It doesn’t take an economist to realize that there are tough financial decisions ahead in all businesses, especially in the United States, which has been hit harder for longer by the recession than here in Canada.
David Leadbetter freely admits that he isn’t an economist, but he hopes that golf operations resist striking deep into the heart of the profession that has made him such a big name in the game.
Teaching is woven into the fabric of golf and to downsize it or eliminate it altogether contradicts the message that golf courses are trying to send to their clients/members, according to Leadbetter.
“I don’t know why they would think like that. If you’re going to grow the game and you want people to play more, you want them to play better, don’t you?
“If you’re playing lousy golf, you’re probably thinking, `Oh, I don’t need to go out to the golf course. I’m playing so badly anyway. What the heck,’” said Leadbetter, adding instruction has been an important part of golf since its very beginning.
“Golf is a sport where technique plays a bigger role than probably any other game and the fact is people need it and people will benefit from it. I think it should be encouraged, not discouraged,” he said.
Having said that, Leadbetter understands the challenges ahead. He resides in Florida and knows that tourism plays such an important role in the overall economy and the golf economy in that state.
“I think it’s important to understand that golf is not immune,” he said. “I think you’re seeing people say, `Hey, we’re being extravagant if we go down to Florida and play golf.’ It’s tough,” said Leadbetter, who was in Vancouver on Tuesday to help launch Callaway’s 2009 Free Lesson Program.
“As with every other business, (Florida golf courses) are waiting for the cycle to change. It’s definitely an issue right now. How big an issue? I don’t think they’ll probably know until they’ve assessed the winter,” said Leadbetter, adding that those numbers will be crunched soon.
“Generally speaking, the end of April is the time where they look at figures, seeing the number of people playing, visitors and so on and so forth. Obviously, we’re coming to that time, so we’ll find out pretty soon,” he said.
Those numbers could paint an ugly picture for Florida, one that is similar to different regions across the U.S., a country that is expected to lead the world out the global downturn.
“I’m not an economist and I don’t know when the downturn is going to change,” said Leadbetter. “People talk about the end of ’09, or sometime in 2010. You just wonder if it will ever get back to the good old days when people were super confident and everything was based on how much their house was worth.”
Foreclosures and falling house prices have been more an issue in different parts of the U.S. than here in Canada, but it will continue to affect the mood of American consumers in particular.
“The problem in the States now – especially if you take places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, places in Florida – people bought and built based on flipping them,” said Leadbetter, adding that some solace can be taken from the stock markets with their recent rebounds.
“When you look at the States, so much is based on the stock market and any indication there gives people some semblance of confidence,” he said.
Recent optimistic indicators will not be reflected in the numbers being looked at by the golf industry right now, so the economy will affect all aspects of the golf industry in the U.S. based on what happened in the winter.
“You are hearing about certain private clubs losing members and so on and not having waiting lists like there were,” said Leadbetter. “Then again, there is a club in Palm Springs called Bighorn, which is a very prestigious club. They’ve got a waiting list to get in.
“I suppose it just depends on the demographics and the situation,” he added.