Let’s cut to the chase. Has there been a precipitous drop in golf participation or is it the hand wringing of borderline operators? I promised an analysis based on fact and will proceed accordingly.
Before I start, I want to talk about professional golf: the PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com tours. This is not golf as far as a participation issue. It’s TV entertainment played by the most skilled golfers in the world. Take away TV and the purses would be peanuts with the PR folks desperately looking for sponsors.
As a percentage, professional golfers represent some 0.05-to-0.07 percent of all golfers, but if you read the golf magazines and listen to golf commentary and you might think that they were golf. No business model focuses on 0.05 percent of the market for decision making, yet the ruling bodies are greatly influenced by these stars and it’s almost as if the other 99.95 percent of golfers don’t count. Yes the pros are a factor in showing us the game at its highest level and yes they can be considered a positive influence. When you see the participation hard numbers, you will also see that while they’re a factor they haven’t moved the needle.
Add in the elite amateurs (another miniscule group: about 3.4 percent of golfers who play almost to a professional level) and we see more examples of an industry that focuses on the minority. Look up courses on the internet and you’ll find language such as, “Come play our 7200-yard, ultra-challenging course,” etc.
Really, if all the amateurs in the U.S. who could actually play a 7200-yard course were to play golf at the same time, there would be still be tons of empty golf courses in this country. But I digress…
This segment is about a statistical evaluation of participation. My primary database is The National Golf Foundation (NGF). The NGF is sponsored by the various facets of the golf industry and produce a variety of studies on participation. I promised facts not opinions, but others besides me have accused the NGF of painting the numbers in the best possible light. I prefer to look at the data and state the obvious.
- The NGF reports a core base of some 25 million golfers, down from 30 million in 2000.
- Some 40 percent of that total is a category called occasional golfers, who are age 6 and up who play more than once per year. In 2000, they accounted for about 9.1 million golfers. In 2012, that number grew to 11.6 million golfers.
- Then we have core golfers, who are age 6 and up who play more than eight times per year. They accounted for about 19.7 million golfers in 2000, but only 13.7 million golfers in 2012.
- I like to focus on what the NGF calls avid golfers, which are folks (age 6 and up) who play more than 25 times per year. In 2000, there were 10.2 million avid golfers, but that number dropped nearly 4 million to 6.4 million in 2012.
Why focus on avid golfers you might ask? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on getting the members of the other categories to play more? In fact, if you look at the occasional category you’ll see that it actually increased from 9.1 million in 2000 to 11.6 million in 2014. This would be an example of selective analysis, something for a cheerleader. I could point out this fact to the exclusion of all others. But when you look at the accumulated numbers, one thing is evident; there has been some success getting new players to the course, but it’s been overridden by the fact that they don’t continue playing.
I’m not going into the population factor in detail; over the years we had a significant increase as golf went up AND down. Today’s Caucasian population rate of increase is down, so overall increases come from minorities who are not inclined toward golf as a group. I could turn this data alone into a very negative assessment, but let’s just say population isn’t a positive factor.
In the marketing business this is very serious. The hard job is new customers, and when you get them and can’t keep them you have a major problem.
When I looked at the numbers in greater detail I learned that the avid category picked up the tab for some 71 percent of all golf-related expenses. So a modest increase in the avid category has greater impact than a more significant increase in the other two. If we add in the golfers who play more than eight rounds a year, we now have 94 percent of golf spending.
What about junior golf? What have all the industry sponsored programs achieved? It’s down 10 percent since 2000 and more than 20 percent since it peaked in 2005. That could be the subject of a study unto itself, but the bottom line is that it isn’t something of promise for the future. You can join the NGF for $125 a year if you want to peruse their data.
During the last 14 years there has been a variety of articles blaming weather, the economy and a variety of short-term influences. I maintain that over 14 years these influences have been mitigated.
Why are golfers leaving? In all surveys there is one dominant theme; too slow, no fun. And, for the record, too slow IS no fun.
This will evoke a response from those who say I’m ignoring cost. Not at all; I’m just focused on optimizing value. More than 145 courses closed in 2013 and the vast majority had greens fees and carts under $40. Value first, cost will follow. There was very inexpensive tennis during its decline.
There probably isn’t a reader that can’t point to one specific negative factor that is beyond my boundaries. There is the whole concept of disregarding rules and using “fixes” like 15-inch cups.
I understand the thinking behind all that, but with the overall objective of increasing participation I’ll stay focused; golf needs more avid players. We know who we want to get more involved in the game and we know why they are leaving. Let’s give the plan for bringing them back a 100 percent focused effort. If it shows no progress after a credible time period then we can go off the reservation.
Club Junkie Review: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch5 Pro Golf Edition
Technology has been playing a larger part in golf for years and you can now integrate it like never before. I don’t need to tell you, but Samsung is a world leader in electronics and has been making smart watches for years. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is the latest Samsung wearable running Google’s Wear OS operating system and it is more than just a golf watch.
The Watch5 Golf Edition is a full function smartwatch that you can wear every day and use for everything from golf to checking your text messages. For more details on the Golf Edition made sure to check out the Club Junkie podcast below, or on any podcast platform. Just search GolfWRX Radio.
