Monday, April 23, 2012


It's 2012 and the golf course industry is in a serious correction (that's a kind term, it's really in a decline) due to an oversupply of golf courses and at flat or declining participation rate of golf players.

We're seeing private clubs going public because their membership is down 50%. Their beautiful palace (clubhouse) can no longer sustain itself because they're collecting half the annual dues they were collecting ten years ago.

Many troubled golf courses are part of residential developments - especially the southeast USA. In Florida several courses have closed - Ravines in Middleburg,  Forest Lakes in Sarasota, Turkey Creek in Alachua, and several others. There are several on the brink at the moment this article is being written.

What is the solution?

I'm a 'Back-in-the-Box' thinker. There are times when we have to look at what worked when golf was a growing (virtually exploding) industry. I mean, what was it that took golf from 90% private to 90% public between 1955 and 2005?

I was there all the way. I watched golf grow. I was part of it. For at least my first 30-years in golf we were constantly building the game. I mean encouraging people to play. All kinds of people: kids, men, women, seniors. We made it easy to get started. Easy lessons, starter sets of golf clubs, beginner or starter leagues. All that stopped sometime around 1985. I know the National Golf Foundation indicated growth in participation had been flat since the late 1990s, but I believe golf stopped its strong growth pattern at least 10 and probably 15 years earlier.

When I say, "Golf needs to get itself back in the box." I'm trying to regenerate the enthusiasm for growing golf from the grass roots. I want to see the National Golf Foundation getting back to the business they were founded on - growing the game of golf.

They don't want to hear this, but the PGA and the USGA have, been patting themselves on the back for the last 30-years, when they should have been watching the game - taking a few minutes a day to come down to street level. They needed then, and more importantly now, to look at the foundation of golf, the 90-shooters, the hackers, the dreamers who buy those $600.00 drivers.

Truth is, the powers in golf have become too snobbish, too removed from golf's grass roots. Where are all the drive-by driving ranges? What happened to the par-3 and executive golf courses? Who conducts learn-to-play-golf classes for beginners?

Do you own a golf course? When was the last time you actually started a brand new golfer?

Show me one management company who sincerely runs golf growth programs.  

I believe there are as many people out there who do not play golf who would play if  the route to play was more inviting. We're talking up to 30 million North Americans who don't play golf who would at least give the game a try. But the 'powers' in golf have to use their heads.

If I'm going to market to find new golfers the last place I will advertise is on the golf channel, or, for instance, in Golf Digest. I hate to use the word 'stupid' but think of it: The only people who watch the golf channel, or subscribe to Golf Digest are already golfers! When you're aiming at the 90% of population who do not play golf you have to go to the widest audience possible. That sure ain't the golf channel!

I learned the largest reading audience in a small town newspaper was the obituary page - really! Women generally turned to that page first. So, that's where I ran my ads for my learn to play golf classes. I set up the ad so a woman would be attracted to it - not that they were to be my intended new golf prospect, but they would show it to their spouse and family members. I used the same strategy every year for over 20-years and sold out every class every spring in Peterborough, Ontario (1965 through 1985). I'm not talking a class of ten people. We started between 230 and 250 new golfers every year for over 20-years. That's the box we need to jump back into!

Any comments so far? Dig in. Say something!