It seems that the “golf crisis” that has so many hands wringing in the United States extends to Canada. An article in MacLean’s called “Why Canadian Golf Is Dying” details the extent of the problem in Canada.
The subtitle neatly summarizes the problem: The culprits—greed, hubris and the demise of free time.
I am still convinced that the only crisis we are seeing is one of expectations. With Tiger attracting a new television audience (and I have reservations about that theory), golf developers and manufacturers expected a similar explosion of interest in playing golf. So they built and acquired and expanded. But the boom never materialized, for a variety of reasons, including that Tiger did not have the impact people thought he would. MacLean’s has a nice couple of paragraphs on this:
In fact, some now wonder if the industry squandered its biggest star by letting Woods define himself through lucrative endorsement deals with megabrands like Nike, Accenture, General Motors and PepsiCo—relationships that immediately soured when stories of Woods’s extramarital affairs emerged. “They did not use Woods to promote golf; they used him to promote professional golf, i.e., money,” writes James Corrigan, the Telegraph’s golf correspondent. “Instead of being the face for a worldwide initiative to get the kids on the fairways, he was the face for a sport laden with riches.
The golf industry keeps talking about losing players. But I wonder what they are using as the baseline. Is the baseline the numbers they hoped to see based on a peak year of Tiger curiosity and optimistic boomer retirement figures, or some calculation from the pre-Tiger era, adjusted for reasonable population growth?
My suspicion is that the golf growth-and-loss numbers are a bit like the games governments play with incremental budgeting. Each year, an incremental budget is prepared based on the previous year’s budget, plus x. If x=5%, then an increase of 3% is sold as a 2% cut. That’s one way budgets can get out of control even as politicians claim fiscal responsibility.
Some studies suggest we have approximately the same number of golfers today that we had in 1990. That’s pre-Tiger bubble. Since then, the US population has increased by 27%, from 248 million to 317 million. That does not mean, however, that golf should have seen an increase of 27%. To really determine the potential of a population increase on golf, questions of income and education need to be taken into account. My suspicion is that much of the population increase came at the bottom half of the socio-economic scale. Incomes have been stagnant since 1990, with more than 50% of households making $50,000 or less. Golf is expensive, and people trying to raise families on less than $50,000 can’t spend $50 for a round of golf, and $1,000 on a set of clubs every couple of years. I know several people who have given up golf because they have other needs for the money.
Further, those same people are working more for less (in terms of real dollars). Picking up extra hours—or a second job—means you can’t realistically spend 5 hours playing an expensive game.
Finally, at least half that population increase is women, and I can’t imagine that they feel welcome on the course, given the misogynistic treatment they are given by golf media and—to a certain extent—manufacturers and course owners. TaylorMade seemingly releases half a dozen new drivers for men each year. How many do they market for women? The USGA pays its women champions half that of men, even when they play on the same course. Golf magazines feature scantily clad women and go ga-ga over professional players’ hot wives, as if the only role women have in golf is as eye candy.
Read the entire article. Even if you are as skeptical about the “crisis” as I am, you will find it interesting.