The Real Cost of Golf
The USGA exists “for the good of the game” and the PGA has authored several initiatives in a concerted effort to “grow the game.” Noble aspirations, indeed. However, where the proverbial rubber meets the road is you.
The bottom line is this: The game needs more players, badly. If golf is to remain “the greatest game ever played,” then it needs to keep the players it has and perhaps more importantly, attract new players to the game. As stated in the PGA’s Golf 2.0 initiative, the goal is to go from 26.1 million golfers and $33 billion in consumer spending in 2011 to 32 million golfers and $35 billion in spending by 2016.
To give you a little perspective, in 2005 there were 30 million golfers. That means from 2005 to 2011, the game lost nearly 4 million players and this coupled with a downturn in the world economic climate has left people rethinking the realities of squeezed disposable income and the game in desperate need of fresh chum. So no matter who you are, you are valuable to the game on both a commercial and philosophical level.
The rest of the conversation is just how fat of a check are you going to write? For illustrative purposes, let’s look at three composite individuals and what it would cost them to take up the game and play for a year.
The Novice, aka Nancy Newbie and Beginner Bob
You are new to the game and other then generally knowing which end of the club to hold and which direction the course goes, you don’t know Freddie Couples from Freddie Mercury. It’s OK, you don’t have to. Yet.
What’s in the bag?
A nice used set of irons from five to eight years ago. Maybe some Titleist 735 CM irons, a couple Cleveland 588 wedges, a Ping Zing putter, a TaylorMade R580 driver and the V-Steel 3 and 5 woods. Thanks to your local garage sale, you got all of this in a old original Ping Hoofer for $200.
Balls/Gloves/Tees: You play the balls you find…in the garage…in the woods…in your buddies bag…Same goes for gloves and tees: $15
Course of Choice: You don’t play enough to justify an annual pass, but you may invest in a “discount card” or take advantage of coupons in the local “Gold-C” or similar offering. You’re lucky to play 8 to 10 times a year and at $25 per round, you get a lot of golf for $250 a year.
Apparel: Yeah, about that. You’re closet may not be full of golf specific clothing, but you have enough to get by. You may have accidentally bought a pair of khaki Dockers at Kohl’s on clearance, but you will need to get a decent pair of golf shoes. $75 should get it done.
Tourney/League: You’re not quite dedicated enough to commit to a weekly league, but you might jump into a scramble tournament every now and again. $125
Lessons/Practice: Your play is your practice. You haven’t taken any formal lessons yet, but you have a number of friends who are more than willing to give you free advice, and more often than not, it’s worth exactly what you pay for it. $0
Training Aids: Nope. $0
Total cost for one year of golf: About $665, but let’s just round it up to $700 and call it $50 to $75 per month. Not bad at all, and cheaper than what you probably drop on those double-mocha-machiato-latte-thing-a-ma-bobbers.
The Enthusiast, aka The guy who bombs a drive and says “Bang”
You’ve probably been bitten by the bug at some point. Maybe it was a charity scramble or a golf league you played in before you “found yourself,” then found a job and subsequently found yourself with a lot less time.
Now, things are different. You have a bit more time, a bit more income and most importantly, a renewed desire to break 90 or 80 or a few less windows. Call it a golfing renaissance, if you will. You may not DVR the Shell Houston Open, but you remember Jack in ‘86 and you have the big ol’ MacGregor putter to prove it.
What’s in the bag?
You have a mix of old and new, but as part of your rededication to the game you submit to the reality that technology has passed your bag by and it’s time to upgrade. You’re not beyond looking at models from the last couple seasons, especially given how quickly clubs depreciate!
Irons: Inspired by Brian Gay (rocked a combo set of Mizuno MP-60 and MP-32 irons to win at the Humana Challenge earlier this year) and D.A. Points (gamed a set of Ping G5s to win at The Shell Houston Open), you nab a solid set of slightly used Ping G20s for $250. Of course, you really have your eye on some Mizuno JPX-825 Pros, but those will run you $900 at a minimum.
Woods: You get fitted for some new TaylorMade woods and want the option of adjustability so, you snag a R11 TP for $75 and get a matching 3 wood and hybrid for another $100 to $175 total. But, if you grab the Mizuno’s, you can’t have your woods looking old and used, so there is the option of dropping $600 for a new Stage 2 driver and a couple fairway woods to match.
Wedges: At $40 a piece, you can’t pass up the hardly used Vokey SM line. Sure, they don’t have conforming grooves, but you don’t care — 2024 might as well be 11 years away. $120 for a set of three, or you can go the new route and for $340 you can be the one to take the plastic off each one and get your kids’ initials stamped on.
