There has been a lot of recent discussion about the game of golf losing golfers.  There have been many theories about why this seems to be happening.  In my opinion, this is a natural ebb and flow that has been exaggerated and misunderstood.  Let’s explore some of these issues. The National Golf Foundation (NGF) numbers are showing a net loss of golfers in America compared to a decade ago.  However, what is hidden in this statistic is that the NGF numbers were greatly inflated by counting “very” occasional golfers who play only a few outings a year.  In the past, these golfers were lumped into the avid golfer category.  This grossly inflates the numbers.  For example, if you ask random people if they have played golf, many will say yes, albeit this could be a driving range experience or hacking it around once with college buddies. Another often-heard argument is that the game needs Tour players to make it popular.  The game is bigger than any one golfer.  Great and dominant professional golfers come along every so often, and golfing lore has had many of them:  Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris,  Harry Vardon, The Great Triumphant, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and on and on.  There are too many to list.  Some created more interest than others, but none were bigger than the game.  The game of golf has and will continue to march on regardless of who is at the top of the PGA Tour leaderboard.  To build the Tour or a golf industry around one great player is folly.  All glory is fleeting.  The sun rises and a new day comes, or in this case, a new golfer takes his place. There were too many high-end golf courses built when the inflated golfer numbers where at their prime a few years ago.  Anyone who is in the golf industry knows that golf courses are very expensive to operate.  When the economy was truly roaring, many investors thought that a new high-end golf course development was a sure shot at a good return.  What they didn’t calculate were the heavy expenses of construction and maintaining a golf facility.  The days of mediocre, small-town “goat ranches” are a thing of the past.  With the construction of the newer courses, the agronomic course conditions rapidly improved.  The public got a penchant for good, fast greens and grass in the fairways.  High expectations for top course conditions became the norm.  This comes at a cost: higher dues and green fees, and higher input costs to maintain the new expectations.  Older courses with mediocre agronomic conditions fell by the wayside as they couldn’t keep up with “the new TPC course” down the road.  However, the newer-constructed courses have also struggled to balance high maintenance expectations and profitability. The transformation of our society has also played a role in the golf industry.   Today, everyone is on the go.  We live in a much more instantaneous society than a few decades back.  In the old days, a typical golfing dad would spend all day on Saturday at the local country club playing golf and cards with the his colleagues.  In most golf clubs today, those days are gone.  Dad is more likely spending the day at soccer games and other family engagements.  Many golf facilities failed to keep up with changing family patterns.  Instead of making their facility more family friendly, many clubs fell by the wayside of nostalgia.  They failed to be innovative in their marketing.  Many facilities neglected to promote golf to ladies and kids.  In my opinion, golf should also be marketed as a fun, athletic and healthy family activity.  The health industry is one of the fastest, most consistently growing industry in the USA.  Why not tap into this resource? The cost of participation and material is quite expensive compared to other sports and activities.  Some of this blame can be placed on the industry’s greed such as the never-ending quest to put out new golf equipment.   Greens fees are often too high for beginners or people with less disposable income.  We need more user-friendly golf facilities for entry-level players.  The game has to be more accessible and family friendly.  I like the idea of 6- and 9-hole golf courses that are inviting to all golfers. All in all, I think the game is still strong and in a good place.  Can it be stronger or better?  Of course, but the key is not to place the future of the game in world-class Tour players or high-tech equipment advances.  This only results in superficial and inflated numbers of players, not avid lifetime golfers.  The real key in growing the game is to make golf more accessible and family friendly.  This can be achieved by simple instruction and creative ideas incorporating the wants and needs of today’s families.  Golf instructors, share your passion, for you are the true gatekeepers of the future of the game!
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