In the Rough or a Favorable Lie? Perspectives Vary on the State of Golf

My on and off affair with golf started when I was about 17, and has been somewhat tumultuous. Like many duffers, I’ll take some time off, then mosey out to the range after watching a PGA event on TV. Next thing you know,  the seductive temptress known as a promising round appears with her flowing hair as beautiful and dangerous as windblown fescue — and once again I’m hooked and helpless. Walter White himself might as well be running the clubhouse cash register.

Yet with viewership of the PGA’s major tournaments reportedly down — often credited to Tiger Woods’ absence (he’s battled serious injuries and hasn’t won a major since 2008) — and with Millennials more interested in soccer (and their smartphones), there’s been much speculation that the game’s popularity has dropped off like a shank over a Pebble Beach cliff. Many attribute it to the time commitment of an 18-hole round — and legend Jack Nicklaus even proposes a move to a 12-hole standard outing for amateurs.

However, findings portrayed in a recent Golf Digest article posit the game is not in as dire shape as some might have you believe. We hope this is the case for our members in the golf industry:

Contrary to popular belief, there are positive stories in equipment sales, rounds played, and even employment opportunities. The professional game might be on better financial footing than any other individual sport, and maybe most important, the game’s leaders have embraced the idea of growing the game in its most important way: young people. The story of golf in July 2014 certainly is not candy canes and rainbows, but those clouds might not be as dark as others have been so quick to point out.

Has 2014 been a down year for equipment sales and rounds played? Certainly. Is there an oversupply of golf courses (fueled by unsustainable real-estate projections) and golf-equipment inventory (driven by overzealous manufacturers who were primed by unrealistic sales forecasts from certain large-scale retailers)? Unquestionably. But that’s a relative and limited point of view. First, let’s remember this: There were about 5 million golfers in 1960. While U.S. population has increased only some 75 percent since then, the number of golfers has more than quintupled to around 25 million.

Recent data from golf-retail research firm Golf Datatech show that the sale of hard goods (clubs, balls, bags, shoes and gloves) through the first six months of the year are higher than or equal to 12 of the previous 17 years. Is the trend line down from the somewhat freakish highs of 2006-’08? Yes. But there are unquestionable categories of enthusiasm this year. Iron sales, the largest purchase a golfer makes, have been up this year. The wedge market, thought to be dead after the USGA rolled back groove performance, has been consistently up this year. Even the footwear market has been an important, steady source of revenue. Callaway Golf just announced its second-quarter earnings and noted its sales for the first half of 2014 were up 9 percent, with growth in all categories, including woods (up 8 percent), irons (up 14 percent), putters (up 9 percent) and golf balls (up 7 percent).

There have been arguments that television ratings for golf are down in 2014 (and indeed the majors have been off), but according to the PGA Tour, the number of unique viewers this year is consistent, and sponsorship interest across all tours has risen to unprecedented levels. Golf Channel set a ratings record for the month of April this year…

Bishop and other leaders believe young people are not only the catalysts for golf’s future, but the strongest elements of golf’s present. Finchem points to The First Tee reaching a record 3.5 million youngsters in the last year. That’s a powerful number when you realize that a traditional, outdoor, analog game like golf is somehow energizing a nation that is eschewing physical education, battling a growing childhood-obesity problem and fighting a culture that sees kids spending nearly eight hours a day in front of screens.

VIDEO: 2015 Senior PGA Championship Coming to French Lick

The 76th Senior PGA Championship will be played at French Lick Resort in 2015. For Hoosier golf fans, this will be an ideal opportunity to see some great golf played on one of the top courses in the country. The Pete Dye course resides atop the second highest point in Indiana, and is one of the state’s most intriguing landscapes.

Gov. Mike Pence also expressed his excitement for the state to host this tournament:

Not only will we see some great golf here, but people literally all over the world will see the extraordinary natural beauty of southwestern Indiana. I can’t help but believe that’s simply going to be a great, great benefit to our state as we demonstrate hospitality — but also as we demonstrate through these rolling hills and this great venue what a beautiful place Indiana is.