Samsung’s Watch5 Pro Golf Edition has a pretty large 45mm case that is made from titanium for reduced weight without sacrificing any durability. The titanium case is finished in a matte black and has two pushers on the right side to help with navigating the pretty extensive menu options. The case measures about 52mm from lug to lug and stands about 14mm tall, so the fit on smaller wrists could be an issue. I did notice that when wearing a few layers on colder days the extra height did have me adjusting my sleeves to ensure I could swing freely.
The sapphire crystal display is 1.4 inches in diameter, so it should be very scratch resistant, and is protected by a raised titanium bezel. The Super AMOLED display has a 450 x 450 resolution with 321ppi density for clear, crisp graphics. Inside the watch is a dual-core 1.18Ghz Cortex-A55 CPU, 16GB + 1.5GB RAM, and a Mali-G68 GPU to ensure your apps run quickly and efficiently.
I do like that the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition’s white and black rubber strap has a quick release system so you can change it out to match or contrast an outfit. The Golf Edition strap is very supple and conforms to your wrist well, holding it in place during multiple swings.
Out on the course the Watch5 Pro golf Edition is comfortable on the wrist and light enough, ~46g, where it isn’t very noticeable. I don’t usually wear a watch on the course, and it only took a few holes to get used to having it on my left wrist. Wearing a glove on the same hand as the watch doesn’t really change much, depending on the glove. If you have a model that goes a little higher on the wrist you could feel the watch and leather bunch a little bit. Some of my Kirkland Signature gloves would run into the watch case while I didn’t have an issue with my Titleist or Callaway models.
The screen is great in direct sunlight and is just as easy to read in overcast or twilight rounds. The images of holes and text for distances is crisp and has a bright contrast agains the black background. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition comes with a lifetime membership to Smart Caddie for your use on the course. Smart Caddie was developed by Golfbuddy, who has been making rangefinders and GPS units for years. I didn’t sign up for the Smart Caddie app as I did not buy the watch and have logins for multiple GPS and tracking apps. Smart Caddie looks to be extremely extensive, offering a ton of options beyond just GPS and it is one that works seamlessly with the Galaxy watches.
I ended up using The Grint as it was an app I have used in the past and was already signed up for. Getting to the app to start a round was very simple, needing one swipe up and one tap to start The Grint app. The screen is very smooth and records each swipe and tap with zero issues. I never felt like I was tapping or swiping without the Watch5 Pro acknowledging those movements and navigating the menu as I desired. The GPS worked flawlessly and the distances were accurate and consistent. With The Grint’s app you did have to keep the phone in your pocket or in the cart close enough for the Bluetooth connection. For most that is’t a big deal and the only time I noticed it was when I used my electric cart and drove it well in front of me down the fairway.
Overall the Samsung Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is a great option for golfers who want one device for everyday wear and use on the course. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition still has all the fitness and health options as well as being able to connect to your email, text messages, and social media apps. With the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition you won’t have to worry about buying a device just for golf or forgetting to bring your GPS to the course.
The Wedge Guy: Why modern irons don’t make sense to me
One of the things that really bothers me about most of the newer iron models that are introduced is the continued strengthening of the lofts — I just don’t see how this is really going to help many golfers. The introduction of driver and hybrid technologies into the irons – thinner faster faces, tungsten inserts and filling the heads with some kind of polymer material – is all with the goal of producing higher ball flight with lower spin. But is that what you really want?
I’ll grant you that this technology makes the lower lofts much easier to master, and has given many more golfers confidence with their 5- and 6-irons, maybe even their 4- and 5-. But are higher launch and lower spin desirable in your shorter irons? I’ve always believed those clubs from 35 degrees on up should be designed for precision distance control, whether full swings are when you are “taking something off,” and I just don’t see that happening with a hollow, low CG design.
Even worse, with lofts being continually cranked downward, most modern game improvement sets have a “P-club” as low as 42-43 degrees of loft. Because that simply cannot function as a “wedge”, the iron brands are encouraging you to add in an “A-club” to fill the distance void between that and your gap wedge.
But as you ponder these new iron technologies, here’s something to realize . . . and think about.
Discounting your putter, you have 13 clubs in your bag to negotiate a golf course. At one end, you have a driver of 10-12 degrees of loft, and at the other end your highest lofted wedge of say, 58 to 60 degrees. So, that’s a spread of 46 to 50 degrees. The mid-point of that spread is somewhere around 35 degrees, the iron in your bag that probably has an “8” on the bottom.
Now consider this: From that 35-degree 8-iron downward, you have a progression of clubhead designs, from the iron design, to hybrids, to fairway woods to your driver, maybe even a “driving iron” design as a bridge between your lowest set-match iron to your hybrids. At least four, if not five, completely different clubhead designs.
But in the other direction, from 35 degrees to that highest lofted wedge, you likely only have two designs – your set-match irons and your wedges, each of which all essentially look alike, regardless of loft.
