Golf has to suffer six or more years

Why not expand the size of the hole?

Carmel Mountain Ranch Golf Course note of July 9, 2018, closure
  • Carmel Mountain Ranch Golf Course note of July 9, 2018, closure
  • From ClubCMR.com

It was golf’s celebrated United States Open, played June of 2008, at Torrey Pines. The already weak national economy was about to go into a tailspin. Tiger Woods, the god of golf, was limping around Torrey Pines with a bad knee but remaining high on the leaderboard. He and Rocco Mediate, a mediocre pro golfer, went into a one-hole sudden death playoff, following an 18-round playoff. Woods won.

Tiger Woods putting at Torrey Pines Golf Course in 2008

Tiger Woods putting at Torrey Pines Golf Course in 2008

After his victory, Woods said he would miss the rest of the 2008 season because of that knee. The TV audience for the Torrey tourney had topped even the National Basketball Association finals. Without Tiger the rest of the year, it went into a huge slump. Soon, another major championship drew about one-third the TV audience drawn with Woods on the course.

Salt Creek Golf Club closed in 2018.

Salt Creek Golf Club closed in 2018.

Golf is critical to the local economy. San Diego is one of the nation’s great locations for golf courses. “When you think about golf in San Diego, chances are Torrey Pines — arguably the most renowned municipal golf course in the country — comes to mind,” enthuses Golf Digest, which ranks San Diego one of the 50 top destinations in the world. “But the natural beauty of this SoCal city doesn’t stop at the blue Pacific coast. Golfers who venture inland to canyon country will be rewarded with beautiful, challenging layouts.”

Topgolf could bring in millennials.

Topgolf could bring in millennials.


In recent years, several courses have gone into bankruptcy. Some courses have closed: Escondido Country Club, Chula Vista’s Salt Creek Golf Club, Carmel Highland Golf Course, Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club, among them. The factors: decline in number of players; the high cost and shortage of water (even recycled water); high cost of labor; expensive (although receding) prices of equipment; the time it takes to play 18 holes on a standard course; and the lack of instant gratification. Golf takes patience and plenty of practice. It may not fit into our current culture.

San Diego is the capital of the world’s golf equipment manufacturing. Investor-owned Callaway Golf makes clubs, balls, apparel, and other items; TaylorMade is a leading club maker. Cobra puts out good clubs. Aldila makes shafts. Ashworth makes golf apparel.

But Callaway warns in its most recent annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, “If golf participation continues to decrease [italics mine] or the number of rounds of golf played decreases, sales of the company’s products may be adversely affected. In the future, the overall dollar volume of the market for golf-related products may not grow or may decline…the company may have limited opportunities for future growth in sales of golf clubs and golf balls.”

In the 1990s, overenthusiastic entrepreneurs built too many golf courses, and companies such as Callaway found they could charge $600 for one club, as their stocks zoomed into the stratosphere. The giddy futurists anticipated that the impending retirement of baby boomers would swell the number of people playing golf. But as the baby boomers retired, they found that it was too difficult and time-consuming to play a respectable game of golf. Golf courses went to seed, and the stock prices of equipment makers came back to earth, especially as it became obvious that while a space-age, exotic-metal club could add distance for a pro, it did little to nothing for a duffer.

After Tiger took the year off in 2008, golf participation, which had been in a downturn, sunk further. In 1990, according to Trib Total Media, there were 24.4 million golfers in the U.S. That grew steadily until it peaked at 28.5 million in 2004. Then it began sliding; 22.9 million in 2013 and 21 million now.

The National Golf Foundation paints a prettier picture, as you might expect from essentially a trade association for the industry. It says 23.8 million played last year, but others say it was only 21 million. The number of 2017 golf rounds was down 2.7 percent from the year earlier, concedes the foundation. The telltale statistic: 205 courses closed in 2017 and only 15 opened.

The foundation is now measuring the number of people playing golf off-course — at driving ranges and the like. The game Topgolf is the major draw off-course. It is such games as Topgolf that could bring in millennials (people born between 1981 and 1997). “But they are not particularly interested in golf,” says Jim Dunlap, San Diego–based managing editor of the publication put out by Pellucid Corp., the Chicago-based statistics aggregator that tracks golf numbers and trends.

However, Dunlap is recovering from surgery and asked me to go to Jim Koppenhaver, Pellucid’s chief executive. He addressed everything I wanted in an hour-long podcast that I listened to. Koppenhaver says he squirts “a bit of cold water” on rosy statistics. The number of golfers in 2017 moved “solidly sideways” from the previous year. It was only down 100,000 from 2016. “The rate of decline is slowing.”