 

The BMW Championship: Corporate Support is Key to Success

Just as professional golfers rely on corporate sponsors to help them succeed on the course, golf championship managers look to corporate partnerships as part of a winning event-marketing strategy.

Corporate hospitality sales for the PGA TOUR’s BMW Championship, to be held Sept. 3-9 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, are approaching record numbers, proving that Hoosiers — who have rallied around big-time events like February’s Super Bowl — possess the corporate support to stage national sporting events.

Individual ticket sales and volunteer recruitment (remember all those blue scarves in downtown Indianapolis during Super Bowl festivities?) are important ingredients to an event’s success, but corporate backing is the key. Large-scale events, such as the BMW Championship, thrive only in markets that provide broad corporate involvement.

The BMW Championship, the third of four events in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, has already drawn support from more than 150 local companies. In September, corporate hospitality guests will enjoy prime viewing spots from 31 private corporate tents on the 12th, 14th and 18th holes as they follow the world’s top 70 players in a battle for $8 million in prize money and a $1.44 million winner’s share.

Many other corporate supporters will take advantage of the amenities in the shared clubhouse hospitality area, designated as the Champions Club. Additional offerings will include elaborate BMW hospitality venues and the Wadley Club, an upgraded ticket venue with a climate-controlled interior. And there will be plenty to see.  Special attractions for all spectators will include BMW car displays, merchandise tents, interactive contests and Biergartens offering food and refreshments throughout the championship grounds.

Support is not just a one-way street. Vendors assisting with tournament operations are, when possible, hired locally. The corporate support and the dollars spent to hire local vendors — combined with the travel and tourism revenue generated by the BMW Championship — will result in an economic impact to the region exceeding $30 million.

With the enthusiasm already shown, the 2012 BMW Championship is destined for success. And if Hoosiers continue on course with their support of corporate hospitality and individual ticket sales between now and the first week in September, the championship is certain to be a “hole-in-one” for both the event and the community.

For more information about the BMW Championship, please visit www.BMWChampionshipUSA.com.

Billy Rodgers is a tournament director for the Western Golf Association, host of the BMW Championship. He can be contacted at [email protected].

John Stossel, Freedom Enthusiast

If I were you, I’d go ahead and book my tickets now for the Economic Club of Indiana luncheon on October 6 at the Indianapolis Convention Center. The lunch will feature the musings of libertarian journalist/malcontent and winner of 19 Emmys John Stossel of ABC’s "20/20." Stossel, known these days as a champion of free markets (and owner of my second favorite TV mustache, next to that of PGA analyst Gary McCord), actually got his start as a consumer reporter.

Love him or hate him, he’ll probably make you think.

Here’s an excerpt from his blog today as he discusses ABC pulling his piece on health care reform in favor of more Michael Jackson coverage:

Here’s one blog comment, after I reported that ABC will hold my health care report in favor of more Michael Jackson coverage:

"Free market in action. See there Stossel? What’s not to like about that?
Posted by: jan | Jun 26, 2009 5:12:12 PM

p.s. Stossel. You’ve been hoisted on your own petard. Cheerio."

Jan is right. It’s the free market in action. 

Of course, maybe my bosses made the wrong choice.  Maybe more viewers would have tuned in for my health care report.  But the beauty of the market is that if they regularly choose wrong, they will go bankrupt. Networks better at giving the public what we want will take their business.   I’d rather have viewers vote with their remotes than have elites govern our choices, making sure we watch “serious” programming. 

Yes, I am sick of the coverage of Michael Jackson.  I hate it that ABC didn’t run my piece. Free markets sometimes encourage pandering to the masses. I still say, bless the market. The good outweighs the bad.

Free speech means rude obscenity and hate speech.  I treasure free speech too.