I feel certain that no one in the history of golf ever said:
“I really like my 6-iron; can you make me a 3-wood that looks like that?”
But do you realize the loft difference between your 6-iron and 3-wood is only 12-14 degrees, even less than that between your 6-iron and “P-club”? So, if you can’t optimize an iron design to perform at both 28 and 15 degrees, how can you possibly expect to be able to optimize the performance of one design at both 28 and 43 degrees?
And you darn sure won’t get your best performance by applying 6-iron technology to an “A-club” of 48 to 50 degrees.
This fact of golf club performance is why you see so many “blended” sets of irons in bags these days, where a golfer has a higher-tech iron design in the lower lofts, but a more traditional blade or “near blade” design in the higher lofts. This makes much more sense than trying to play pure blade long irons or “techy” higher lofts.
Most of my column posts are oriented to offering a solution to a problem you might have in your game, but this one doesn’t. As long as the industry is focused on the traditional notion of “matched sets,” meaning all the irons look alike, I just don’t see how any golfer is going to get an optimum set of irons without lots of trial and error and piecing together a set of irons where each one works best for the job you give it.
If you want to see how an elite player has done this for his own game, do some reading on “what’s in the bag” for Bernhard Langer. Very interesting indeed.
2022 Hero World Challenge: Betting Tips & Selections
The Hero is the only full 72-hole tournament left of the year stateside, and the one many golf fans were excited for due to the expected return of Tiger Woods.
Unfortunately, on Monday, Woods withdrew from the event citing plantar fasciitis – pain in the base of his foot, leaving a hole in the event but we still have some big names floating about in the limited field.
I wrote last week about the context of the short-priced favourite Cameron Smith at the Australian PGA.
Comparing him with Jon Rahm when he was 9/4 for his home Open, the most recent Open Championship winner looked fair at 7/2. It was a bit of a scare, but in the end, Smith showed the undoubted class gap, sauntering home down the stretch.
This is crucial in assessing this week’s favourite, Rahm.
Neither Jordan Smith or Justin Thomas have threatened strongly to win here, Xander Schauffele has seen his finishes get progressively worse since a debut 8th, Matty Fitz looked tired in contention in Dubai, and defending champ Viktor Hovland had won twice in 2021 before winning here, that pair of victories including the week before at Mayakoba.
Now for the favorite.
2022 starts with a runner-up to Smith in Hawaii at the similarly stacked Tournament of Champions, before eight straight cuts lead to a victory in Mexico. In a disappointing season for majors, Rahm’s 12th at the U.S Open is the best he can record in the biggies, but it’s another in a series of weekends that leads to T5, T8 and T16 at the three Fedex play-off events. 7
Hardly a disastrous season, but Rahm will have felt a degree of dismay at a season bereft of a gold medal and that saw him slip outside the world’s top five, that without the likes of Dustin Johnson and Smith, both off to unranked LIV.
However, that ‘failure’ seemed to act as a genuine spur, with both him and fellow anti-LIV player Shane Lowry, exploding through the third and final round of the weather-affected prestigious BMW Championship, before winning by a street in Spain, stumbling at the wrong time when fourth at the CJ Cup, and last time proving far too good for a stellar field at the DP World Tour Championship.
For those (including myself) that felt his rant against the OWGR points distribution would count against him, being wrong was painful, but we have the chance to turn it around this week.
Simply, there is no Rory McIlroy or Cam Smith, probably the only other two players that can hold claim to being the current best in the world; the Spaniard’s current form reads 1/4/1/2; his tee-to-green figures average over plus-10 in his last three outings; Rahm ranks top three for scrambling when he misses the green; has been outside the top eight for putting just once in his last six starts, and he’s been first and second in two tries at Albany!
Sure, neither he nor Smith had such a talented field to beat at their ‘home’ events, but they both landed short prices. For me, Rahm has even greater claims, and at anything bigger than 4/1, is a must bet.
The only other player of interest is in-form Tony Finau, one of three to be beaten by a single shot by Rahm in Mexico.
The 33-year-old has always had the ability to do what he has done over the last four months, but, for whatever reason, he is now fulfilling some lofty opinions, winning three times since July.
Beaten four shots by Rahm on his debut in 2018, an opening 79 was always going to hurt any ideas he had about revenge a year later. However, he bounced back from being 18th after round one with three rounds of 68, 69 and a closing 65 to finish inside the top-10, before finishing 7th last year after a stellar opening 68,66.
Big Tone closed with a best-of-the-day 64 at the Tour Championship before looking rusty at Mayakoba, his first outing for over two months. That certainly brought him on as he waltzed home at the Houston Open, the four-shot winning margin half of what it could have been had he not taken his foot off the pedal very early on Sunday.
Finau has always been a strong tee-to-green gamer, but now he’s added confidence with the flat-stick, expect him to challenge at all the biggest events through 2023.
Having been all over Finau to do a double-double and back up his win at the RSM Classic, the ‘injury’ withdrawal was tough to take, but he’ll suit the relaxed nature of this week’s challenge and should be one of the strongest challengers to his old foe.
- Jon Rahm – WIN
- Tony Finau – WIN
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