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Save Golf: Make a resolution to be a part of the solution

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So they say golf is in decline, a pastime of the privileged whose day has come, and there’s little we can do but wistfully watch as it rides off into the long, slow sunset of obscurity. The signs are everywhere and the reasons plenty, from continually falling club membership to high costs, slow play and the short attention spans of today’s youth. And the media’s almost eager portrayal of this has been so pervasive that even the casual observer couldn’t have missed at least a story or two by now detailing how the game is in its eleventh hour.

Now trust me, I’m not one of those doom and gloom pundits, trying desperately to jump on the bandwagon of the latest sinking ship that I have little invested in. I’m just the opposite. I am an optimist, an everyman. As chairman of one of the PGA’s Growth of the Game Committees, I spend more time than most singing the praises of the Royal and Ancient game while trying to ensure it is accessible to everyone.

In the past, I’ve written how the mainstream coverage of this decline has been lazy, opportunistic, and overblown, but I’m changing course now, and decided at long last it’s time to take their conclusions at whole cloth. I say this not because I’ve become resigned to their inevitability. I say it because it’s a notion I refuse to idly accept, and because if they are correct, and the game really is in trouble, it’s high time we started a movement to save it. I think I know how we can do that.

So I’m throwing down the gantlet, so to speak, and challenging you all to be a part of the solution, and it starts with making one simple little New Year’s resolution. So if you’re a true golfer, and, like me, you want to see this game enter a new era of prosperity, lend me your ear for a moment, as I will preface my solution with just a bit of a story. It’s a story that, in one way or another, I’m sure is a lot like your story, and it sets the stage for where we are, what you can do, and why you should help.

I learned the game on military and public courses at a young age. I walked, carrying a faded canvas bag with one pocket and a hodge-podge of leather-gripped clubs my grandfather had cut down in his garage that bore names like Hagen, Snead and Littler. I played with Club Specials, Kro-Flites and Pro-Staffs (many with smiles on them), and anything else I could fish out of the lake on the hole adjacent to his backyard or find in the weeds. I took one lesson from a grizzled old pro, allowing me to get a junior card and play all day (which I did a lot) for $1 at the local three-par. I got invited to play in my first regular foursome at the age of 10 by three very patient retired guys, one of whom gave me a dollar for every par I made, and on an average day, I had enough money to buy lunch when we were done.

It was a grand game (the best game, I thought), and likely the best babysitter my folks could have found too, as the most trouble I ever remember getting into was when I stepped in the line of someone’s putt prior to learning the proper etiquette.

Forty years later, I’m now the grizzled old pro, but those sacred playgrounds of my youth look sadly different. A base closure and over-development sealed their fates, and a drive by the abandoned sites stirs emotions in me unlike few places can. That three-par, a once-novel Robert Trent Jones Sr. design (the only 18-hole executive course he ever built), is now little more than a playground for the occasional squirrel or fox, where moss-covered lakes, old hole signs, and the thickets of trees that had shaded me on many a hot summer day stand sentry, like weathered headstones in an abandoned graveyard. They watch over the ghosts of golfers past, still traversing the unrecognizable former fairways, pulling a bag, fishing a ball from a lake or tending the pin as a kindred spirit cozies up a 40 footer from the imagined edge of a long-forgotten green.

The little old clubhouse still stands too, a last vestige of the pre-round hopes and post-round revelry of another generation. With its missing roof tiles and boarded windows, it barely resembles the oasis of my younger days, where many a french fry, milkshake, and joke were shared among friends. It’s a difficult vision, one that not only reminds me of lost youth, but the lost opportunities that shuttered courses all around the country represent for our future generations as they slip through our fingers like so many grains of sand through the hourglass of time this game has left.

This brings me back to the decline in golf’s participation. At its height, shortly after a certain Mr. Woods arrived on the scene, there were close to 30 million players in the U.S. But in recent years that number has dropped to less than 25 million. In the past, I’ve argued this decline was to be expected and that it ran parallel to the drop-offs in participation seen by many other leisure-time activities during the difficult economy of the Great Recession. But that rate of decline has now been steeper than even what was seen following the Great Depression, and despite the fact that the stock market is now at an all-time high and the economy has rebounded, the game’s participation hasn’t, and so it is becoming harder and harder to just pass it off as a temporary reaction to unfortunate economic realities.

And almost nine years into it, if we don’t turn it around soon, it won’t be long before this may come to be known as “golf’s lost decade,” a decade where the game lost not just its brightest star to father time, but its relevance to a whole generation of potential new players too.

Not so long ago, in the heady aftermath of golf’s “Tiger Boom,” courses were built with an “If you build it, they will come” type of optimistic abandon. And for a while they did. But today, the closure of courses both significant and obscure — something almost unheard of a decade ago — has become an unfortunate but accepted part of the new normal. And as the long-treasured sites of many golfers’ first par, birdie, eagle, or hole-in-one see their last hook, slice, chunk, or chili-dip, we see the window of opportunity to introduce this game to a new generation closing along with them.

As a golfer, and one whose entire life has not only revolved around the game, but one who has made his living by the grace of those who play, it’s painful for me to watch. And I really can’t abide it, because it is still by no means inevitable, as long as I can get a few of you to join me in helping to make sure the game’s well-chronicled struggles don’t end up being the harbinger of a tragically avoidable demise.

