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

Marketing Golf – Is There Something Missing?

Golf clubs around the UK, USA and Australia are struggling in many instances and there have been permanent closures of well established courses. Some golf clubs have chosen to amalgamate, pooling their resources and members to stave off extinction. Why is this happening? What is wrong with the game? Times change and nothing stands still; we live in a new world of computers and mobile phones. Work no longer fits nicely between nine to five, five days a week; technology reaches outside those fixtures and into weekends and after hours. Dads are doing more with their families; rather than relying so much on mum. Modern men and women are saying that they simply do not have the time to play a game which takes up half the entire day.

Marketing golf: is there something missing? Well, golf has previously maintained an image steeped in tradition. Collared shirts and other dress regulations were strictly enforced on participants. Did the sixties actually happen in the world of golf? Well, Jack Nicklaus and others did wear those garish tartan slacks. Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods were global sporting stars beloved of their fans; and ‘he men’ to boot. But even watching golf on television takes an enormous amount of time, with tournaments lasting four days on average. Every golf tournament is like watching test cricket and cricket has responded to the same problem by inventing new forms of the game. One day cricket and now Twenty Twenty.

Will golf move down the same route by introducing new forms of the game lasting less time? What new marketing ideas will emerge to increase interest and participation in the game? There have been rumblings about a twelve hole game, with a much larger hole to make putting easier. Speed golf has been around for ages but has never really caught on. We do play nine hole competitions at club level and these have proved to be sustainable if not widely popular. Golf’s appeal to retirees is based on their having the time to devote to a game of eighteen hole golf. Golf demands things from its adherents, like time to play and practice; it is not an easy game to master. Golf demands concentration for around three to four hours, the time it may take to complete a round. But it also gives back in spades; the satisfaction of a well struck shot soaring into the distance. The fulfilling experience of completing an under par round in relation to your handicap; a net score rather than a gross score for most amateur players.

Social media is already playing a role in the marketing of golf; especially in the world of social golf. Social golfers are golfers who are not members of a golf club based upon a particular course but rather a club that plays a variety of courses. These days they have official handicaps and a lot of the growth has been in this area of the game. Golf as a game is still loved by a large audience; it is only the infrastructure around it that needs to change to accommodate today’s market.




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  • Written by Adam Cardler