“Today’s kids just want to spend their time playing video games,” say the naysayers about golf, “and on top of that, the game takes too long to play and is too expensive. In addition, with the course closures the past few years, golf is definitely in decline.” Well! That’s a lot of negativity there, so we have to ask ourselves if there’s any merit to what some people are saying. While it is true that the number of courses and players have contracted over the past decade in the United States, all signs point to a leveling out, especially in terms of participants. The National Golf Foundation reports that in 2015 (the last year statistics are available), 2.2 million people took up the game, with the biggest group of beginners coming from the Millennial generation. That 2.2million is just shy of the all-time high of 2.4 million new golfers in 2000, the year Tiger Woods was at the height of his game. But it doesn’t stop there. Over one in four Americans watched golf at some point in 2015,and one in three did some sort of golf-related activity. Interest in the game is increasing, and with the economy continuing to lumber out of its malaise the past decade, undoubtedly the health of the game will continue to gain strength. Golf is a relatively slow game for these fast-paced times, so what attracts 21st century people to the game in the first place? The answer is the same as it has been for centuries:
  • The chance to socialize with friends and meet new people
  •  Getting outside and enjoying a scenic setting
  •  Enjoying the challenge of self-improvement, of you vs. you
  •  Being able to compete at a game that allows for all skill levels, not just elite athletes
  • The inherent enjoyment of a well-struck shot
  •  Watching the flight of the ball, akin to art forsome (e.g., the late Arnold Palmer)
  •  Unique playing fields that vary from hole to hole, from course to course
  • A chance to unwind and slow down from the daily grind of life
  • The physical, mental and spiritual benefits
Even in our modern society, people can’t just be on “go” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They need to find a way to relax and move at a different pace than they are used to. But while golf can be relaxing, the heat of battle can establish an intensity that is every bit as high as the final moment of the Super Bowl, or the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series. In other words, golf is what the player wants it to be! Golfers travel thousands of miles to play a specific course or courses. How many people travel to play a particular tennis court? People may travel for a tennis vacation, but the court itself is not the attraction. And that game requires an opponent, unless you’re content to enjoy a mechanical “opponent” firing balls at you. New avenues such as Top Golf offer a different model than the traditional to enjoy the sport, and there is evidence that Top Golf devotees are making their way, slowly but surely, to the golf course itself. Anything that brings people to golf-related activities is a good sign for the industry. As was noted in the Summer 2016 edition of Golf Teaching Pro by Ben Bryant (“How Head In-juries Cause Parents to Turn to Golf,” page 36), concussions in other sports make golf an attractive option. Even soccer (or football, to non-Americans) is receiving attention for brain injuries, as heading the ball over a period of time has been shown to produce such injuries. The beginning of this article highlighted some of the perceived problems with golf. As far as taking too much time, golf has always taken about four to five hours to play on a weekend. But playing 18holes isn’t the only option; nine holes are viable for many, and takes maybe two hours to complete. And have you seen how many people are willing to attend a professional sporting event? A lot of people think nothing of driving or commuting 45minutes to the venue, getting there an hour before game time, watching a three-hour contest, and taking another 45 minutes to return home. That’s a total time investment of five-and-a-half hours, and many of these people have season tickets! So it’s not a matter of too much time; it’s a matter of apriority of time. As far as expenses go, golf requires specialized equipment, but there are numerous low-cost options available to players. Green fees at municipal courses, and even at many privately-owned public facilities, are well under $50, and in many cases walking can be done for as little as $10 to$20 (mainly in Midwest and Southeast locations in smaller towns). For those who want to play more, memberships make it possible for a greatly reduced per-round cost. A bucket of range balls is still around $5 to $7 in most places for those who just want to practice. Finally, we can turn to the professional game for evidence that golf will never die. Look how many people attend events, and in many cases record-breaking crowds are attained each year. The tournament at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona is now drawing a total attendance of half a million people, making it the largest-attended single sports event in the world. And we all know sponsors would not continue to pour increasing millions of dollars into a dying sport. Not much in life is consistent, and the game of golf is no exception. As Mark Twain famously wrote, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The game of golf can accurately say the same.
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