Now at this point, I could dive into all the great many reasons why the game is so great and why you should be playing or playing more, but if you’re reading this I’m likely preaching to the choir, so let me instead move on to what I propose. Regardless of the reasons, it is obvious by now that fewer of us are investing the time it takes to play. And for a game that gives so much back, not only to those who play, but to millions who’ve never even picked up a club through its philanthropic arms, that’s an investment I think we can ill-afford not to make. And despite all the great programs the PGA, USGA, and other allied associations come up with, when it comes right down to it, we are the ones with the power to save golf!

So if you’re a true golfer, and you cherish this game and want to pass it on to your children and grandchildren to enjoy in the same way that we have, then here is what I hope you will resolve to do.

PGA research tells us there are more than 90 million people in the U.S. interested in playing golf. If we accept those numbers at face value, that means there are more than 65 million potential prospects out there (more than two for every existing golfer), and so this undertaking shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Take a brief moment and think about one person you know who could benefit from everything this game has to offer. Whether it is a spouse, neighbor, co-worker, friend, mother, father, sister, brother, child, or grand-child we all know someone who isn’t yet a golfer, or who for one reason or another just doesn’t seem to make the time to play anymore. And once you’ve come up with that one person, resolve to introduce (or re-introduce) them to the game. That’s it!

If they’re a new golfer, you may have to invest some extra time until they’re engaged. And if they’re a lapsed golfer, it may be as simple as getting that trusty old 7-iron back in their hands.

But whether they are new or experienced, young or old, spouse, friend, family or colleague, I am pretty confident you won’t regret it, and both of your lives will be better for it. And if even a mere one in five of you took this pledge the game of golf could not only return to its heyday, but potentially to heights previously unseen.

I witnessed another course closure this past year; another unfortunate victim of golf’s shrinking customer base that has become all too commonplace. Not the closure of an insignificant mom-and-pop three-par, or a tired muni that had fallen out of favor with locals when a brighter, shinier model opened nearby. This was a course once ranked in Golf Digest’s Top 100 you can play. Another sad event. And the solemn collection of golfers who lined its now abandoned fairways in the closing weeks was eerily reminiscent of a funeral procession, with long-time friends reuniting a final time to pay their last respects.

To an extent, it’s the cycle of life, and those of us who are fortunate enough to walk down the 18th fairway of life after a lengthy journey will see a great many things come and go. But the game is more than just a game and won’t be one of those things as long as enough of us care to act.

For more than 500 years and 50 generations, golf has endured. Each generation in turn has not only enjoyed it and learned its many lessons, but also preserved it, ensuring that it in turn would be passed along to the next generation like a precious gift.

So let it not be said that when our time came our generation stood idly by as this Royal and Ancient game diminished because we were either too busy or the work was just too hard. Let it rather be said, as true golfers so often ardently preach, that we left it better than we found it… WE can save golf. So join me and please pass this message on to every true golfer you know who cares enough to join us in making this resolution too. And then go find that one person...

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Scott

    Jan 4, 2017 at 11:30 am

    A lot of good points have been made. However, I am not how much cost and time have to do with participation. I see a lot of kids spending lots of time (hours at a sitting) and money playing video games. I agree that the rules are archaic and a lot of them are ridiculous and should be changed (stroke and distance for out of bounds for one, playing out of an un-repaired divot for another). However, for a friendly round, don’t worry about some of the rules.

    Tiger made the game cool and he made it look easy. However, as we all know, it is not easy. This is my own experience in trying to bring a new golfer in the game.

    I have worked to get my wife interested in the game over the past 25 years. She was interested initially, so I bought her new clubs and got her some lessons. She got better and her interest picked up. However, she was very slow and deliberate (on top of being a beginner) which was frustrating. On top of that, when I would have a bad round and become frustrated, she did not like playing with me even though I did not direct it at her. As technology changed, she refused to get new clubs, because she thought that it would not help. Over the years, I worked very hard with her on etiquette and playing quicker with fewer practice strokes. She started playing better and enjoying the game more. She still preferred the driving range to the course, probably because of my attitude. 2 years ago I bought her a new high lofted driver which she was able to hit really well. She started enjoying the game more and I really enjoyed watching her hit it. My attitude must have been noticeable as she was enjoying playing more . This year she was receptive to getting new irons, which she was also able to hit well. Her enjoyment level went up and so did mine, which in turn, made hers go higher, and then mine higher and so on. She now wants to play and go to the driving range quite often.

    So, from what I gathered from getting a new person into the game is this. 1) It take a lot of patience and understanding to work with someone to get them to enjoy the experience. If patience is not your strong suit or if you are unwilling to be patient, then don’t try it. That particular round of golf has to be all about them and it has to be made fun. 2) get the person lessons 3) take them to the driving range and to cheep golf courses at slow times so them can have some fun. 4) get them the proper equipment. I have fit people before and analyzing my wife’s swing, I had a good feeling what would work. She did not want me to spend a lot of money on her equipment, so I found some great stuff that I felt would work for her on ebay and rock bottom.

    OK Mike Dowd, I got my one.

  2. Jim Gift

    Jan 4, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I also learned to play golf on a sand-green public 9 hole course and then in the military. Until last year, I always played golf on military courses. Bottom line, golf has gotten too expensive in the public sector! And, I’m appauled at the pace of play every time I have to play a public course! As a military retiree, if not for the cheaper rates at our military courses, I would have to give up golf. You can try to get more players, but until the game deals with the out of control prices of playing and equipment, we will continue to see a decline. Also, a round of golf on a public course takes too much time. Our younger generations do not have the time or patience for a 5-hour round of golf that costs anywhere from $50-150. We typically play a round on a military course in a little over 3 hours during the week, and average 4 hours on the weekends and holidays.

