The Business Side of Golf
By joe jones on 5/18/12
Joseph Jones is well on his way to becoming a regular contributor on oob, and for that, we applaud him! Here is his latest submission. If you missed his previous submissions, you can read them here, here, here, here and here.

There has been a general slowdown in the growth of golf over the last several years. Recession battered golf courses aren't just coping with lighter crowds, some are close to bankruptcy. Many are being forced to reduce maintenance staff drastically. According to The National Golf Foundation last year 158 golf courses closed while only 19 new courses opened. As an example Myrtle Beach, S.C. has been been hit very hard. There were 125 courses there in 2006 and now there are 100. Many courses are facing greatly reduced rounds played while costs continue to rise.

I believe the main reason is time availability and the cost of golf. Being an avid golfer is both expensive and time consuming. Because the real estate boom has slowed down drastically, there is a reduced amount of discretionary time and money available for leisure activities. The move to premier high end, high price golf courses that cost several hundred dollars to play has done a lot to kill convention and business travel. Resorts in golf destinations like Las Vegas, Florida, South Carolina and Arizona have been hit very hard. Hotel revenue and food businesses have been hurt equally. I also believe that the so-called ‘Tiger boom’ has cooled somewhat and fewer new players are taking up the game. With the general slow down in golf the service industries also suffer. Golf equipment sales, golf cart sale and club repair businesses have also been hurt.

The two groups that may help grow the game are the female golfer and junior golf programs. While there are many good groups promoting junior golf, it would behoove the golf course owners to invest in furthering junior golf by making available tee times on a free or low fee basis. I can’t think of anything that is more satisfying to the eye, than to see a foursome of teenagers, bags over their shoulders, walking down a fairway. Parents must try to get their children involved so we may secure the future of golf. It is the only way to develop new players for the future.

I don’t think the average golfer understands the cost of maintaining a golf course. Providing a pristine golf course is the goal of every course superintendent and, within budget restrictions, they all strive to offer the best bang for the buck. We have all had experiences playing courses that present the good, the bad and the ugly. Club owners/operators have to prioritize improvement programs and cut costs at the same time, which is very difficult to do. Trying to determine greens fees 12 months in advance is like throwing darts at an invisible board. If you plan on raising greens fees by 3% and your costs go up by 8% because of increased fuel costs, try passing on the increase once you have published the low rate.

In parts of the country where golf is played all year round courses offer discount rates during the slow season. If you lower greens fees by 20% you must increase the number of rounds by the same number just to equal the same revenue. At the same time your costs go up due to increased maintenance budgets. Sometimes it is penny wise and pound foolish to operate on the cheap all the time. Walking that fine line is a guessing game at best.

Golf course communities that are classified as Senior 55 and over (or age restricted communities) present additional problems that other facilities do not have. Let’s say a couple moves into a thriving community when they reach 55 years old. They usually pay an annual fee to play golf. If they choose an unlimited play package it is possible to get your cost per round down to a reasonable number. They may play as many as 4-5 rounds per week. Now, when they turn 65 years old, due to illness or physical problems they play 1-2 rounds per week, if at all. They no longer can justify the cost of an unlimited play package and consequently the revenue generated has fallen off by 1/2 or more. The options for the course owner/operator are to attract younger owners or increase fees to balance his shrinking balance sheet. Neither of these options is very viable. With the number of baby boomer's increasing greatly over the next several decades, it would behoove the Senior Planned Communities to get back in competition with the newer developments in an effort to lower the average age of the community in general.

Many golf course operators are realizing that the value of the land may be much greater than the value of their golf business. Many are selling out to big land developers for residential developments as versus golf course usage. This has been a growing trend around the country. At this time new golf communities are still being planned around the country. Developers may be either slower to see the problem or immune to it altogether. Lets hope they are just being optimistic and not foolish.

I think the bottom line for the golf business continues to be an increasing need for great service, loyalty programs and value-added programs such as package deals. Increased participation by juniors and women must be improved. Providing the basics, good quality conditions, improved pace of play, and that little something above and beyond the norm are goals that must be met.

I have always had the feeling that when a golfer leaves the course after completing his round he should say “Boy that was fun! I’d like to come back and play this course again”. Not “What a rotten experience. You’ll never see me again”.

Golfers. Please do your part to repair all ball marks, sand or replace all fairway divots, rake all traps and pick up and put in the garbage buckets anything laying loose around the golf course. Perhaps you will not find your next shot being affected by some jerk that doesn't do his job to keep the course in good playing condition.

This was written by Joseph Jones, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.


Image via Flickr, danperry


[ comments ]
cvargo says:
Golf is very expensive. Sadly this year my golfing has been cut way down, after buying our first house. Luckily groupon, and google deals tend to have some pretty good deals around here on golf courses.
5/18/12
 
SpaceMaNy0 says:
That last paragraph hit home with me. I work at a golf course, and outside of our members, I'd guess maybe 10% of golfers fix ball marks, rake the bunkers, or replace divots. I play there a lot, and join with people often. It's funny to me to watch how they treat the course not knowing I work there. Then if I say something they always go overboard to fix and fill everything.
5/18/12
 
dtak84 says:
Why do people keep saying junior golfers are part of the solution? Free green fees? Huh? So once they get to a certain age and gave to start paying, do you believe even half would continue playing? Parents trying to get their kids into golf is also a fine line. Unless done the right way, the kid will just look forward to the day when they don't HAVE to play/practice.

