God, family, and friends are my go-to, for support in my life, after that it is golf. Whether on the course, writing, or just talking about it I have had a passion for golf over 20 years now. I have sat in conference rooms listening to some of the smartest golf professionals talk about how they would like to save their favorite sport and honestly, their lively hoods. It is a tough situation; the tide has turned on golf after a massive boom in the 90’s and early 2000’s. When the recession hit in 2007-2009 there was a point where politically golf became a bad thing, people were talking about how much it cost the President to play golf, yet they marveled at the beautiful beach vacations. So, how do we really have a productive conversation.
First, lets face it, technology has taken over the world, statistics show that we are spending more time on our electronic systems and less time outdoors then ever before. Enter Top Golf and simulators. Top Golf has garnered a lot of attention from people who have never even seen a golf club in their lives. While I have not looked at the statistics, I can almost be certain that people have picked up the game because of their experience at Top Golf. This place is like a real-life video game, and the closest one to me in Fishers, Indiana is always packed. It is exciting to see essentially a driving range jammed packed with people. Simulators are just now starting to be used as a resource of entertainment in golf and not as a teaching tool. Yes, they are expensive and there are few places that have them for the everyday golfer, but that means there is a great opportunity here for facilities. Case in point is how Swing Rite Golf Center in Lima, Ohio combines their traditional practice facility with an indoor center that includes three simulators with access to over 87 popular golf courses. Technology is the future, if utilized properly it can be an enhancement to the game and not a replacement.
I grew up mowing yards and working for my grandparents on their farm to earn money to play golf. And yes, I am a muni kid at heart and still love my hometown course of Otis Park in Bedford, Indiana. Because of my upbringing in the sport I respect the notion that golf should be affordable. Yet there is an understanding that needs to bet met. Land, maintenance, employees, and many other expenses cause golf facilities to be quite expensive to maintain operation. The lack of understanding this is killing the game of golf, stop with the gimmicks, stop with the secrets, lets just be honest, golf is just like any other sport, IT COST $$$. There are programs, like the First Tee that help alleviate some of the cost of entry to golf and those organizations are important to the game. For courses to survive whether private, semi-private, or public they must run a profitable operation otherwise they will not be around for long. Managing these costs and the expectations of the facilities abilities based on a budget should be the first communication with the course and their customers. Many customers have an unreasonable expectation of what they should be seeing at a facility because they lack in the understanding of what the cost of operation really is, and this comes from the facility over promising their own abilities.
Golf must look at the core golfer. People like myself, who love this game, and honestly have had moments myself, where I don’t have the time nor the money to be able to play. There are two major hurdles for golf facilities with the core golfer:
1. Lack of Etiquette
2. The 5 hour round!
Lack of etiquette does not mean an expectation that everyone walks around acting like or dressing like a professional golfer. There are a few expectations that need to be met, that need to be communicated a little better. Please for the love of everything if you have just hit your tee shot and the group behind arrives at that tee box, let them through. Also, when you make a mark on a green, please fix this mark, and to top off all annoyances of mine on a golf course have fun, you are not making money doing this so have fun! The 5 hour round, this is caused by a few things. Slow players, yes, but also the need for a facility to absolutely stack the tee sheet. It is a volume game for most facilities, but I promise you for those places that play the volume game (because their fees are too low to be sustainable) they will pay for it in the long run with the maintenance that is needed and the loss of the core golfer who refuses to play a 5 hour round of golf.
In conclusion golf and those who are involved need to have some reality checks.
– Are some facilities way too expensive? YES
– Are some facilities way too cheap? YES (sustainability)
– Is there an expectation problem? YES
– Do we need to focus on the core golfer? YES
– Do we need to embrace technology? YES
I believe golf is alive and well with those of us who absolutely love the game of golf. Every week I talk with business owners, creators, golf professionals, and golfers who love this game and are very active in this game. We would all love to see it grow, but golf needs to stop losing people and facilities before we can worry about growing and that will only happen if we look from within. We are losing people who have played golf for most of their lives and it is normally not the cost but the other reasons we have talked about.
On Thursday this week I have an article coming out about Indianapolis’s decision to close the oldest municipal golf course in the city. Their reasoning is something I have a hard time understanding and is a perfect example of mismanagement and lack of understanding.
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