Putter: $70 for a close out model of an Odyssey White Hot with flow neck, ala your favorite middle-aged putter, Steve Stricker.
Balls/Gloves/Tees: Tees are cheap enough and you found this local big box store that allows you to buy a bag for $10 and you get free refills for the year. A couple two-packs ($35) of the FootJoy synthetic leather WeatherSof gloves should hold you over and in addition to keeping any of the decent balls you find on the course, you snag three dozen of the 2012 Bridgestone B330 RX balls for $75.
Course of Choice: You don’t know if you’re ready to take the leap into the private/country club scene, but a higher-end public/semi-private course is certainly within reach. You can play as much as you’d like and whether you run out for a quick 9 holes after work or play five holes before the rain comes in, it’s all covered. In addition, a quality public/semi-private course will have all of the requisite practice facilities so you can work on all parts of your game, rain or shine. Usually, those run around $2200/year. If that’s a little steep, you can go the daily fee route, but if you’re going to get in 20-plus rounds this season, the annual pass is a more economical decision.
Apparel: Your closet can’t escape your rediscovered passion. So, after consulting a couple episodes of “What not to wear” you go with a very solid combination of four shirts ($100), four shorts ($140), one pair of pants ($50), and a convertible wind/rain jacket ($85). Just for good measure you buy a new Titleist hat ($25) (hey, it’s the mark of a player, right?) and a pair of FootJoy Tour Saddle shoes ($150)
Tourney/League: Between the weekly men’s league ($10 green fees are covered in your membership, but the money game and skins aren’t) and men’s association tournaments ($250 for the year) you should have a variety of competitive outlets to offer your game every litmus test it needs.
Lessons/Practice: You can practice all you want, but if you really want to improve and get the most out of whatever natural ability you have, you’ll need a series of lessons. $400 for five sessions of an hour with video and a nine-hole playing round will certainly help.
Training Aids: You know most of them are gimmicks or can be replicated at your local Home Depot for $10 and a can of spray paint, but the Orange Whip has actually proven to help you work on flexibility, tempo and core strength. $75 well spent!
ETC: You’ve read “5 Lessons” so many times it kind of feels like 35 lessons, and while best practices in teaching/instruction haven’t gone out of style, your library needs some serious updating. $50 gets you a couple books from Dave Pelz, one from Stan Utley and some good stuff to think about from Dr. Gio Valiente.
Total: $4260 to $5555
The GolfWRX-er, aka Captain Staff Bag
You have a dog named Bogey, a den caddy for your TV remote, a putter at the office and you measure storage space in your car in number of bags it can hold.
You memorize shaft bend profile data and you know your kids’ birth years based on club release dates. This is why you refer to your middle son as “R7” and your neighbor as 588. Others claim that there is no one else like you in the world, but you know that’s not true. You’ve “never left yards on the table” and more importantly, you know why that’s funny!
What’s in the bag?
First, let’s be clear that we are referring to your “gamer” bag. Not the back-up bag, third bag or miscellaneous bag of clubs you have which
comprise several attempts at grinding your own wedges, painting club heads and/or something we’ll just politely refer to as “the lime green phase.”
Driver: Like other clubs in your bag, this one is new. You have the TM R1 TP, Titleist 913 D2/D3 or Ping Anser. Secretly, you don’t mind stock shafts, but that wouldn’t be very GolfWRX of you to admit that publicly. Plus, the Tour AD-DI, Mitsubishi Ahina and Fujikura Speeder Tour Spec look so much better, or at least that’s what you keep telling yourself. $600
3 wood: This is a tough one as so many companies have gotten into the “premium” distance 3 wood conversation lately. You really wanted to toss a Tour Edge Exotics XCG 6 in there, but you want the adjust-ability and excuse to have a couple extra shafts just to swap out on an “as-needed” basis. Enter Adams Speedline LS with matching Tour AD-DI 7. Just for good measure, you snag matching 19-degree hybrid with Tour AD DI hybrid shaft. $400 + $300
- Bushnell Z6 Rangefinder: $400
- Leather Scorecard holder: $35
- Alignment sticks: $4
- Commemorative divot tool: $15
- Titleist Pro V1/V1x, and no less than eight dozen a year: $360
- You’ll go through 12 to 15 FootJoy StaSof gloves during the year at $20 each
- Tees are the one place where you actually don’t break the bank. A couple packages of Epoch Evolves will last you several presidential administrations: $15
Course of Choice: You have a range of options available, including several daily fee public courses which offer annual memberships. Plan on $2500 to $3000 a year to cover annual dues, practice facilities, a locker, cart/trail fee and range balls.
