NIKE, GOLFSMITH & COURSE CLOSURES
It seems as though there's been a good bit of bad news for the golf industry of late. Nike is leaving the equipment sector, Golfsmith is talking bankruptcy and the reports of course closures continues, seemingly at a greater rate. What does all this mean? A recent article in the Washington Post suggests that golf is dying, despite its much heralded return to the Olympics this week. It depends who you talk to. Just yesterday, I visited my friends at Izett Golf, a custom clubmaker and fitter in Ardmore, PA. While Nike's troubles may have been tied to the Tiger Woods phenomenon and the casual golfer, the folks at Izett indicate that their customers (avid, serious golfers) are as enthusiastic as ever. Golfsmith's problems are apparently the result of unfavorable retail leases, which are not uncommon in the age of internet shopping as the face of retail evolves. Most importantly, we continue to see reports of golf course and club closures as the market continues its correction, and some member-owned clubs either have or are considering a transfer to investor ownership. It's not the serious golfers we need to worry about. Casual golfers represent the industry's profit.
As suggested in the article, some see golf as "aspirational" (Donald Trump) and not "populist". As a result the game isn't sustaining participation, especially among casual and new golfers, that represent the difference between growth and continued decline. All of us in the golf course industry are trying to predict where the balance of supply and demand will occur. Does the industry need to take a longer look at itself?
I wrote a few months ago that my 22 year old, athletic and fun-loving daughter has no interest. Just the other day, a fellow member at my club encountered me to advise and police my partner in a casual club event that he needed to tuck in his shirttail and possibly change his shorts. Are the time-honored traditions of our grand old game killing it? The last thing I want to be is part of the member police.
Some clubs now have music piped into the practice area and in golf carts, others have food and beverage service on the range and in 2014 the Wall Street Journal told of two venerable and prestigious clubs in the northeastern US that now allow push carts, once shunned at private clubs and considered to be only for the "muni" crowd.
Traditions are great, but if golf is to grow, some traditions may need to be compromised in the interest of the economic health of the game.
Last evening, I embarked on an evening nine-holes and decided to use my 1982 vintage golf clubs. All you need to know about how golf has changed is to go play with a persimmon/steel driver, blade irons and a putter with no perimeter weighting. Equipment, if nothing else has made golf easier and targeted the masses. If the rest of the game doesn't evolve with it, the advances in equipment and increased cost of courses and maintenance have been for naught. It's not your father's golf anymore.