Golf Courses at Financial Crossroads: Mergers vs Land Sell-Offs

Golf is an industry with many positives going for it, but there are also parts of the industry being challenged in the twenty first century. The equipment side of golf, clubs and balls, is going from strength to strength; with new technologies revolutionising this part of the game. Tournament golf in the US and Europe with sponsorship levels and television audiences are all burgeoning. Club golf, on the other hand, all over the world has a few flat spots to contend with. Golf clubs are struggling to attract and maintain membership numbers; and this has forced some to fold, merge and sell off land to property developers.

In Scotland, the home of golf, membership statistics show a seventeen percent decline since 2004. It is a similar story in England, Australia and the US. In 2012 only thirteen new golf courses were built in the US, whilst one hundred and fifty four closed. Golf courses at financial crossroads: mergers vs land sell offs; will we be seeing more of these in 2016? The answer seems to be a resounding yes, as this is a continuing trend that began in the early naughties.

Why is this occurring? Well, we live in an increasingly time challenged world. The labour saving devices invented by technology have not delivered the increased leisure time that we were all promised. The reason why is that business continues to demand more productivity from its workers, so that no matter how inventive we are, capitalism, merely, lifts the bar of expectations. Many people do not have the free time to devote four plus hours to a game of golf and a drink in the nineteenth hole. Also, golf courses, were, in my opinion, overpriced in the decades leading up to the decline. Golf saw itself as an elitist past time and golf clubs were exclusive private clubs for white, wealthy males.

Some quite haughty golf clubs have been forced to merge through falling memberships and some have sold off their land as a means of consolidating debts. Many other clubs, either, do not own their own land or are restricted by council land zoning; and these clubs simply fold and walk away from the land. It is a sad thing to see a once proud golf course left to go to seed; and these ghost courses are eerie places to visit.

The solution? There is no easy one answer, but things like increasing the numbers of women and children involved in club membership will improve the bottom line. Also, doing away with the fuddy duddy image and making the club facilities reflective of the twenty first century. Free Wi-Fi around the club house, a more outdoor café environment around the practice greens and a more socially inclusive attitude by managements, are all ideas that can be instigated for the betterment of golf clubs.

 

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  • Written by Adam Cardler