Delaware Valley Golf 2012—The State of the Game

The game of golf has been in the rough lately, both nationally and in the Delaware Valley. Despite the sport’s resurgence as it entered the new millennium, the last several years have seen the loss of 4.6 million golfers according to the PGA of America (25.4 million people played golf in 2010, down from 30 million in 2005).

The factors for the loss are many: economic concerns curtailing time and money spent on leisure activities, the growth of other participant sports like soccer and lacrosse, and even the on- and off-course woes of the sport’s highest profile and biggest personality attracting people to the game—Tiger Woods.

Here in the Delaware Valley, we have seen the slowing of new course development. In 2011, area courses had one of their toughest revenue years, as Hurricane Irene, the Halloween snowstorm and other weather events resulted in the loss of 35 to 40 playing days during the season. In a record rainfall year, the only thing missing were the locusts.

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The governing bodies of golf have duly taken note, and that is why the PGA of America has launched Golf 2.0, a multi-tiered, national initiative to get people back to playing golf. With the sport’s larger-than-life icon, Jack Nicklaus, as its lead spokesman, Golf 2.0 was rolled out at the PGA Show in Orlando earlier this year.

For the game of golf, it’s grow time. The sport has not done well reclaiming lapsed players (parents, for instance, who gave up the game when their kids were younger), or attracting more women and minorities to the links (most notably in the Hispanic and African-American demographics). Likewise, the “grass ceiling” of limited and costly access to courses and practice facilities has resulted in youths playing much more accessible sports that only require a field or nearby schoolyard.

One of the most interesting comments I overheard at the PGA kickoff event was from a speaker commenting on a recent potshot taken at President Obama (for having played 40 rounds of golf since taking office back in 2008). The political rival who levied the charge was aghast at our president being on the golf course so much. But the golf professional on the panel was saying that 40 rounds over Obama’s three-plus years in office works out to a dozen or so rounds a year. His position was we need a president who will golf more and promote the game by his example.

It seems in golf, it’s not just the balls that have good spin.

With a whole lineup of promotional ideas, philosophies and programs, what Golf 2.0 does is provide a road map for what the industry needs to do better as a business: attract new customers, recapture former but still interested golfers, and market better to all of its consumers. The good news is many of these types of initiatives already exist, and 2.0’s goal will be to ensure as many facilities as possible offer them and implement them correctly.

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So as the game circles its wagons and prepares to deal with the dark clouds, there are plenty of reasons to think better days are ahead.

A new corps of young guns is rising on the national scene: golfers sporting fresh faces, splashy colors, and a game to match. The recent resurgence of Lefty and Tiger (now the old guard) means we may have a reason to watch golf on Sundays again.

Those of us who play and love the game will always be its biggest champions and promoters. Maybe we should take it upon ourselves to grow the game, tending to our small plot, cultivating where we can. Why not invite a neighbor, co-worker or client who may have shown some interest? Someone very smart obviously introduced us to the sport at one time. It’s time for us to pay it forward.

For all kids, golf is finally being recognized as an “athletic sport,” and the ranks of local junior and high school competitors continues to grow.

Like a similar slogan that told us the importance of getting out and keeping fit, the cure for what is ailing the golf industry and one that applies for all of us old and new to golf, should be easy.

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Just play it.

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