The Pellucid Perspective - September 2015 - (Page 17)

THE LAST WORD Is golf doomed to rely only on 'aspirational' golfers? I was reasonably certain that the next Presidential election wasn't until November 2016, but the political catfighting for the Republican and Democratic nominations has been going on so long already, I had to double check that the election isn't this November. This process is longer than the Tour's FedEx Cup season, or the NBA season, and those are virtually endless. At least, for better or worse, and barring another outbreak of misbehaving chads in Florida (a Bush may be running, you know), by 11/9/16 we'll have a new President-elect. Given the pace of the parties' current poll leaders, perhaps we should call this race The Tortoise and The "Hair." Which in a very roundabout way brings me ever so slowly to the theme of this column, namely what we can do, if anything, to reverse the trend of declining participation in golf in the U.S. As for what that has to do with current politics, the conclusion I am gradually coming to is that in that rarest of all instances, Donald Trump may have a point, although it is typically based on his privileged and egocentric view of the world as he thinks it should be. Trump's point regarding golf participation was that golf is an aspirational sport, fated to be enjoyed only by those who can afford it, appreciate its traditions, play it with some success and derive some benefit from associating with like-minded individuals. In short, the people who can buy The Donald's club memberships and pay his greens fees. While golf is certainly accessible and attractive to a broader spectrum of the population than Trump has in mind, he may be correct that the majority party of golf is and likely will continue to be made up of people steeped in golf 's traditions, able to afford it and with some proven ability or ambition to play it decently. The current panic in American golf is that the so-called Millennials are not taking up and remaining in the game at the same rate as their preceding generations. That, in combination with the fact that while new players, primarily juniors and women, are entering the game, even more of its customers are leaving it, is the double-edged Sword of Damocles hanging over the golf industry. A recent contention in the NGF's in-house magazine, The Dashboard, was that golf and Millennials are not necessarily oil and water, but golf is going to have to rethink its traditional on-course programming and off-course marketing to engage them. Some of the suggestions for accomplishing that involved incorporating some TopGolflike attractions, i.e. music, booze, target games on the range and other distinctly non-traditional elements of the golf experience. FootGolf and the use of devices like the GolfBoard to traverse the course would also fall into that marketing scheme, although it remains to be seen if any of those strategies will translate into long term, 18-hole golfing clientele. On the other hand, with greens fee revenues fighting a losing battle against maintenance and other operational expenses, lenders don't care where the course owner's debt service payments come from. As is frequently the case, The Donald's observations contain a modicum of truth, but again as usual, the devil is in the details - not a strong point for His Hairness. There will likely always be a subset of wealthy individuals who revere the game's traditions and aspire to the very "elitist" connotation that golf is trying to shed to keep The Donald's golf club fleet afloat. The problem is that the rest of the 16,000 or so golf facilities in this country have neither the allure nor the cachet to attract those big spenders. While the more daring of those courses' operators are dabbling with hip programming and youthful social media messaging, and the industry rolls out initiatives like Time for Nine, Tee It Forward, Get Golf Ready, the PGA Junior League and the Youth on Course program profiled earlier in this issue, the base fact remains that given the relatively static (and challenging) costs of golf course operation and the number of courses vying for a slowly declining number of customers, golf is a tough business. The Donald says that golf is an aspirational sport, but he was talking about its players; it's becoming just as aspirational for those owners trying to show a profit from it. One potential hopeful trend is the emergence of an almost unparalleled number of young, Millennial-friendly, appealing and freakishly talented stars on the PGA Tour. While the so-called "Tiger effect" got considerable credit for golf 's last relative boom period in the late 90's, it's much more likely that the economy and the ill-conceived new course development boom deserved the major credit for the uptick. (Ironically, the latter "development" is now getting a deserved share of the blame for today's supply-demand imbalance that is making it all but impossible for courses to survive on Trump's aspirational golfers alone). This wave of youngsters, with Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith, Jason Day and now Ricky Fowler doing wondrous things in their 20's and a new crop of battle-tested college stars coming along right behind them, could actually engage the younger generations and, unlike most of the Tiger fans, actually coax them into giving the game a try themselves. Returning to the political spectrum, golf may actually have one thing riding on the 2016 Presidential election other than the economic policy differences between the two political parties. At least if Hilary wins, golf is not likely to be blamed for distracting her from the affairs of state, unless of course one assumes that her husband and his infamous "Billigans" will actually be influencing policy decisions from the 3rd fairway. As for The Donald, if, God forbid, he should get the nod, one suspects that his ego won't let his handicap suffer unduly while he's busy negotiating and delegating. The Donald and the Presidential race - talk about an aspirational sport! -Jim Dunlap The Pellucid PersPecTive 17

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Pellucid Perspective - September 2015

EZLinks acquires GolfSwitch
Youth on Course provides win-win for golf and juniors
Breaking News: Golf is getting passed in technology and information use by...farming
Private clubs struggle to combat the “equity club death spiral”
Payment Processing: Are you confused?
August golf weather impact: Weather and stocks decline
Price is right, but demand still lags in Tampa
Is golf doomed to rely only on ‘aspirational’ golfers?

The Pellucid Perspective - September 2015