PGA Tour: What Is The Future Of Golf? (Part 1)


Aug 8, 2014; Louisville, KY, USA; PGA golfer Tiger Woods reacts as he walks down a fairway during the second round of the 2014 PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I have been extremely fortunate to have covered golf for over two years now. This makes me relatively new coverage wise, however all of my life I have been passionate about the sport. My great-grandfather taught me how to play the game and I became personally attached. With that in mind, I wanted to examine the future of golf. My initial opinion was that it was not good and through my research I feel that my original views were correct. This is the first of a series of articles on my findings.

Justin Timberlake is known is one of the most influential and popular music artists in today’s music era. He hosted a PGA Tour golf tournament for four years and his love for golf was evident when he purchased the Mirimichi Golf Course in 2009 and then spent $16 million to renovate the course which is located in Memphis, Tennessee. The so-called “big boom” of golf ended in the mid-2000’s although it’s hard to say if anyone knew this at the time. Timberlake certainly knows it know when a course Golfweek Magazine referred to as “one of the best courses you can play” sold in November for just $500,000 to Memphis businessman Fred Edmaiston. This is one of many examples of recent golf courses failing to draw money to the point that course developers which include 18 time major winner Jack Nicklaus are looking elsewhere.

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  • Recently the TV show Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel aired a special on golf. Among those interviewed for the special were Nicklaus, former TaylorMade President Mark King and former PGA of America President Ted Bishop.

    Gumbel started the piece with the following quote, “Sports leaders are trying desperate measures to cope with golf’s surprisingly desperate times.” This quote spoke for itself and showed the desperate times of golf and how it no longer is drawing the money it once was. All of a sudden the viewer is transported to Gumbel walking with King where the two state that they were walking on a golf course that was built in 2007, but was dead because of nature with the former not even able to recognize a bunker. According to the piece an average of 130 American courses a year close with a rise in courses overgrowing and becoming abandoned. Additionally the show stated a course closes every 48 hours.

    The piece did focus on direct solutions regarding the future of golf. One problem many cited was how long rounds take for the 18-30 year-old demographic which is down 35 percent in the last 10 years. This has become an instantaneous age where things that take time such as golf which is seeing an increased time for a full round are not as prioritized any more.

    King’s view on the show was as follows, “golf is shrinking to the point where you’re only going to have traditional people playing and it’s going to become an elite game again. For all of the traditionalists who say the game is fine, if we don’t have kids graduating high school playing the game in high school, what’s the game going to look like in 20-30 years.”

    King proposed different ideas to fix this problem. One is foot golf where you essentially are kicking a ball on a golf course. This will get younger people out and would also have more control over their shots. The other idea he had was 15 inch cups which would appeal to the younger demographic specifically children. King initially wanted the holes to be 25 inches but settled for 15. He claims this would shave an hour off a round of golf. He had Bishops’ support, “I think that type of thing is really indicative of where we need to go with golf in the future,” Bishop said.

    Another craze that has become popular is Top Golf which is one of the fastest growing entertainment chains in the country. It is a mix between a driving range, sports bar and night club.

    This definitely is not the traditional form of golf however what it lacks in tradition it gains by attracting that 18-30 demographic that the game has lacked over the past decade. “There has been a lot of pent up demand to play golf,” Top Golf Chairman and Lead Investor Erik Anderson said. “The challenge has been the barriers to golf. It can be expensive, it takes a long time and it can be intimidating, so it’s hard. We’ve allowed those people to aspire to golf have an easier access point to it.”

    The premise is that each golf ball has a computer chip which allows the player to choose between seven games to see how far they can hit it and how close they are to their target thus earning a score. Currently there are 13 computerized locations and with an average wait time of two hours, Anderson plans on making another 13 locations by the end of next year. This new idea is a success.

    Traditional golfers may be opposed to this but Nicklaus tells them not to be, “What difference does it make if people are interested in the game,” said Nicklaus. “The game needs to be a game for the masses.”

    Nicklaus himself has been a casualty of the golf industry, as he no longer builds courses in America and has had to go elsewhere as well. His name is not enough to sell golf. “I was doing 20 to 30 golf courses at a time,” Nicklaus said. “It was a great business but it dropped like a rock in 2007.”

    The HBO special states that Nicklaus has had to build courses in other countries and the 2015 Presidents Cup will be played at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea located in Incheon, South Korea.

    This completely supports what First Tee Coach Kirk Thoma believes is a shift towards a growth in overseas play and talent. Thoma also believes the inclusion of golf in the Olympics will help contribute to this and the growth of golf in general.

    “I believe the game has grown immensely in other countries, especially in Asia,” Thoma said. “This growth in other areas of the world has helped sustain the golf industry, unlike countries like the United States where play is down. International play has also helped drive the idea of having golf as an Olympic sport, starting in the summer of 2016 in Brazil. This could provide more exposure of or to golf can only help by exposing those who know little about the game, especially basic rules and terminology.”

    While the HBO piece sang the praises of these new concepts, golf writer Shane Ryan who writes for and Golf Digest among other outlets and also has a book due out in May called Slaying the Tiger: How Golf’s Young Guns Took Over the Sport is not as optimistic.

    “Some of those things could help but I don’t know how much it would help,” Ryan said. “I think one thing that would be important would be pace of play. If you could play a round in 3.5 hours, that would be the aim for foursomes. People talk about these changes and they are cosmetic changes for a problem that is not cosmetic, it’s structural. Golf is going to have to be comfortable with becoming more of a niche sport in America. I don’t think golf is in danger of dying, I think people are still going to play it, a lot of people in our generation will play it as they get older. I didn’t start playing golf until two years ago and I think we’ll see that more and more. It’s a wonderful sport, it’s a wonderful game and a way to relax and play your whole life. Golf is going to be in decline, it’s the nature of the sport and our country right now.”

    Not only has golf started to fade on the course but it has been the same case off the course. On July 23, Dick’s Sporting Goods fired more than 500 golf pros and this was confirmed to

    “I’m sincerely disappointed that the careers of so many PGA professionals have been hurt today,” Bishop said in a letter to the terminated employees. The company’s goal was to have at least one professional per store to assist customers with an in-store questions a plus for visiting the store instead of purchasing online. Five million golfers have been lost in the past 10 years.”

    “We are selling drivers in our stores this spring for $99 that were approximately $299 20 months ago,” Dick’s CEO Ed Stack said after announcing earnings on May 20.

    Stack also stated that first-quarter sales were missed by $34 million. Dick’s is the key retailer of the TaylorMade brand and had too much merchandise buying all four models and thus selling everything under the suggested retail price.

    I contacted Dick’s Sporting Goods to comment on the firing of the employees and their idea of how they will handle the golf portion of its franchise in the future but received no response.

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