This article takes a hard look at where golf is today, and where it is headed…
The final tally for 2017 rounds played in the United States is now posted, and to be brutally honest, it’s not pretty. We finished the year down another 2.7% in rounds played according to the NGF, National Golf Course Owners Association and Golf Datatech. This translates to roughly a loss of 12 million rounds from approximately 475 million rounds played in 2016. Private facilities were up about 1% while public facilities saw losses of 3.6%. Since 80% of all rounds in the US are played on public courses, the overall number was closer to the public course figure. The overall industry continues to a slow leaking of about 1-2% of rounds played each year for the past decade. These numbers are sometimes hard to swallow as a golf professional as it is my job to work on finding new ways to get golfers on the course more often, and ultimately grow the game.
However, I don’t see this downward spiral continuing forever, that is IF we in the golf industry wake up (both owners and operators alike). The premise around my upcoming 10 trends revolves around the principle that change is happening faster than ever before, and as small business owners, you can get trapped into doing “what’s always worked in the past,” instead of stepping back to see the big picture.
The world around us is changing, and it is doing so at a much faster rate than ever before. Let me give you an example: The telephone took 102 years to be put in use by its first 1 billion users. The television took 49 years to reach the same plateau. Meanwhile, Facebook hit 1 billion users in eight years. As these changes continue to accelerate around us, each golf course needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves, will you keep up?
So here are my 10 trends for the next 10 years.
Trend 1: Revenue Generation will be tied to “Verifiable Value Creation” In today’s world most people, especially the younger generation, are willing to pay just about anything, however, it absolutely MUST create verifiable value. I like to use Amazon Prime as a great example. Their big selling point is free 2-day shipping for members. But the add-ins sell it. Amazon Music and Prime Video are “extra’s” for being a Prime Member. Huge Value created.
Trend 2: Experiences Count for More. The younger generation especially wants to spend money on experiences shared with their family and friends. Gone are the days of a husband leaving the wife at home to golf all day. Entertainment is becoming all-encompassing, golf included.
Trend 3: The World Is at Your Fingertips, Your Business Better Be Too. If your website and booking system don’t function smoothly on a smartphone, you’re in big trouble. Make sure they do.
Trend 4: Instructors Will Create Early and Lasting Success for the Game’s Newbies. Programs like Get Golf Ready and Op 36 are creating quick success for beginners who are now staying in the game as a result.
Trend 5: Head Pro’s Will Start Teaching the Game Again. I think we all realize the importance of getting students results, as it leads to them enjoying the game and sticking with it.
Trend 6: The Customer “Arms Race” Will Continue to Intensify. Utilizing technology to collect valuable customer data won’t be optional to compete for new golfers going forward.
Trend 7: The Women and Girls Are Coming. The biggest bright spot today is the significant growth in girl’s participation.
Trend 8: Professional Marketing Finally Comes to Golf Courses and Instruction. Companies like Retail Tribe, Teesnap, and GolfTec are pushing the needle forward when it comes to marketing for courses and instruction.
Trend 9: Artificial Intelligence Will be the New Launch Monitor. If we can teach a computer to drive a car, we can teach it how to analyze a golf swing.
Trend 10: The Number of Golfers and Rounds Will Start to Increase. I hope I don’t eat my words here, as there is no stat aside from a belief in me to back this one up.
If we learn from the trends I’ve listed and believe will hold true moving forward, then I believe golf will ascend over the next decade. Can we finally abolish the phrase, “That’s what we’ve always done?” I can’t think of a larger growth killer. Fortunately, I’ve consulted with many industry PGA Professionals looking to push golf forward and are looking to make golf an experience for everyone to enjoy. For the sake of the game I love, let’s hope we are all ready to do just that.
-Matthew Lindberg, PGA