If you decide to go the private route, you might be able to find some equity memberships in the $5000-$10,000 range. In fact, according to a study done by Longitudes Group for Golf Digest, 30 percent of clubs surveyed stated initiation fees of $7,500 or less. The same survey showed average annual dues at $6245 ($520/month). This figure does not include any “assessment” fees or additional costs for food/beverage minimums, bag storage fees, range passes and other ala carte items.
Apparel: Your wardrobe is varied and while you might not be able to pull of the Ricky Fowler “orange construction zone cone” look, you’re not going to run out of options, no matter the season.
This list is rather long so try and stick with me: 12 to 15 shirts in a variety of solids, stripes and you had to toss in a couple neon beauties which would make Olivia Newton John proud! ($450)
You have just as many shorts in just as many styles ($500), but you only need four pairs of pants with v-cut hems no doubt. ($300)
You have four pairs of shoes: one pair of spikeless Ecco’s ($140), one pair of practice shoes — Adidas 360 ATV ($100) — and two pairs of your “tourney” shoes, Ecco Biom Hydromax ($235/pair).
Add that all up and it’s $1960, but at least now you have casual Friday’s covered!
Tourney/League: You may not be out on any official tour, but your friends probably wouldn’t know the difference given the fact you play in the weekly men’s league/money game, all of your club tournaments and an assortment of state amateur events. Moreover, you have the images saved from GoogleEarth and course yardage books to prove it. $1250
You’re committed to hitting balls a couple days a week, so the season-long range pass pays off handsomely. ($350)
A series of 12 lessons throughout the year will keep your swing sharp, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. ($1000)
Total that up for a cost around $1350.
You have the Orange Whip ($75) and EyeLine Edge putting mirror ($60), so that’s $135.
Golf Digest, Golfweek and Golf Magazine have you and your bathroom covered. Admittedly, you always flip to the “WITB” section and require that your neighbors refer to you as “the man out front.” $75
Yearly Total: $13,444
Admittedly, there is quite a jump from the beginning golfer to the enthusiast (nearly $3500) and in all reality, most golfers will be a mix of the listed descriptions. That being said, when you hold these composite figures against a backdrop of recent economic data, we begin to gain a better understanding as to the issues faced by the organizations whose stated dedication is to attract new players.
Golf faces myriad challenges moving forward and while the issue of pace of play has been discussed ad naseum, basic realities of economics hold true. What is more expensive is often less consumed and in a game where volume is what the ruling bodies are after, this is a problem. Consider that the average American household earns $63,091 (before taxes) and has $58,275 in expenses, of which only 1.4 percent is allocated as “entertainment.” This leaves $4816 for all disposable income purchases for the entire household. You don’t need to be Pythagoras or Euclid to figure out why the game is in a bit of a pickle.
The average consumer simply does not have the means to play the game at anything more than a very basic level. As such, the individual is highly unlikely to ever become an “enthusiast” and most certainly not one of “Captain Staff Bags’” playing partners.
Averages certainly don’t reflect specific individual experiences, and one of the greatest intellectual difficulties is resolving the reality of the masses when your individual situation is at odds with the truth shared by most others. The image of golf is still one painted by brush strokes of elitism and exclusion.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that wealth affords many increased access and opportunity in our market-driven world. It’s a shame that golf, in this regard, is no different. Perhaps we should heed the advice of Franklin D. Roosevelt and agree that “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” I guess it really depends on how much we actually want “to grow the game.”
To that end, here are five ways in which we can make the game more accessible to all:
- Give every kid a free pass to the local city courses in 5th and 6th grade. Kids won’t go by themselves and that means in addition to getting kids hooked, there will be a paying adult. While you’re at it, give adults a 50 percent discount if they play with their 5th or 6th grade student! The ski industry does this all the time and the golf industry could certainly learn a thing or two!
- Offer annual junior passes (ages 12-18) for $99 – Same theory as No 1, but you could add discounts on merchandise/equipment to sink that hook in just a bit deeper.
- Team up with the local school district and offer incentives to golfers who achieve academically. Better GPA = Lower cost for rounds and equipment!
- Hold free/inexpensive teaching seminars. Take a page from Home Depot and give people something of value without asking for anything in return.
- Why only 9 or 18? Why not offer golfers a chance to play 6 holes? Or 12?