As we inch ever so closer to 2019 I have both a thought and a wish.
Somehow and some way we (golfers in general) need to get our great game growing. Yeah, I know the argument is out there that the game is totally fine. The numbers of golfers playing the sport hasn’t decreased and if anything there are conflicting stories that there are more golfers taking up the game of golf now more than ever.
As somebody who’s worked in the golf industry in multiple capacities I’ve watched and noted trends. Most notably, when I served as a Director of Golf Services at one course (that was once private but had to go into a different direction). While we say there’s growth or decline in the level of interest of I think you need to adjust the microscope just to look a little closer.
If there’s one thing that we need to look at when looking at an increase or decrease in the number of golfers playing the sport there’s one word that’s very integral to the conversation. Demographics. I think the growth or regression of the game is something that boils down to the area’s geography, gender and income among other things. One such area that I’ll talk about is my home region. Niagara (on the good side).
The Niagara Region was once an area known for its bustling economy and industry. Once home to massive places of industry that employed thousands of workers (John Deere, INCO, Atlas Steel, Stelco, Union Carbide and no less than four General Motors plants in St. Catharines alone). As time wore on those jobs that yielded great paychecks slowly began to disappear. While some were reluctant to retire others received “The Golden Handshake” and got terrific pensions. For those that played golf it meant more time to play. Which is great… right?!
Unfortunately, those that received the pensions aged and eventually passed away which in turn leads to a decline in the number of golfers. Most of them would be well into their late ’60’s and mid to late 70’s by now. Ultimately, Niagara has become nothing more than a glorified retirement community with the bulk of employment coming from the tourism and call center industries. Now, the majority of jobs pay hourly wages that are around minimum wage while there are a few tiny “pockets” of good paying jobs around.
As minimum wage increased so have the costs for golf course ownership and maintenance. In a proverbial “Circle of Life” scenario, the fuel costs have risen and so to have the costs of everything else. The transportation of the food and beverages that you consume while at the course. The cost of resources and utilities like water and hydro. The cost of the processing of the fertilizer used to make the course lush and green to the employees being paid to provide you services day in and day out. The point being, for the most part golf courses themselves have made the game (in a way) unaffordable. They’ve reached an awkward precipice of cost vs profit. My philosophy on this has always been sell more at $40 than less at $60.
So with that being said how does the game grow? Do they drop the prices of golf greens fees in areas of economic drooping or in general? Yes, that is one way. But, there’s another obvious way. The next time that you go out to a golf course to play a round I want you to observe something.
Out of the golfers that you see on any given golf course how many are female? Okay, now how many of those golfers (Member and Non-Members) are younger than 60? Better yet, how many of the female golfers that you see are less than 45? The number is getting smaller right? Now, how many female golfers do you see that are 35 and under. On any given day at the last course I worked at (this year) I can tell you that that number was… Zero. Yes you read that right… Zero!! It’s is this very demographic that needs to be addressed. Females under 40. But how do we do that? Simple we need to get them interested. How? Maybe more exposure on the television perhaps? Golf Channel… are you listening? Focus less on the men… they’re exposure comes regardless especially if it involves Tiger. Heck, outlets like Until The Next Tee (me) where you are have the ability to influence can help. One set of eyeballs at a time. During the course of last season, I can tell you that the number of female golfers under 40 that I saw come through the Pro Shop last year (I worked 5 days a week) was no more than 15 for the entire season.
But let’s delve a little deeper yet. Junior golfer’s. Now here’s another golf resource that needs to be tapped. Other than 3 junior members that we had last year I saw an additional three or four that played golf. At the course where I was the Director of Golf we had 5 and they were the only ones that I saw the entire year. Grandparents and parents, it’s up to us to motivate the younger generation to get off of their collective arses. Get them off of their devices or gaming systems and introduce them to nature and golf. Think about it, maybe you have the next college golf star in your family and a scholarship with free tuition could be in the cards. Brands like U.S. Kids Golf and The Littlest Golfer have the equipment to get them kickstarted.
Growing golf also doesn’t necessarily mean playing golf on a course. With facilities like Top Golf and Drive Shack opening it’s a new way to get “millenials” immersed into the game. A bar where it feels like a club with food and booze? Why not? That sounds like fun. Even though I was at Top Golf Tampa by myself one morning… it really is fun. Those who start trying the game at these facilities just may end up on an actual golf course one day.
There are a lot of considerations to take into account when we talk about growing the game. This could be right at the golf course ownership level. Folks, the ability is there to grow golf. Introduce the kids to golf and #inviteHER. It’s the untapped junior’s and women that hold the key to unlocking the growth of golf.
Until The Next Tee!!