Headlines about golf have made CNN’s, CNBC’s, Fox News’, and many other TV news’ broadcasts lately. Normally, that would be great. A new Tiger Woods that the public, golfers and non-golfers, are excited about wasn’t the news headline. The reports were all about how the game of golf was in trouble and the game was in jeopardy of going the way of the dinosaurs. Let’s put some perspective on the situation. These uninformed opinions are based on three things. Let’s examine those things that have brought about such a panic. First, golf OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) sales have been dragging for well over a year now. Second, Dick’s Sporting Goods dismissed 468 golf professionals in one day. Third, golf courses are closing at a rate of 160 per year. For the OEMs, the problem is serious. The flood of merchandise on the market is overwhelming the equipment business. Consumers have greater outlets to get rid of equipment they don’t want by using the Internet or the PGA trade-in program. The great news about this for the OEMs were the sales numbers from 2006 through 2012. The bad news derived from this is that it created a false market ceiling. The OEMs hired more employees and expanded their product lines. They also increased distribution significantly, all based on a retail market that was somewhat of a fantasy, much the same way as the false housing market for which our economy paid the painful price the last six years. Now the sales have plummeted for some companies and their retail accounts. This has led to bad publicity when earnings reports are announced every quarter. Of course, this has also unfortunately led to layoffs. To make matters worse, sales increases in 2012 were based on one product, the original Taylor Made Rocket Ballz line of clubs. It was easily one of the most successful product launches in golf equipment history. The problem with a successful product line such as this is the near impossible task of increasing or even matching the sales the following year. Short product cycles are another sin of the OEMs. This practice really turns off consumers. In my opinion, the companies are getting exactly what they deserve right now. For Dick’s. the situation is complicated and many-faceted. The easy answer is what we covered about OEMs: a successful product launch, a false growth of sales. With the combination of poor management, poor hiring and poor training, the professionals employed by Dick’s were doomed. Only unrealistic sales could have saved them. I worked for Dick’s for two years, so I have very intimate knowledge of their issues. Regardless, this obviously makes the golf business health look worse than it is. Finally, all the courses closing. Very simply and honestly, we built too many golf courses in the early 2000s, and too many difficult courses. With the advent of online discount sites like GolfNow, greens fees plummeted. The laws of supply and demand were bound to catch up with the golf courses eventually. So, here we are. Is it as bad as the news would lead you to believe? No, not even close. Golf will never die, and the gloom and doom is offset by many positive signs. Junior participation is better than ever. Some regions of the country are showing increased rounds played. Executive courses and shorter courses are getting more popular. Country club memberships are on the rebound. Will the big international equipment companies continue to downsize? Yes. They need to. Will more courses close? Yes. They need to in order to balance the supply and demand system and increase green fees. Don’t believe all the negativity. The indicators the media focuses on are not indicative of reality. Just because a huge corporation is having issues does not mean golf is doomed. The game of golf will be fine, and its strengths are the all the things we love about it: fresh air, exercise, beautiful courses, the enjoyment of watching the ball fly, and the challenge of the game. Our obligation as teachers and golf professionals is to be positive and be great ambassadors of the game.
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