Sure, getting kids interested in the game is a start, but when they get old enough to pay for their own expenses, how will their situation be any different from ours? It'll cost time and money to them as well.
5/18/12
 
joe jones says:
SpaceMaNO..I'm a nut about repairing damage. I have told people who don,t do it to take up swimming. At least the water will fill in the hole after they leave the pool. Of course they are probably the same people that don,t get out of the pool to pee.
5/18/12
 
Banker85 says:
good article. I haven't golfed since Oct. 2011 and last year was the least # of rounds (3.5) I played in the previous 4 years. I was averaging about 30-40 rds/yr from 2008-2010 and in 2011 I bought my 1st house, have a 2 and 3 yrd old. I dont have the time and money it' as simple as that.
5/18/12
 
Duke of Hazards says:
seems like the U.S. is fairly saturated with golf courses, so competition is probably pretty tight in most areas. i see a lot of heavy discount coupons for the nicer courses in my area. i generally walk and play weekday twilight rounds, so the money's not an issue, but a 4-5 hour chunk of time certainly is. i'm gonna try and get my 2 boys (4 and 3) 'exposed' this summer to the game, but do it the right way so that it's a positive experience.
5/18/12
 
DoubleDingo says:
I've always said that the Country Clubs should hold a mandatory member event each month where they educate them on how to properly fix a ball mark and then send the members out in groups to each green and fix each and every ball mark on the greens. Once the greens are fixed, the course can open up for play. I bet they greens would be smooth as silk after a few months because the members would be fixing more ball marks and making sure their guests fix theirs too. And fill your divots with the sand mix provided, that's why it's there.
5/18/12
 
SpaceMaNy0 says:
I don't work at a country club, (well, I do, but not the golf course part), but I hear you. The course I work at is a smaller easier course so there's a lot of beginners there, which I like to see, but a lot of bad (most cases NO) etiquette. That includes driving carts around roped off areas to park right next to the green, and in one case OVER a brand new tee box that is a week or so from opening. It's the "those rules apply to everyone but me" attitude that's the worst. Yeah, you paid 20 bucks, don't even bother to get out of the cart to putt, just take it right up on the green. Our course is pretty laid back, our only real rule is to wear a shirt at all times, and when I politely pointed this out to a golfer, he finished the hole and then left, going out of his way to find me to say "Later, power trip." I miss class.
5/18/12
 
GBogey says:
I agree that the time it takes to play is one of the biggest issue facing golf. People are more and more time constrained and golf is getting longer and longer. I think that golf needs to work harder to speed up play AND to encourage more 9 hole play. I think that there is a huge untapped market for 9 hole play but most courses are afraid that they will lose spots that 18 hole players will fill.
5/18/12
 
GBogey says:
The other big issue that I hear little of facing golf is demographics. My experience is that people tend to take up golf when they are young or like me when they are in their 40's. People tend to not take up golf in their 20's and 30's due to family demands. The problem is that the last year of the baby boomers are now 48, so there have been fewer 40 year olds for 8 years and continuing. Don't know what can be done about this, but I believe that this is really hurting the sport and will continue to do so.
5/18/12
 
Wayneo says:
"repair all ball marks, sand or replace all fairway divots"

The pro shop or Starter should hand out a free divot tool to each golfer, and instruct them on its proper use at the start of each round. Those plastic ones bought in bulk should be very inexpensive, and save on time their own Maintenance team would have to spend repairing. Fairway divots, I'm being told not to replace as the grass just dies, but the sand with grass seed works. Heck, some courses I play even have a refill station at 10 for us.
5/18/12
 
bkuehn1952 says:
"Fairway divots, I'm being told not to replace as the grass just dies" - I do not believe that is true. My understanding is that except for Bermuda-strains of grass down south, most properly replaced divots will re-grow if the grass is Kentucky blue grass or a strain of fescue commonly used in the northern regions of North America. Any agronomists or course supers out there willing to give us their 2 cents?
5/18/12
 
jpjeffery says:
Repairing damage is a no brainer. Sadly, some of my divots explode in to hundreds of pieces making them impossible to replace. Yet another reason to improve on my technique, I guess!
5/18/12
 
jpjeffery says:
And don't get me started on courses that don't supply rakes for the bunkers (or can't because they just get nicked by the local oiks).
5/18/12
 
cph2133 says:
I know our golf course (top 10 in the state of Ohio according to Golf Digest) has a $1.2 million grounds budget. The number of hours the grounds department puts in is insane. There are 5:30 AM during the summer, out the door at 5 PM, it's a HUGE expense and time commitment to have a top of the line golf course.
5/18/12
 
cph2133 says:
At the course stated above, the super tells me to teach the caddies proper divot replacement. He said if replaced properly, they divot will grow together with the surrounding grass and you won't even be able to tell there was a divot there in a few weeks.
5/18/12
 
cph2133 says:
The largest issue with the golf industry is the elimination of caddies!