    Kids and their parents are turning to softball, soccer, and gymnastics. For a family of four to be outfitted with clubs, shoes, and apparel it costs several thousand dollars. Then go purchase 4 rounds of golf for one family outing at a public course, and the average family just cannot afford that type of recreation anymore.

    Club manufacturers and golf ball makers have gotten too greedy and prices are becoming a rich man’s game. Their answer is to continually release a new product every year trying to suck in average golfers. Even starter sets at sporting goods stores will cost several hundred dollars to get a complete set of equipment, bag, putter, and golf balls. If golfers spent a tenth of what they spend on equipment on lessons they would enjoy the game more and also understand that very small equipment changes do not change their scores.

    Also, we, in America, do not need to have manicured golf courses to enjoy the game. The costs of maintaining and operating public golf courses have also gotten out of hand. We’ve gotten spoiled that we must have a perfect lie in the fairways. This was never the intent when golf was invented. The idea was not to make it tedious, it was John Daly esc. Grip it, rip it, go find it, and hit it again. Don’t stew over it thinking a thousand swing thoughts, have more fun!

    Lastly, golf instruction is also partly to blame. Way to many instructors try to teach a method golf swing, and golf magazines have created a perception that if you don’t do it the right way, you fail. And, many give up without ever understanding the fundamental that what the golf ball does is the only thing that can tell you what you’re doing wrong. Understanding ball flight laws and impact conditions is the key to game improvement. Not a perfect swing! We need more instructors that teach this way instead of method technical golf swings.

  3. willis100

    Jan 4, 2017 at 9:31 am

    I could be playing in my senior group now but I decided not to go this morning because I am not in the mood to wait six to eight minutes between shots. Slow play effects my game and probably most other golfer’s game in a very negative way. The comradery is enjoyable but I also want to play well and slow play nullifies the ladder and is golfs biggest deterrent.

  4. rjr25

    Jan 4, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I share with many of the sentiments being said here. Althought I appreciate the idea of the article, its missing the bigger picture. I have tried to get people into golf but when they realize they have to spend $50 to play 18-holes, its take them 5 hours to do so, and that doesnt even include the $450 drivers and other items being released every 6 months, and they have lost interest before they even hit the course.

    Here in the northeast the prices of rounds is steadily increasing a few dollars a year. I personally have cut back and only play when I can find a deal. I dont think our courses are struggling which is why they can get away with it, but I think it will catch up with them eventually. When prices are going up yearly yet I am not really seeing any changes to the courses (and dont even get me started on the extra tee time the courses are sneaking in every hour or two, pushing my rounds to unacceptable time frames) I have less interest to play. Love the game, buts its easy for me to see why its in the decline. Simple getting people interested isnt a solution. People are interested, its the barriers of entry that are leaving them on the sidelines

    • rjr25

      Jan 4, 2017 at 8:52 am

      And to be clear on the prices of rounds, thats just to walk, you are easily looking at $70-$80 riding at what I would call a mediocre/decent course.

  5. ders

    Jan 4, 2017 at 12:36 am

    If golf is cheap enough, a new generation will come. Here in Vancouver there are 3 city run pitch and putts that are 18 holes, less than 1400 yds, $13/round, no reserved tee times, $1 club rentals. Pretty much everyone I know who golfs played their first round at one. They are packed with drunken teens and twenty somethings on dates on any decent weekend and evening. Bags are set on greens, pitch marks aren’t fixed, groups of 5 with a case of beer and stereos, the craziest self taught golf swings, horrendous pace of play and every imaginable golf crime is committed but they are all having fun. Most are just there for something to do but some (as I did) will get hooked and want to play something bigger and hit a club longer than a pitching wedge but even the people who don’t are getting an appreciation of golf and at least can understand it better when they see the sports highlights.

  6. Matt

    Jan 3, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Personally I’m stoked that there are less ignorant a-types on our lovely courses. Doesn’t sound like golf is in decline to me with most countries golf participation numbers actually doing reasonably well. In a nutshell, golfers just don’t want to play Nike branded clubs and a lot of ‘followers’ switched from Tiger Woods to Lance Armstrong; creating a swarm of MAMIL’s (middle aged men in Lycra).

  7. The Real Swanson

    Jan 2, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Golf doesn’t need saving. It’s just returning to a sustainable level.

    The big problem in the UK was the boom due to European Ryder cup success in the mid to late 80’s. Too many new courses opened that were generally very poor. Typically a few ponds in a big field. Those clubs really don’t deserve to survive and will ultimately be sold to property developers. Perhaps a harsh statement, but it’s the likely outcome. There just isn’t the demand.

    Those that started playing due to their favourite football player or celebrity taking up the game were part of the problem. Suddenly golf was ‘cool’. I really don’t care that those who had no real interest in the game of golf, especially the football players and celebrities, are no longer playing. Those not interested in the basic etiquette like repairing pitch marks and raking bunkers won’t be missed by me. I especially don’t want ‘the game’ to encourage drinking on the course, playing in flip flops, jeans and t-shirts. That’s not what the game is about. If the game ‘loses’ that type of player I won’t lose any sleep over it. In fact I hope they go off and do something else sooner rather than later, which will no doubt have a positive effect on the 6 hour rounds others have mentioned.

