Back in the 1980s when I still lived in Northern Indiana, I can remember that the South Bend Metro Golf Championship made a big announcement that the tournament was so popular that it had to limit the number of participants to 300. Last year, just 104 played.
Also in Indiana, I used to play in the Monticello Open, which had a long and storied history. They have pictures on the wall at Tippecanoe Country Club from the 1950s showing dozens of spectators viewing the action. Even a few touring professionals would tee it up. The last time I played in the event several years ago (it no longer welcomed all comers after that year), it was poorly run and only lasted one round.
I recently played in the Valdosta Open in Georgia at the Valdosta Country Club, a very fine facility. Only 38 players showed up, and when I first started playing back in the 1990s it was common to see 70+ players. In the 1990s in Pensacola, Florida, the Gulf Coast Scratch Tour for amateurs had to cap participation at 120 players. Today they get 30-40 players per event.
What in the world has happened to tournament golf? Nationwide, tournament participation is generally down from what it was 30, 20, and even 10 years ago. Is there any way to revive it?
Frankly, I don’t have any good answers to what happened. I really don’t know. I don’t think the economy has anything to do with it, because tournament participation has been on a downward trend for more than a decade.
What I do know is that our US and World Golf Teachers Cup events are not suffering from this malaise. Perhaps it’s the fact that we sell more than just a tournament – we sell an experience. We use this word a lot, but the camaraderie at these championships is second to none. People really enjoy renewing old friendships and making new ones, and I’m sure a lot of networking goes on, too. We also tend to play our events in family-friendly tourist venues, which also doesn’t hurt.
So maybe these other events need to take a lesson – a tournament lesson – from us. Offer an experience, more so than just a golf tournament, and they might see some old faces they haven’t seen in awhile…and undoubtedly some new ones.