Among golf administrators, golf media and other interested parties, there is a constant desire to grow the game.
Discussion repeatedly takes the form of re-designing the basic format (larger holes, shorter yardages and/or easier rules) or developing a more attractive environment for beginners and juniors. Several questions occur to me as I think about the future.
First, why do we have to grow the game?
Admittedly, we do need a continuation of programs that lure new players to replace those who leave, but what if the game is as big as it’s going to get?
What if the percentage of the population who play the game is trending lower? Is the trend toward courses producing 20,000 to 25,000 rounds going to become the standard, instead of the 30,000 to 35,000 of the past?
Secondly, there are survey results that report dissatisfaction and a multitude of issues within the game, such as slow play, expensive fees, costly equipment, difficult courses and a reduction in enjoyment.
If these complaints are facts, how do we expect to attract new people? Wouldn’t it to be more prudent to resolve the issues instead of inviting guests into an unkempt house? Why would they want to return?
Finally, is it possible that society has changed so much that playing golf for some has become impossible, particularly due to a reduction in disposable income?
According to a U.S. based research company there is trend away from automobile ownership. Young people have begun to consider a car as an appliance rather than an extension of their personality or a statement of their financial position in society.
In Toronto, for example, traffic congestion is changing the dynamics of the way people live and will be depending more often on public transit as time goes on.
So what has this to do with golf, you ask?
If, in the future, people can’t afford cars and are limited to public transit, how they going to get to the golf course? North America has vast, open land, but if people can’t get to them how do they benefit golf?
Due to our own poor planning, are we headed for golf as it has been known in Japan where players flock to driving ranges located on building tops?
In a recent study, 40 per cent of Echo Boomer respondents said they’d choose a smartphone over a car. New condominiums are being built without allowance for parking. People are buying units of 600 to 800 square feet, some without adequate kitchen space because the tenants are choosing to dine in restaurants.
They want quicker commutes, proximity to work, transit and amenities. There is a huge shift in values. They are cocooning and spending money on venues that provide instant gratification.
These are the real challenges facing the game instead of the game itself.