    As for the equipment manufacturers it’s survival of the fittest to meet demand. There will no doubt be further casualties along the way. That’s just a fact of life in any industry.

    Participation may go back to pre Tiger levels, but I really don’t see that as being a particularly bad thing.

  8. A.Princey

    Jan 2, 2017 at 5:33 am

    Easy way to grow the game, as it has worked before and it can work again:

    “Make Tiger Great Again”

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jan 3, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Well, Tiger played with Donald Trump last week… so that should easily happen.

  9. Jamal

    Jan 2, 2017 at 12:38 am

    This article is well intentioned, but honestly it kinda misses its mark. I don’t agree with Donald Trump on almost anything, but his take on golf is spot on. Golf is and will always be an aspirational game, and it’s a numbers game. Poor people aren’t the base. It’s middle to upper class, just like anything expensive. With the declining middle class, it’s only natural that less people will be playing golf. If you strengthen the middle class, golf will organically grow.
    What we should be doing is focusing more on the golfers that we do have and encouraging them to play more golf. This is where sites like Forelinx.com can help change the game. Making rounds more affordable, making it a predictable expense, and encouraging the golfers that we do have to play more.
    Also the biggest advantage that golf has over virtually every other sport is you can play the same venues that the pros play, in some of the most beautiful locales on Earth. Why don’t I ever hear anyone saying how some of these uber private top 100 courses should adopt the Scottish policy of letting regular people play these courses sporadically without relying on the charity of a member? 1 or 2 days a week, certain months of the year. That would be the ultimate game changer, and give American golf a level of excitement that it’s never had.

  10. Debtor

    Jan 1, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Why should the mainstream / typical golfer care about “growing the game”? What do I care if there are 25 million or 30 million golfers? As long as there are enough players to keep a reasonable number of courses open (so that I can continue to play), why should I spend time trying to get *more* people playing?

    I get that people who make their living in the game (PGA pros, manufacturers, retailers, course operators, etc.) have an economic incentive to get more people playing – but what’s my incentive?

    • PineStreetGolf

      Jan 2, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Spot on. There isn’t one. That’s why this article – while extremely well written – is, in the end, silly.

      Its the plight of the common man. If you act, and nobody else does, you’ve wasted your time. If you don’t act, and everyone else does, you saved effort. Under either scenario, what you’ve done is irrelevant. Just enjoy the game and whatever happens happens.

      The emotional tenor of this piece is a good example of why people shouldn’t worry or care about things they can’t control.

  11. Square

    Jan 1, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    The game missed a generation because they charged kids too much to ride and play and didn’t give them the proper access. When adults are paying 50.00 for green fees, kids under 16 should pay 4-5 dollars a round, be able to walk 9 holes after 2-3 on certain weekdays. Quite frankly I would have liked to have joined a few of them for the afternoon stroll. WE FORGOT THAT GENERATION out of our own selfishness.

  12. tlmck

    Jan 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I do my part. I just bought an almost new Taylormade SLDR 430 for $69 from a second hand shop. Most awesome driver I have hit in years and that includes all the latest and greatest. Also just spent $89 on new FST shafts and half price Royal grips for my Maltby TE iron heads. Spent another $36 on Pinhawk 4 iron and PW heads to test out the whole single length theory.

  13. Perry

    Jan 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    About this time of year, I have the golf bug. All I want to do is practice and play. Sometime in the summer, I lose interest. Variably this is after one or two 6 hour rounds… Nothing sucks the fun out of the game like stupid long rounds.

    Out of bounds should only count for tournament rounds. Nothing clogs up the tubes like some duffer running back to the box to re-tee, or collecting 3 or 4 provisionals.

    Courses need to set expectations of playing faster… Enable it with more of those Segways or golf board things. If all rounds were around 4 hours, there’d be a lot more people in it.

  14. Mike Dowd

    Jan 1, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for all the very thoughtful responses. A common thread, in this discussion at least, seems to be the initial investment to play. It’s true that top-line equipment is expensive, but honestly, with the internet and sites like eBay, big-box stores like Costco, Dick’s, and others I would argue that decent equipment has never been more affordable or available. When I was a kid, the options for inexpensive equipment was either the used barrel at the local muni, or heading to K-Mart or somewhere similar and buying a set of Northwestern’s. You could buy used balls too, or X-Outs at that same department store. I remember my father buying a dozen X-Out Club Specials and every one of them dropped like a stone at about 100 yards out! Talk about feeling cheated by the industry. Today you can go to Costco and buy Kirkland Signature balls that, from what I read, test at levels that meet or exceed Titleist PRO V1 in every category and they’re $15 a dozen! We haven’t developed enough of those mom and pops three pars and other alternative venues for sure, but in most markets the side effect of over-development is that the cost to play golf, on good golf courses, is lower than ever. I was at a get-together just last night where a guy told me he and his buddies each bought a card for $99 that allowed them to play 10 of the best public courses in our region for just the cart fee! At my own club, a private club, we allow people to buy what one reader essentially called a practice membership for $60 a month and they can hit as many balls as they want on the range, and use the practice greens and bunkers all day long every day as well as the clubhouse, restaurant, and attend all the social functions. We give plenty of free clinics too and anyone who wants to learn who doesn’t have clubs is loaned clubs until such a time as they choose to purchase and given a trusty 7-Iron to keep from our older fitting clubs free of charge. I know there are challenges and not every market and club is the same, but I know the industry, and the truth is that similar situations exist in most markets in the U.S. and it’s really just not true to say that the cost of golf is more expensive than it was a little over a decade ago when there were 5 million more players and so I really don’t think that’s the biggest part of the problem. In truth, it’s easy to point to a myriad of factors that all have conspired to bring us to where we are today. It’s easy to say the problem is the equipment companies, the high-cost courses, cultural changes, slow play, the PGA, or the USGA and to expect them to fix it. What’s a little harder is to actually do go out there and do something about it yourself. I wanted to give everyone some food for thought, but more than anything, for those of you who care about the game as much as I do, I wanted to inspire at least some of you to help be a part of the solution. I can go make money doing a lot of different things if I have to, but I don’t want to. I love this game and I want it to be around to share with my kids and maybe even my grandkids someday in the same way it has been for me. I just hope enough of you feel similarly. Here’s to a great 2017 everyone! Personally, I think it’s the beginning of the New Golden Era of Golf! Now just go find that one person. 😉