Golf courses are only 52 percent utilized, compared with airlines’ 85 percent and hotels’ 80 percent. “Golf will never exceed 70 percent,” he says. Pellucid has a mathematical model for measuring playable hours — looking at weather, wind, etc. “We’re running 5 percent below our ten-year norm” in the United States.

The bottom line is that the golf industry is “six or seven years away from equilibrium,” he says. Equilibrium is the balance at which golf courses won’t have to battle to take market shares from other courses. Many more courses will have to die before equilibrium is struck. Investors in golf equipment stocks may have to wait for a big rally, although Callaway stock has doubled from earlier single-digit levels. On the other hand, in the rosy expectations era, Callaway traded in the mid-$30s, double where it now is.

“Golf needs to re-create the product,” says Koppenhaver. There is no way millennials can be attracted to the game. There may be ways that the game can be shortened in time. Four hours is a lot for a busy executive to give up. The shorter par-3 and executive courses have not been popular. Maybe more nine-hole games is the answer or rules to speed up play. Some suggest widening the hole. However, when people press for golf changes, the supercilious, rules-obsessed United States Golf Association often steps in. The industry has to loosen up.

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Like many things the used to be enjoyed by the middle class has been ruined by money. There are few courses that can be played by anyone who works by the hour. Green fees, cart rentals, etc. are more and more expensive. Golf equipment is expensive and club memberships are not for the working guy.

AlexClarke: Actually, I am told that greens fees in San Diego are down, given the glut. Ditto for equipment. Still, it is an expensive game, and not an easy one to play. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, Golf is an extremely easy game to play. It is not any easy game to play well.

danfogel: I don't know. If your score gets up to 150 and you are still on the 14th hole, I don't think it is an easy game to play -- psychologically, anyway. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder my guess is that you have not been athletically inclined for many decades. The physical part of the game is extraordinarily simple. And if you are playing for fun, so is the psychological part. It boils down to this: Hit the ball, find it and hit it again and repeat until the ball goes into the hole. That's it. A very, very good LPGA member was once asked why she never seemed to get angry when she hit a bad shot or got an unlucky bounce. Her reply was simple and to the point. she said something along the lines of If I hit a bad shot, or a good shot for that matter, I just find the ball and play the next shot. It's not life or death, it's only golf. Hit the ball and enjoy a walk in the sun. Pretty good advice, and not just for golf.

danfogel: I did play golf for several years, enjoying many rounds with my father-in-law. I also played many rounds by myself on a La Mesa par-three course. On a standard course, I never broke 100. After my father-in-law retired in his late 60s, I took up golf again. I was so horrible that I quit and drove the cart, defeated. Psychologically, golf was not very good for me. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, I don't know what your definition of several years and many rounds, but based on the age of your wife, it has probably been a couple of decades or so. In any event, I started playing when I was very young, well over 50 years ago. depending on the course, I would normal shoot in the 5-10 over range, though some courses I played regularly i would shoot in the low 70's, breaking par once in a while. The worst score I can recall as an adult was shooting 102 from the blacks at PGA West Stadium Course in La Quinta back in the late 80's. It was a couple of weeks after the Skins game that year and the course still had that set up. I distinctly remember hitting 3 bunkers and pitching over the green from a bunker, never finding my ball anf taking a 12 on a 600 yard par 5. Never had more fun.

Last year, 10 % of those playing golf had a household income under $75,000, which is within the "middle class" designations most sources say constitutes middle class incomes. Torrey Pines is a muni course. The fees are quite reasonable. South is about $60 and $40 for 18 holes for adults and adult seniors, respectively, and north is about $15 or $20 less for each on weekdays. Weekends are a bit more on both courses.

danfogel: How many businesses with heavy upfront costs would thrive when 10 percent of the customers have household incomes below $75,000? Walmart yes. But as Milton Friedman used to say, the health of the economy depends on the health of the middle class. And since middle class incomes have not grown significantly for decades, this may be one of numerous problems hurting golf. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, My bad. I didn't catch my mistake. The article actually said 4 in 10, which any math major will tell you is 40 percent, not 10 percent. Obviously, I wasn't a math major.

danfogel: That makes it worse for those running a golf course. In the fat days, four in ten couldn't afford greens fees, probably. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, That depends on where you want to play.Most muni courses still remain fairly reasonable. I can recall playing at Bonita quite often in the 80's and paying maybe $40 bucks with a cart for my wife and I to play.

I'm not sure I agree with Koppenhaver's appraisal of the situation. He's supposedly taking a cold, hard look at the it, but while he's not as rosy as others, still is optimistic about a stabilization in players vs. courses. My hunch is that interest is in a secular decline, and that the broad interest in golf that existed for most or all of my life is steadily eroding. If true that will have major implications for other things, such as destination resorts that grew up and got their renown from their golf courses. In the east, think of Hilton Head and Jekyll Island.

