Golfmak.com Predicted Golf's Current Dilemma
I started Golfmak.com in 1997 using the original domain name, 'golfenomics' a special word I created by joining of Golf with Economics. It was meant to connect the special economic environment that develops around a golf course. It came from my years in the golf course business and recognizing that each golf course, like fingerprints, was different from any other - except one thing ... read on for the answer. More importantly, how golf got into its mess in 2017.
In the year 2000, it was obvious to me that golf was getting itself into a big mess. I had already known that growth in participation in golf had pretty well stopped. Then, with every new golf course, the share of golf players was thinning out. For instance, most Florida golf courses in 1997 were bragging 50,000 rounds. Mangrove Bay Municipal Golf Course in St. Petersburg, Florida, actually boasted over 90,000 rounds over its 18-holes. However, I saw two clouds looming on the horizon.
A web page I originally published around 2002, included this paragraph (you can link from anywhere in the paragraph to read my full article):
With more than 3,000 new golf courses opening in the USA between 1990 and 2002, the feasibility study that supported a golf course in 1990 is well out of date. That's because many of the factors in a 1990 feasibility study simply do not apply today. One forecasting mistake 'assumed' a continuing annual increase in player growth in the USA. In fact, a National Golf Foundation (NGF) study, "A Strategic Perspective on the Future of Golf", McKinsey and Company, January 30, 1999, indicated that there may be very few more golfers in '99 than '90. Not much has changed between '99 and '02.
One of the driving forces in golf's boom years through the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's, the baby boomers, was aging. I could see the 55-year-old in 1995 becoming 85 by 2015. It was evident at private country clubs that the membership was aging one year at a time and it was only a matter of time before their waiting lists to join dried up. In fact, when I was managing Orange Park Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida in 2001, area private clubs still had waiting lists. But by 2005, clubs like Magnolia Plantation in Green Cove Springs, near Jacksonville, originally with a rather snobbish attitude toward new golfers found their waiting list had all but dried up.
I'm not a rocket scientist but if I have a golf course hosting 50,000 rounds and a new golf course opens nearby, where the heck do you think they will get their players? Some of the stupidest feasibility studies you could imagine were indicating that a new golf course would be hosting 50,000 rounds at 'stabilization' - usually by the end of the second or third year. I know because when I was involved in golf course financing while working at the Hayward Office in Tampa. We placed over $50 million in golf course financing between '94 and 2000. I watched developers and bankers fall for 'phony' studies so they could finance and build residential neighborhood golf courses to get premium lot prices with fairway views. Again. My question was, "Where the hell are the 50,000 rounds coming from?"
In fact, there was a crack in the health of the golf course industry back in 1995 after an article in a Crittenden Golf Report indicated that a great percentage of golf course were having trouble paying their bills.
I am sure many of the failing golf courses in the USA are residential development golf courses. If anyone has statics on it I would love to have a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org
Where am I going with all this?
I've been saying it and I'll say it again. There are millions of Americans who do not play golf who would give golf a try if given half a chance. It begins with a simple invitation to friends and acquaintances to come out to our golf course and learn to play. In fact, here's a conversation I had with a pro who was about to give a free clinic at his country club.
The clinic was open to any member who wished to attend to learn how to improve their golf game. I immediately suggested, "Why not ask your members to invite a friend who is not a golfer or a member to take part in the free clinic?" Statistically, if ten non-golfing people were invited to take part in the free clinic, one of then is likely to get hooked on the game. Now you have a new member prospect.
What's your PGA professional staff doing to build member prospects? Does your club have a new golfer program? I mean non-golfing people from outside the club roster.
Is that so hard to do?
There is a concerted effort in the UK, National Golf Month, to stimulate growth in participation by targeting women. I'd love to see the same effort here in North America.
Maybe if my name was Nicklaus, Michelson, or Johnson the movers and shakers of the golf world would listen to me. We don't need to be losing 1,500 golf courses over the next few years. If every golf course in the country invited people out to learn the basics of the game and give golf a try the current player shortfall would disappear very quickly.
Oh! But one thing. Don't start the first lesson with the grip.
And what is the only thing golf courses have in common?
The diameter of the putting cup - 4 1/4 inches.
Mike Kahn, Golfmak.com