    • Denis Ciaciuch

      Jan 4, 2017 at 8:57 am

      Mike,
      Nice try but are you delusional? There are many good comments that you seem to poo-poo with the idea that we can all do something to improve your lifestyle. You are a major part of the problem!! The game will survive, although in a different form than the current one.
      You probably don’t see anything wrong with the major governing body of golf “the usga” which is comprised of members of elite private clubs that only the 1% can afford to play. The 1% have priced the game out of reach of most people and couldn’t care less about anything more than their exclusive enclaves. Have you ever wondered why 90% of tour professionals come from private club backgrounds when 90% of golfers play at public courses?
      Stick to your business and stop posting ridiculous comments that are merely meant to preserve your livelihood.

  15. drkviol801

    Jan 1, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Stop grossly overpricing equipment, stop lengthening courses, stop charging stupid amounts for memberships and greens fees, oh and try to pick up the pace of play. As many people have stated above, the club companies and courses have brought this upon themselves because of their greed and now us players will suffer…

  16. Bag Chatter

    Jan 1, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Wow – This article sure brought out the best in all of us didn’t it? I see no one has bothered to mention the effects that climate change has had on participation. It’s a well known fact that during the summer in the deep south, if you can’t manage to get a regular tee time right at day break, then you’re pretty much in for four hours of sheer hot and humid misery. And not all of the moisture-wicking polyester with weird, ugly giant logos on it in the world is going to help that bash one single bit – in fact, anyone who actually lives in the deep south knows that wearing that sort of apparel just makes it even worse.

    But clueless manufacturing and marketing aside, the simple truth is that about 90% of the golf courses that were rolled out during the so called “Tiger Boom” were so poorly designed and so difficult (i.e. astronomically expensive) to properly maintain, that most of them would still be going through their slow, ugly death even if participation had stayed at its peak. And as others have mentioned, the majority of these “Tiger Boom” tracks have proven to be so difficult, and at times, grueling to play – ( can you say “as in one-dimensional in design” ?) – that the “Tiger Boom” would have had to of produced an overabundance of tour-quality golfers for there to be enough potential customers to fill all of the tee time of all of these splendidly spectacular “tour-quality” sub-division housing-developer golf tracks.

    What we are experiencing all over the country is simply the ugly aftermath of what was once a boring, commercial, tragicomedy – and a lot of people in “the business” are simply not laughing. I wish I could tell them that “there is an app for that” but fortunately, there isn’t.

    I, for one, am quite happy that participation has dropped off – especially when the attrition has been mainly due to the decline of the “Tiger Boom” fad golfers who used to clog up the courses with their slow, erratic play like bad cholesterol. But that being said, I hate it when I hear anyone claim that their reduction in participation is solely due to the fact that the cost has become too prohibitive.

    The sooner “the industry” finally sobers its delusional self up and pulls itself out of all of these silly “rehab” programs that it keeps popping up with to try to get us to help them increase their customer base ( can you say ‘Hack Golf’ ? ) and starts once again paying attention to providing value to their real customers, the better off we will all be!

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jan 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      “Tiger Boom” fad golfers who used to clog up the courses with their slow, erratic play like bad cholesterol. ”

      Good line!

  17. Rich Douglas

    Jan 1, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Given the tenor of the posts that DID get through from you, I can only imagine.

  18. Rich Douglas

    Jan 1, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Right, because Tiger’s personal life affects golf how?

    “Stagflation” is an archaic term for a time long past. Inflation–the price-rising part of stagflation–has been incredibly low during the 9-year period the author discusses. While the economic downturn certainly had an impact on golf (and many other discretionary activities), inflation was minimal.

  19. golfho

    Jan 1, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Since i play 3-5 days a week i am pretty certain i am doing my part. What are courses and club manufacturers doing?

    Had a Summer membership at local private facility (they don’t need my $ in high season when all the yankees come down and dramatically overpay to play) and suggested to Head pro and other members of staff about the possibility of a “Practice Membership”. One where players could utilize range and chipping area after 12:00PM (so overpaying members would get preference) during high season for a fair fee. Needless to say idea was not accepted. Have mentioned same idea to the staff at a overpriced ($100-125 green fees in high season) semi-private course….same reaction ….no.

    Fact is golf gets what it deserves. Just like people in life for the most part. These clubs are not interested in the earned money they want the easy big tourist money. I have no problem with that most businesses are the same but when they fail or struggle it is on them. It is called cause:effect.

    Its nice to be a player and not dependent on the golf industry for my income.