Once every couple weeks we walk the trail on the north side of Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad which runs along the edge of the Aviara Resort course for a few hundred yards. This past Sunday we could see very little activity on their beautiful course at about 10:30 am. (That's just when I'd have expected to see the golfers out in force, before the temperature rises to an uncomfortable level.) Interest and participation in the game, even among the well-heeled who would be staying there. It doesn't bode well for the survival of many courses. We'll see several more shut down in the county soon.

Visduh: That could be true. Golf may not fit into this culture. Today, people -- particularly young people -- want instant gratification. And they don't want to spend hours on a course. Best, Don Bauder

According to your own source, Golf Digest, millenials make up the largest single age group, almost 40%, of non-golfers who express interest in playing golf and there are currently about 3 million junior golfers. Seems like young people are interested in golf.

danfogel: Golf Digest has a dog in that hunt. Pellucid gets paid for putting together numbers useful to those who build courses or sell equipment. Virtually all the golf statistics show a decline in number of players and rounds played, and also show that mlllennials are not a good market. Pellucid is right and Golf Digest is wrong; millennials don't play conventional golf. Also, "express interest"is not persuasive. Best, Don Bauder

Again, you are trying to convolute the argument. I made no reference at all on either the growth nor the decline in number of players and rounds played, nor did I attempt to qualify the worthiness of the millennial "market". I simply said that millenials make up the largest single age group of non-golfers who express interest in playing golf. And as crazy as it may sound to you, it would seem that if you are trying to grow participation in anything, you would target those who show interest, perhaps even the the largest group that shows interest.After all, it's kinda hard to increase participation in anything, if you only go after the ones already doing it.

danfogel: Oh yes, most industries target the young, for the reason you cited. Golf would like to get the millennials on the course, but it's not working. Best, Don Bauder

" There is no way millennials can be attracted to the game"

I would simply point out that many, if not most, of the best golfers in the world, both male and female, are in fact millennials.

danfogel: Yes, but the really excellent young golfers, such as the pros, are a very small percentage of the millennials. Millennials love football, but it's a small percentage of them that make the NFL. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, Irrelevant!!. The person you quoted in your story said " There is no way millennials can be attracted to the game." Obviously some are.

danfogel: Statistics clearly show that millennials aren't playing golf to any significant degree. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder nevertheless, that is not the comment that was quoted. It was " There is no way millennials can be attracted to the game." Again, obviously since many, if not most of the best in the world are millennials, then some clearly are.

danfdogel: As as a journalist, I could not ethically have changed the quote to be, "There is no way millennials, in significant numbers, can be attracted to the game." I am sure most readers realized that he did not mean that NO millennials play the game. He meant that millennials do not play in great numbers. Best, Don Bauder

Again, irrelevant. I am not asking why nor suggesting you should have changed any quoted statements. I am simply replying to them as written nd as written they are incorrect. If you didn't agree with them, perhaps you should have found another sources who expressed the views you prefer. Had you indeed quoted someone who had said millennials are not coming into the game in significant numbers, I would have agreed that they are not yet, but pointed out that they are the largest group being targeted and more have expressed interest since the debut of golf in the Olympics than any other age group. BTW, in this day and age I think it is wise to believe that what someone says is what they mean, unless otherwise demonstrated.

"Golf Digest, which ranks San Diego one of the 50 top destinations in the world."

If this is a new list, I haven't seen it. But previous lists have placed both the Palm Springs area and the Phoenix/Scottsdale are higher on the list, with both in the top 10.

danfogel: Golf Digest did not put San Diego in the top 10, to my knowledge. But the top 50 is not bad. Best, Don Bauder

"Golf is critical to the local economy."

With about 124 golf courses in the Palm Springs area, I would say that golf is at least as critical to the economy there as it is in San Diego.

If the Coachella Valley really has that many golf courses, they ARE the economy. Besides growing dates, what else goes on there except golf?

