccer games. Maybe he’s playing a round early in the morning. But he has to get back home in time for lunch.”
I'm sure you could substitute women for men there too, as they make up one quarter of golfers.

Some of those reasons may very well be accurate. Also, as other sports are finding, people in the younger generations simply are not as active as older ones. But how does the industry cope? A small gathering for this particular piece threw out some suggestions:
They strategized about marketing to women, who make up about 25 percent of golfers nationally; recruiting young players with a high school tournament; attracting families with special rates; realigning courses to 6-hole rounds, instead of 9 or 18; and seeking tax breaks, on the premise that golf courses, even private ones, provide publicly beneficial open space.
A final point addressed in the piece was one that I wanted to highlight because it lends some insight into the recent trends of private clubs going public, golf courses being sold, and the closing of many others.

In many parts of the country, high expectations for a golf bonanza paralleling baby boomer retirements led to what is now considered a vast overbuilding of golf courses.

Between 1990 and 2003, developers built more than 3,000 new golf courses in the United States, bringing the total to about 16,000. Several hundred have closed in the last few years, most of them in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina, according to the foundation.

Basically, developers expected the elderly to move to the south and want to live near the golf course with their retirement money - or, at the minimum, play a lot of golf in the south. When that did not happen, for whatever reasons, courses had to be shut down.

The industry seems to be facing a problem of changes in society (for the worse I feel), but also of greed. Golf can only expand as much as people will allow it. There are lots of studies out as to why people are turning away from the game - the time investment, the money investment, not knowing where to start, it's tough to learn, etc. Until the golfing community works to better address those issues, golf will continue to be stagnant in its growth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I for one totally agree. Yet clubs still have thier heads in the sand over this. What staggers me is that they cannot see the benifits of the simple things like improving communication with members...