  20. ooffa

    Jan 1, 2017 at 7:10 am

    We need to save Golf. If we don’t where will I hit my new $600.00 driver, or use my new $400.00 putter, or lose my $7.00 golf ball.
    Does that clear it up.
    Can’t be saved now. The horse has left the barn.
    The equipment suppliers and course owners have set the entry bar too high. It’s all over. The attrition has begun. It’s just a mater of seeing how long it takes to die out.
    It’s a new era. Average guy just doesn’t have the time or resources to play a 5 hour round of golf.

  21. Markallister

    Jan 1, 2017 at 6:06 am

    i promote golf, because i am the best player in the world, and people aspire to play 100 times worse than me, which is an unrealistic goal, but keeps them going.

  22. Len

    Jan 1, 2017 at 2:54 am

    A new Golfer is expected to invest $1500 to $2000 for new equipment, take lessons and practice to then see IF the game is something they will get enjoyment from.
    Is your local course going to loan anyone clubs for $100 an hour lessons while they ‘see’ if golf is for them?
    For millennials – they can get a basketball, ride a bike, join a full service health club, for much lower cost, in order to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
    Either you are bitten by the bug or you are not.
    Are you going to convince a pal to play golf when they know it requires a $2000 start up cost – with no performance guarantee?

    • Philip

      Jan 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      I had a friend who was slightly hooked so I practically gave him my old equipment, but unfortunately I set him up with a PGA Professional who drove him away from the game. Don’t know what transpired, but my friend is the nicest person I ever met so I suspect the “pro” had convinced him he could never play unless he was willing to invest tons of time and money. I tried to show my friend with a couple of casual rounds that one doesn’t need to be amazing to enjoy a round of golf. Maybe I’ll get him out on the range one day – such a shame as he was on the verge of being hooked – and he has potential to get quite a bit better if he ever wants to.

  23. Egor

    Jan 1, 2017 at 1:28 am

    I may be wrong on this, but think about it .

    Time and entertainment. Golf and other sports in similar situations hit their peaks at a time when every single marketer wasn’t vying for every ounce of our time. Now most lives are filled from the moment they wake to the time they put the phone down and fall asleep with entertainment, work, and then more entertainment. From social media, DVR recordings, programming to fill every desire, YouTube for when they still miss our every desire, days are filled with every amusement we can come up with.

    Lives are ‘fuller’ than they ever have been before, but so many people are empty. To “muse” is to consider something thoughtfully. Golf is in part, time for me to muse about things as I walk the course. Most of the younger players on the course can’t hit 3 shots without checking their phones to be amused (lack of or opposite of muse).

    I really like Rich Douglas comment, but I think the problem is deeper.

  24. Egor

    Jan 1, 2017 at 1:14 am

    We agree on a lot.

  25. karansivi

    Dec 31, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    This is the problem:

    I’m a recent college grad who played in high school and love golf. A few guys I know have started playing, but they don’t have the time to get better. Golf just isn’t as fun when you’re shooting 110. Also, I am less likely to want to play with them all the time as I enjoy more playing with better players

  26. Philip

    Dec 31, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Gotcha! I swear to not pay green fees for courses that overcharge and waste too much water in order to look pretty. Nothing wrong with a little hardpan! I swear to not buy new equipment from stores and OEMs that have gotten greedy and instead buy slightly used equipment and prevent said equipment from being thrown away to the garbage dumps. I will not buy golf balls at overinflated prices in which I do not have the ability to maximize the potential of said golf balls (unless they are found balls without a home). I will not longer watch the PGA Tour just to listen to a bunch a prima donnas talk about golf instead of being able to enjoy watching the golf. Instead I’ll work hard at digging my ability out of the dirt with my beat-up and heavily used clubs and help bring back integrity to the game of golf and let greed and corporate money fall by the way. I will choose to purchase equipment from manufacturers that do not waste large amounts of money on professional golf endorsements used to fuel ego instead of quality. Instead I’ll spend my money at my local course on the 19th hole with my friends after an amazing game of golf in the outdoors. Happy New Year, all!

    • Rich Douglas

      Jan 1, 2017 at 8:33 am

      Used equipment–taken in trade–isn’t thrown away. Some items are re-sold in the U.S. Most are shipped overeas for sale in lesser economies. Some are donated. Perhaps some are disposed of, but it isn’t the centerpiece of the trade-in program.

      • Philip

        Jan 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm

        I realize that – it was a tongue-in-cheek comment towards the fact that as companies require more and more profits and sales each year, sooner or later their new stuff would price them above what people are willing or thinking what makes sense to pay. They have reached that point for myself – so slightly use edit is :o)

  27. Dylan

    Dec 31, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    As a golf enthusiast, my biggest concerns are the people who play the game! Those idiots that just get drunk and annoying and hold up play for everyone! I’ve seen the police at my course more times this last year than ever before. People need to learn course etiquette and stop tearing up the course. People need to start playing faster and that just isn’t happening. We need course marshals out there pushing play along! Times are tough so things like $45-50 golf balls needs to stop, as well as $10 per rubber grip! I play in cold and wet and I need cord gips but they cost $10 per grip! That’s $130!! I could buy a brand new wedge for that! A good start would be a $35 cap on premium golf balls. I want to see grips go down a couple bucks, it’s a small change. It would be nice to see club-making manufactures take their time and make great quality products. I would much rather the manufactures take a year or two to really perfect a product that we will love than see more crap every three months that nobody will buy. As golfers in this economy we can’t afford a new $400 driver every three months! Give us a couple years to save up some money and get excited about releases again!