Visduh: How about serving expensive meals to golfers who are also staying in expensive resorts? Best, Don Bauder

Growing dates is not the major thing besides golf. Have you been to the Coachella Valley? Wow, where does one start? Indian casinos, buying/selling/renting real estate, the amazing Indian Wells Tennis Garden (owned by Larry Ellison), fine art galleries, upscale shopping, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (one of the highest in the world), The Living Desert (part-zoo and part-botanical garden), hiking the historic Indian Canyons, annual Pride celebration, fine hotels, and a wide range of eateries.

danfogel: Maybe, but San Diego (mainly North County) is far and away the top manufacturing center of golf equipment. Best, Don Bauder

FYI, Production of Adila shafts takes place outside of the United States. In around 2011, Callaway restructured its business operations to cut costs and moved its North American golf club assembly from Carlsbad to Monterrey, Mexico and the bulk of its distribution that went through Carlsbad moved to Dallas. I have TaylorMade woods and my clubs say shaft and head made in China AND assembled in China.

danfogel: So what else is new? The revenue and profits still flow to North County, although TaylorMade was part of adidas until it was sold to an investment group last year. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder The revenue and profits may still flow to North County, but they don't flow into the pockets of the workers who no longer have those jobs and then into the local economy. Calloway laid off about 250 employees cut back on spending by $50 million. How much of that was lost to the local economy???

danfogel: You are very astutely summarizing what has happened to the U.S. economy -- including the golf industry. A golf course is domestic and the money flows to local coffers. Money flows to locally based manufacturers, but not to the workers. Best, Don Bauder

Indeed. So no matter how many golf equipment and apparel manufacturers are "headquartered" in In the San Diego area, if they shift production elsewhere and merely retain the revenue and profits, then they represent a significantly decreased benefit to the local economy.

danfogel: You won't get any argument from economists on that statement. Best, Don Bauder

dwbat: You have blatantly stolen that line from Mark Twain. Best, Don Bauder

Actually, Mark Twain stole it from an earlier source.

"Golf combines two favorite American pastimes: taking long walks and hitting things with a stick."

danfogel: Who walks on a golf course these days? Golfers drive carts. And many who do walk have a caddy lugging the clubs. Best, Don Bauder

This time of year, if I was playing, I would cart. But in the cooler weather, both in Arizona and Palm Springs, I would walk. I run 25-30 miles a week just for exercise... good fun!! A short 7K walk, with frequent stoppage, is no big deal.

danfogel: Bless you, but how many people run 25 to 30 miles a week? Best, Don Bauder

don bauder In 2016, more than 64 million people went jogging or running. About 80 % of those runners do so to either maintain or increase fitness. About half of runners average 3-5 times a week and 15-30 miles per week. About 10-15 percent of runners are core runners, who train all year round for running events. They usually train a minimum of 35 miles a week and most run between 50-75 miles in an average week. I know several people who regularly run marathons and half marathons and I don't think any of them run less than 5 days a week and usually at least 10 miles. That's a long winded way of saying the answer to you question is that millions of people run 25-30 miles a week. Personally, I run 5-6 miles a day, mostly outside but on a tread mill if necessary and I run 5-6 days a week. Last night I went for a run at about 9pm. It was about 95 with about 60% humidity and a dew point of about 30. I did 6 miles in just over 58 minutes (no I am not very fast, I admit to that). Good fun though, worked up a good sweat. I will not be able to run tonight, but I'll start all over again on Sunday. More fun than an hour at the opera, I'll tell you that much for sure.

danfogel: Again, bless you and your fellow runners. Best, Don Bauder

No blessing necessary. Simply a choice in how to get a good cardio workout.

danfogel: I've had one heart attack at age 45 and two quadruple bypass surgeries. My cardiologists tell me to exercise more. But it's a real strain. I'm 82. Best, Don Bauder

"Golf and sex are the only things you can enjoy without being good at them."

danfogel: Absolutely classic. Best, Don Bauder

"Golf is a passion, an obsession, a romance, a nice acquaintanceship with trees, sand and water."

danfogel: Another classic. Metaphorically, you are hitting 300 yard drives and draining 90 foot putts. Bests, Don Bauder

don bauder None of the above quotes are mine.

danfogel: Oh dear. Do you suppose we will be sued for plagiarism? Best, Don Bauder

All outdoor sports are in decline; skiing, tennis, golf, fishing, even snow boarding has leveled off. Calif. has lost 1/2 of its fishing license sales since 1980.

Yes, very interesting report. If the report is unbiased, and it appears to be, Ken Harrison is right: the total is declining, although moderately. I wondered if global warming is having an effect on this trend. Best, Don Bauder

Ken Harrison: Lakes all over, not just California, are fished out. I have not heard that skiing, tennis, and snow boarding have leveled off. Best, Don Bauder

Golf is called golf because the F word was already taken.

And you're called alexclarke because ***hole was already taken.

AlexClarke: Would you dare flog golf? Best, Don Bauder

danfogel: Come now. AlexClarke is one of our most percipient participants in this blog. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder Anyone who suggests the use of a deadly herbicidal chemical warfare weapon as a solution to anything, much less for use on humans deserves much worse than that.

danfogel: You mean he should be punished by being forced to play 72 holes of golf every day? Best, Don. Bauder

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