To deny that golf has contracted in participation, number of golf courses and any number of other aspects of the industry would be like a teacher putting smiley faces on the class clown’s test paper just to cover up the F he or she received as a grade.
Such efforts to put a positive spin on the obvious does the kid no good, but neither does that kid being judged to be a write-off at the age of 10. You would hope that the teacher’s dedication to teaching and responsibility to the kid and his/her parents would find balance in dealing with the challenges.
Chris Sorensen has no responsibility to present golf in a positive light, but as a writer submitting stories to a magazine such as Macleans, he does have a responsibility to provide balance.
There were certainly no happy faces adhered a story he wrote two years ago, entitled “Why Canadian golf is dying.”
Mostly, it was a rehash of topics that most who work in the industry and play/follow the game are aware of, even if they didn’t realize the game was dying as the headline suggested.
Does dying mean “For Sale” signs are going up on all golf operations and spinoff businesses across the country and the last one out should turn out the lights? Sorensen never defines what he means by dying.
To deny that the industry is contracting would mean not living in reality. It’s no secret that many golf operations are being sold for sweet sums to make way for development and business isn’t what it used to be at others, but is it really time to plant the game in the marble garden?
Whatever it means, Sorensen offered his expert opinion in a more recent Macleans article, “Golf woes continue despite Olympic return.” You can read that one here.
On the same day that Macleans posted Sorensen’s article, the Washington Post posted “Golf is back in the Olympics. Too bad no one plays it anymore,” a story by Drew Harwell that you can read here.
Nobody plays? What are all those results landing in my e-mail daily? The ghosts of tournaments past?
Dying? It sure seemed to have a pulse when Canadian Jared du Toit, 21, caused a commotion by playing in the final round of the RBC Canadian Open a few weeks ago at Glen Abbey.
Not appealing to young people? What was that sold out group of youngsters on hand in Calgary a few weeks back for a PING-sponsored junior clinic with Brooke and Brittany Henderson at the Golf Canada Calgary Centre?
Of course, golf can do better in making itself more appealing to young people, or families or newcomers to Canada for that matter. By all means, tee it up on those subjects, but tales of the death of the game or nobody playing is merely hyperbole without perspective.
At first, it seemed as if these predictions of golf Armageddon were the product of over-enthusiastic headline writers, but Sorensen’s benchmark for his story are those wild and crazy years of the 1990s, which all of us around at the time loved to live, but now haunt us as what people expect golf to be nowadays.
It’s little wonder then that market corrections get exaggerated in the media, oddly without mentioning factors such as a major U.S. recession that lasted for years or one-off events such as the Fort McMurray fires that impacted the entire Canadian economy this summer or the plunge in oil prices that have hit Alberta so hard.
That aside, golf is contracting back into the niche game it has been for much of its long existence and the businesses that supply it have been adjusting in the transition since the good, old days of the ‘90s.
Nike made a major transition last week when it announced that it was getting out of golf club, balls and bags and going with its core strengths in apparel and footwear.
The Swoosh got in back in the golden years of golf and even then, it was wondered by many if it was in too deep against more established brands of golf equipment.
Sorensen, as many media types do, thought business was all about star power and the presence of Tiger Woods and eventually Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie as endorsers would do the trick.
“Though Nike was never a big player in the category—it only managed to grab about 10 per cent of the market—it was a remarkably high-profile one, thanks to big sponsorship deals signed with stars like McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie,” he wrote.
Signing big names is what Nike does in any sport it’s involved with, but to read Sorensen, Nike was more in business for profile than profit. He was right, however, that Nike couldn’t find a large enough piece of the pie that it thought it deserved.
Sorensen focuses on what is actually a prudent decision by the Swoosh as an example of golf’s demise, yet fails to mention that Callaway, a company that was also struggling not long ago, showed a 6.5 per cent increase in net sales in its second quarter report this year and TaylorMade, despite being shopped around by adidas, enjoyed double digit growth in the second quarter.
Oddly enough, the total disappearance of brands/companies such as Lynx, Spalding, Top Flite and Ben Hogan to name a few over the years hasn’t been able to put golf out of its alleged misery, but this is the Swoosh and we’re talking Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, so that’s different … apparently.
Yet, “as if that weren’t enough,” according to Sorensen, there’s the rumour that Golfsmith/Golf Town is looking into bankruptcy protection. Stress the word “rumour” on that statement for Golfsmith tweeted last week after the story in Bloomberg appeared that it “is simply not true.”
One thing that is certain is that it’s not official, although Golfsmith may have done some investigation as an option, but word within the golf industry is that in Canada at least, Golf Town has been paying its bills.
Whether something that hasn’t even happened yet is a legitimate reason to ring the death knell for the game is up to you, but keep in mind that as it was with golf equipment companies that have disappeared over the years, so too have off-course golf retailers.
It isn’t pretty, but you move on.
Both Sorensen and Harwell wait until the end of their respective stories to offer something positive. In Sorensen’s case, he points out that, according to National Golf Course Owners Association stats, the number of rounds played in most provinces were up between seven and 13 per cent last year.
The Washington Post story points out that rounds are up about five per cent, according to Golf Datatech, even if traditional hot spots such as Florida and California are down.
There’s a couple of smiley faces for an industry that has been in constant evolution since the glory days of the ‘90s. Sorensen and Harwell have that correct, but where they lose perspective is the end point in all of this, if there is one. It isn’t the graveyard.
Other industries have gone through seemingly impossible circumstances and lived to tell about it. Sports such as tennis and lacrosse have been written off only to see them bounce back. If the dust ever settles on golf, it won’t look like it did 15 to 20 years ago, but many within the industry will look at that as a market correction.
Like the teacher grading the student, there may be few smiley faces to hand out if you’re going to be honest about it, but while the child and parents need an honest assessment, there are few that would deem something or someone a complete write-off.