    • Prime21

      Jan 3, 2017 at 1:03 am

      Are you responding to the article or just telling us all what can be done to make the game better for YOU? You see the Police more than the starter at the course? People need to stop tearing up the course? Your exaggerations are a bit thick, aren’t they? Perhaps you could ask the bar to limit the number of drinks sold to players? Maybe you could offer an on course seminar in proper etiquette? Amazingly, they DO make balls that retail for $30 & under, though it doesn’t sound like you are willing to try them because your game requires that tour level ball, & even that one may not be good enough. Are you kidding me with the grips? Instead of buying a new set, why don’t you invest in some rain gloves to help with the tackiness? You want to see manufacturers take their time making products? How long do you think that process actually takes? They have a team working on their product line for 2019 right now and they have plenty of time to get it right. Just because a company releases a new product, it doesn’t mean you have to purchase it. Crazy talk, I know. Your post screams of a tour poser who has to take a cart because his staff bag is too heavy to carry. You can’t play with last years equipment because that stuff is simply a collection of dated relics. Hard covered balls? Not in my bag pal, I need that 5 piece ball that spins less w/ my driver & more w/ my wedges. You do realize that you don’t have to own a new release to get excited for it, right? That idea is pretty much how this website started. Some of the problems golf faces are touched on throughout your post . People want the latest & greatest equipment from balls to shoes, however somehow they believe they should only have to pay 1/2 price for it. Golf doesn’t determine prices, the market does, it’s called Capitalism. People want to play 18 holes in 3 hours, even though they personally take 4 1/2 hours to play due to the 13 practice swings taken prior to every shot. If one can see a group 2 holes in front of them they are def the group that is holding up the course & we all KNOW it was them that left the ball mark on the last green (p.s. it was your playing partner & he left the bunker unraked as well). You do realize that having a marshall on the course actually raises prices, right? They’re hourly has to be accounted for somewhere.
      Golf is a great game, not because of the equipment or the courses, though both of them can enhance the experience. Golf is great because most anyone can play it & they can do so at any age. It challenges us mentally, physically & emotionally, and gives us an opportunity to spend quality time with those we choose to spend it with. In the end it is simply a reflection of life. We have good days & bad days as well as days that were simply average. But we play because we choose to. Whether for entertainment, relaxation or even excercise, we commit our time, $ & energy to experience the worlds greatest game & we do so because we love it. Whatever it is that you are talking about above has nothing to do with the love of the game, it seems more like the love of your PXG staff bag having better equipment in it than anyone else at the course the day you choose to grace us with your presence.
      More pertinent to the article, the biggest “issue” golf faces is that participating is truly a personal preference, an individual choice of how one wishes to spend their leisure time. Just because someone is counted in the US census, it doesn’t mean they are a potential golfer. Personally, I have bowled before, & I enjoyed it. But that doesn’t mean I am going to start bowling 3x’s a week and recruit my buddies to join a league with me. Once every two or three years is just fine & I’m happy using they’re bowling balls & shoes, though that is kind of nasty!
      I am happy to introduce someone to the game of golf and after I do, I will leave it up to them to decide if they will continue to play. Maybe if we stop forcing the game in people they won’t be as angry as the gentleman above & they will actually come to enjoy playing it.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jan 3, 2017 at 3:44 pm

        Well said. It seems like manufacturers are only asking higher prices to tick off Dylan. Dylan, man up and pay the going price… don’t be so cheap… life is too short.

  28. John Haime

    Dec 31, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Great article Mike – very thought provoking.

    Being around the business of golf my entire life – playing professional golf and my Dad was a PGA pro, and now working in a variety of industries – and seeing their changes and challenges – it is clear that golf is significantly behind where it needs to be. The game has not essentially changed – but the world has to a great degree. Customer needs are constantly shifting and golf has not responded. Those in the game seem to know the challenges – we hear them all the time (no time, too expensive, too difficult – and now the challenges around Millennial preferences) but nothing ever seems to be done about it. Where are the 3,6,9 hole golf courses? Where are the practical changes and solutions to meet these well-documented challenges and present day preferences? To highlight part of the problem – each year, kids gather at Augusta National GC for the Drive, Chip and Putt competition – an apparent showcase of growing the game and getting kids involved. But, the blatant irony is that this “grow the game” event is on a facility that is so exclusive and far removed from reality … rules and regs. are archaic and not in step with what’s going on in the world. It really represents what has partially stunted the growth in the game – too exclusive, false appearances, all about $$, limits gender, not very cool and allowing manufacturers to dictate course lengths and challenges based on bigger, faster, further technologies (ball and club).

    The PGA and USGA are equivalent to ocean liners – it takes far too long to turn them around – and when they do get turned around – it will be time to go in another direction – all of a sudden you’re 20 years behind where you need to be.

    Bringing a person to the course is a great short-term solution but, I think you’ll agree, it isn’t going to fix the fundamental problems eroding participation in the game – a real lack of attention to the customer and what they want/need. Millennials want things now, they covet time more than financial resources and the world is becoming virtual for them. The short sightedness of making a buck in the short-term and the expectation that new golfers are just going to show up without significant change is impeding all stakeholders from the proactivity required for sustained (or any) growth.

    What’s the solution?

    One potential idea …

    Try putting average kids from different demographics between the ages of 10 to 25 in a room and ask them what they want. What would make the game fun for them and what would it take for them to play and spend time at a golf facility? Ask the customers of the future what they want … and then make adjustments and give it to them. Keep doing this and do it often – the rate of change today is exponential – and will continue to be – as technology changes the world at a rapid pace.

