The July/August issue of Men’s Journal has an article by Karl Taro Greenfeld entitled:
The Death of Golf
He paints a rather bleak picture of golf today and has serious misgivings about its future as a major sport; I certainly agree with his assessment that golf is in decline at this time, but I am not yet ready to put a toe tag on the corpse. He begins his essay with the story of his daughter who decided to try out for her high school golf team. Greenfeld recalled his days in school when the golf team was made up of people who had played regularly and had had some tutelage in the game. That was not his daughter. So, when she made the team, he spoke to the coach about how things were different. Here is the golf coach:
“There just isn’t the interest we used to have 14, 15 years ago. Now, I have kids showing up who have never hit a golf ball before. Kids are just less aware of golf. They have too many other options. And then when they find out it takes five and a half hours to play 18 holes, they’re just not interested.”
It is dangerous to draw conclusions from anecdotes because anecdotes are not data; it is more than merely dangerous to do so on the basis of one anecdote. However, the article goes on to cite statistical data showing that the number of golfers has dropped from 30.6 million in 2003 to 24.7 million in 2014. There are still plenty of golfers but that drop does represent a 19.3% decline. Other data shows that young folks playing golf dropped almost 30% over the same period of time.
Golf as a professional sport faces a challenge similar to the one facing MLB. Young folks are not drawn to the game in the same numbers as before and “pace of play” or “lack of attention span” or whatever similar label you might attach is part of the problem. Moreover, just like baseball, golf is never going to be converted into a fast-paced, action-packed event. It is more drama than adrenaline. Proposals to speed up golf have included things like cutting a round back to 15 holes; that is the same as changing baseball to a seven-inning event. If that is the “solution”, it may be time to consider pulling the plug.
Greenfeld points out another serious problem facing golf in California and in desert areas. On average, it takes 135,000 gallons of water each day to maintain a golf course. In California’s draught conditions, that could become a social issue giving golf courses a “black mark” and without courses there will be less participation.
The folks who promote golf and use it as the economic basis for a business or a club have to deal with an iron triangle of issues. None of the issues can “be solved” but they all need to be ameliorated to a degree:
Playing golf is a very expensive pastime for kids. Lessons and coaching are expensive and so are rounds of golf.
Playing golf is difficult. Most kids – indeed most people – do not walk out on a golf course and play well from the moment they pick up a club.
Playing golf is time-consuming. In these days of two-career families where parents take turns helicoptering in on their kids, golf can be difficult to schedule.
As I said, I am not yet ready to send golf to “The Sports Coroner” just yet; but the arguments made in this article do indicate that there is indeed weakness on the links out there. Folks who love to golf – or to watch it on TV – may want to read this article in its entirety here.
Since I mentioned above MLB as being in a similar situation to golf, I find it interesting to see what may be in store for MLB in the future. Reports from just last week indicate that Commissioner Rob Manfred may be considering expansion of MLB. Recall that when he took over from Bud Selig he said one of his objectives was to grow the game internationally – particularly in Mexico. Now, the idea that the Commissioner might have expansion as an issue that holds even a tiny part of his attention leads me to wonder where MLB might put a new franchise. Here are eight candidate cities in alphabetical order so that no one might surmise that I think there is a “pecking order” established:
Charlotte: The market supports the NFL and the NBA and it has a minor league baseball team too. The NHL franchise is in Raleigh not Charlotte.
Las Vegas: They would have to have a domed stadium, wouldn’t they? They would not dare enlist Pete Rose to be their “point-man” when making their pitch.
Mexico City: The Commish said he wanted to grow in Mexico and I presume that does not mean putting a team in Juarez.
Montreal: Many people believe there is lots of support for baseball in Montreal so long as they play in a reasonable stadium. This also fits the criterion of “growing the game internationally”.
Portland: Probably a long shot because the city has not had a good history of supporting its minor-league teams over the years.
Salt Lake City: They have had a AAA team for most of the time since the late 50s and they support an NBA team. The downside is that this would be a very small market team forever.
San Antonio: The NBA does well there and the city is trying to lure the Oakland Raiders. If they pull that off, why not MLB too…?
Vancouver: This checks the “international” box and it provides a natural rivalry with Seattle on day one.
Finally, here is a golf item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News recently:
“Sweden announced recently that newborn Prince Nicholas Paul Gustaf will also go by the title Duke of Angermanland.
“But sources say the country will have to purchase the naming rights from Tiger Woods, who has been using it ever since his career started slipping.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………