Young caddies become golfers for life. The boom of the golf car (though a huge money maker for most clubs) eliminated many, many future golfers.
5/18/12
 
joe jones says:
Replace or sand fairway divots. I live in Arizona so we sand divots with a sand/ seed mixture. In northern climates replacing your grass divot is the suggested method.Ask the starter or the pro shop what is the best method. Please, just do one or the other.
5/18/12
 
mmontisano says:
i personally haven't see this golf course recession. golf courses in Texas were ALWAYS packed and if you didn't have your weekend tee time by Wednesday, you weren't playing. if you were, it was at the complete opposite time of what you originally wanted. when courses are that full, it could take 6 hours to play your round, which has happened to me frequently.

i guess what i'm getting at is it's all a matter of perspective. to me the biggest problem is how much time golf consumes. Kevin Na can afford to play slow because he frequently shoots in the 60s, but when a weekend golfer that has trouble breaking 100 and takes that much time, it's torture for the rest of us. especially when they duff their attempts at going for that par 5 or short par 4 green, causing even more of a backup.
5/18/12
 
joe jones says:
badcaddy....Just out of curiosity.You referenced Texas golf courses but most of your posted scores seem to be from Singapore. Are you an airline pilot, a salesman or a travel agent. Would love to discuss some of the courses you have played. Websites are fascinating.
5/18/12
 
mmontisano says:
no, nothing that glamourous. i've been living in Singapore for the past year and work for a microbrewery, but lived in Dallas for 7 years before that.

and i know what you mean about the websites. they're not nearly as nice as most of the ones in the US. making tee time in Asia is one of the most frustrating things i've ever encountered.
5/19/12
 
DougE says:
Joe, great assessment of the state of things. Well written. I agree with your thoughts on pursuing the junior market. And, I have other thoughts on how to increase the general adult market as well, through education (instruction, rules and etiquette), reasonable playing fees and incentives, much of which would be offered during quieter times on the tee sheet. Far too much to detail here in the few words these comment sections allow. It would be interesting to discuss in a larger forum. Maybe we should start one.
5/19/12
 
DougE says:
On another note, last evening at my course, I and 14 or 15 other members volunteered to go around the course and fill divots with a sand/seed mix. Afterward, we all ate free burgers and dogs at the 19th hole. This is a regular thing we do every month or so. The head groundskeeper gives instruction and sends us out like a little army. In 2 hours we had the first 5 holes looking great. Sometimes we also do ball marks on the green, though last night we did not. It's a great idea for many courses to try. It doesn't have to be a private course. Any course can benefit from a night like this. The cost, about 35-40 bucks for the food. You can bet that anyone who volunteered will always fix their divots and ballbarks going forward, if they didn't regularly do so already. It's one minor little idea to help keep costs down. It certainly won't save the game on its own, but every little bit helps.
5/19/12
 
clevelandstever says:
@badcaddy- Working for a microbrewery sounds way cooler to me than an airline pilot or travel agent! What is the brewery name?
5/19/12
 
clevelandstever says:
@DougE the list of things I would be willing to do for free hot dogs and burgers is long...and disturbing. That is a great idea though. Throw in a couple beers and I will rake all the rocks out of the sand traps too.
5/19/12
 
Duke of Hazards says:
i always repair ballmarks (the few times when i hit the green from far enough to make one) and rake. as far as divots, i walk, so would only be able to replace them if i took a pad sized divot, which i don't do often. i do however, always, see unrepaired ball marks on the green and try to repair them if i'm close by.
5/19/12
 
joe jones says:
DougE. Thanks for you kind input. I have seen the volunteer repair crews work at other courses and I think it would be a fine idea around the country. I have been involved with strong ranger programs that help enforce the idea of repairing damage but it is difficult to not come across as a pain in the fanny while doing it. I have had people tell me it's not their job to take care of the golf course and make statements that it's the job of the course workers to do it. The majority of the people don't realize how bad it is so maybe we could start a larger forum to persue it. Any suggestions by oobers would be welcomed.
5/19/12
 
bsta93 says:
The people missing on the course are in my age range 22-40, and it probably correlates with joblessness. This age group has been hit extremely hard by the recession. It's difficult to justify spending $150 to $250 a month to play, when you don't have any income. It's also tough to justify spending $50 a month to play, when you know your performance is going to be weak, because you can't afford to play often.
5/19/12
 
mmontisano says:
clevelandstever...thanks! it's probably the first job where I actually REALLY enjoy it and look forward to go g to the office. the name of the brewery/restaurant is Brewerkz. they sometimes pay for me to play in golf events that we help sponsor, which is also a bonus.
5/19/12
 
clevelandstever says:
badcaddy...I want to try the hopback!
5/20/12
 
mmontisano says:
Hopback is a good beer. personal favorite is the IPA and the Kölsch.
5/20/12
 
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