    Thanks for the article! Fascinating topic and I’m sure lots of opinions of the subject.

  29. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 31, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Golf is like a 90 year old man who has had a great and exciting life. But to continue to keep him alive with “band-aids” will, inevitably, fail. We need to let it go.

    The good news is that certain things skip every generation… and the generation after the millennials will probably discover this thing called “golf” and embrace it. Their parents, the millennials, will just shake their heads at their kids’ silliness. Also, I think the game will revert to pre-Tiger days… which was lucrative enough. The Tiger fanboys and fangirls, though understandable and forgiven, just didn’t have the longevity and commitment needed for the game.

    Golf has persevered over the centuries… it will return to it’s 1990’s level and all will be well. Those who want to enjoy its immense pleasures will play it; others will ignore it and buy the newest X-Box.

  30. Rich Douglas

    Dec 31, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    No. Don’t put it on the people who are already playing and supporting the game. Put is squarely on course operators, manufacturers and retailers.

    Course operators, consider more bargains, loyalty programs, and packages so we feel like you care even a little bit about repeat business. Speed up play! (Yes, it’s your fault, not golfers. Keep them moving!) Design and re-design courses that are a little interesting and a lot playable, not the other way around, especially daily play courses. Oh, and could your starters and marshals learn just a little bit of customer service, please? I hope that’s not too much to ask.

    Manufacturers, stop trying to bleed us dry with each tiny little change in design, making it sound like THESE CLUBS are the difference between duffing it and nirvana on green. Try instead to find ways to build clubs that actually fit the player, instead of one $800 off-the-rack set after another. (Give Tom Wishon a call; he’s semi-retired and could probably help you think this through.) And dial back the ball already. It’s making everyone miserable by lengthening courses and causing duffers to hit it even farther into the woods. And while you’re at it, can we have some truth in advertising, please?

    Retailers–those of you that are still breathing, anyway, insist on custom-fitting. Build some sort of loyalty program (no, Golf Galaxy, not your lame points program) that causes people to be fit and periodically re-fit. Sure, you won’t sell as many irons and woods, but you’ll keep those doors swinging and registers ringing. For example, I can buy balls, shoes, gloves and many other non-custom items online; I don’t need you. But if I’m already there getting my lofts checked, I might be enticed by that sale (yes, SALE!) on golf balls you have going, or get that 2-for-1 on gloves so I have a spare in my bag. Your current model sucks; I’m sure you can think of many more improvements than I can.

    Seldom to sports make a comeback once they’ve slumped. At the turn of the century, the two biggest sports in terms of attendance were boxing and horse racing. Hard to believe, huh? (It’s shifted to baseball and football, with basketball and hockey trailing by a lot.) Remember the bowling craze? You couldn’t swing a dead cat in the early 1970s without hitting a new one being built. Not anymore. Tennis? Please. That lasted about 5 minutes.

    Finally, golf is very hard to start. Tennis? Ball and racquet. Bowling? Cash and beer (you can rent shoes…ugh). But golf? To play a round (and no, the driving range, even Top Golf, doesn’t count) you have to have balls, tees, irons, woods, putter, a bag, and then begin to deal with the seemingly impossible physics of the swing and the bizarre nature of the rules–not to mention all of the tacit etiquette…hey, get off my line! Yeesh.

    Golf should not expect to rebound. It’s time as an almost-major thing has been over for quite a while. Now, the industry needs to focus on survival. Otherwise, it will continue to lose fringe players (die-hards like me aren’t going anywhere) and will not attract enough new players to matter. And don’t tell me it’s my responsibility to bring a friend. I cannot imagine asking someone to penetrate the gooey haze necessary to enter this sport. And I certainly don’t want to be responsible for navigating it with them. It was hard enough once.

  31. alexdub

    Dec 31, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    The content was good, but the article needed better formatting. So many consecutive paragraphs leaves the reader inundated and lost. Bolded subsections, a numerical list, or bullet points would have taken this article from pretty good, to great. Not trying to be a downer Mike, thanks for your time in addressing this ignored and critical topic!

  32. Dude

    Dec 31, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    You don’t make any real suggestions.
    You pretend to know what is going with the economy but you don’t:
    Have you seen the price of everything else? Clothing, food, drinks? And we’re not just talking about food and drinks at the course, we’re talking about the cost of groceries. Compared to that TW heyday, what do you see?
    Have you seen the increase in traffic? What used to only take, say, 30 minutes cross town in most of the major metropolitan cities to the distances you used to be able to cover in that TW heyday, now takes twice as much as that, as there are too many cars on the road. So accessing the courses isn’t as easy, and that’ll hit participation. Who wants to sit in traffic to add to their already long day playing golf?
    During the heyday, too many expensive courses were built for the rich, and not enough muni type courses which could be accessed by many more people, the kind of people you are trying to attract, the general mass, where the biggest drop off is happening. That’s irresponsible for the very institutions you praise – the PGA and USGA should have worked closer with state and local governments to help them do that.

    • Rich Douglas

      Jan 1, 2017 at 8:26 am

      Inflation has gone up only 12% in the nine years the author is talking about. His is a silly article, but not for that reason.

  33. TD

    Dec 31, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Honestly, this was a horrible read. Kept waiting for the point but was sidetracked by commas. Good points, bad delivery.

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