This winter is shaping up as more of a “usual” winter for the area with continuing cold temperatures going into March and substantial snowfall still on the ground. I think we can safely say that we will not be setting any early opening records for the golf course. Just how the golf course will come through this winter is a bit of an unknown at the moment. I get the feeling that we will have substantial winter disease pressure-particularly on low lying areas of golf course fairways. I am confident that our preventative applications from October will help to keep the damage to manageable levels and that we will be able to present the conditioning levels that our players have come to expect.
For our article this week, I have decided to write something unrelated to the technical aspects to golf course management and focus more on the overall state of the industry. The following chart shows data presented by the National Golf Foundation for 2012:
What we see from this chart is a continuing market correction in golf course supply which began in 2006 and since then golf course closures have outnumbered new openings by about 500 18-hole facilities(out of a total of roughly 16,000 facilities). The industry is in a state of contraction as the market forces of supply and demand play themselves out. This trend will likely continue for the foreseeable future until a supply and demand equilibrium is met-something which is very difficult to predict. Of note is that while we are seeing this sort of contraction in the United States, new golf development overseas continues to grow at a healthy pace. The question is: why is this contraction happening in the United States?
Looking at this from a historical perspective, golf saw a rapid growth in new courses in the 1920’s followed by a similar contraction during the 1930’s and the Great Depression. Economic distress is definitely a contributor as is the collapse in real estate values in some parts of the country-which in turn affected new course construction in projects that were tied in with new housing development. Economic factors are definitely a part of the reason but another reason I see is related to social factors.
In today’s fast paced world of technology, I sometimes think that people are having a harder time breaking away for six hours or more to play a round of golf. There are so many other things that potential customers-particularly younger people who embrace technology-can do for recreational purposes at less cost. Maybe nine-hole facilities are the answer since they take less time to play. Maybe we need to build low cost golf courses that are more affordable for people to play and are more comfortable for beginners to learn on and develop their appreciation for the game of golf. Any way you look at it, golf-like many other industries at this time-is going through a difficult period and will make adjustments to return to being a growth industry. History shows us that it will likely take years. Meanwhile, we can all help by doing our best to educate and encourage new people to play the game and make them comfortable as they learn.
Hope to see you on the course in 2013.
Vincent Dodge CGCS
The Wilderness Golf Course