Golf courses have been hit hard the past few years with the country's economy struggling. Those who still have the means to play regularly, though, stand to benefit. "2012 is going to be another good year for the green-fee paying public as the market continues to correct itself. High-end daily fee courses, especially courses that were tied to real estate development that went belly-up, are going to have to find ways to be self-sustaining," says Golf Digest Staff Writer Max Adler. "This will mean lowering green fees so they can compete with bargain courses. With so many private clubs reducing initiation fees, the courses that once represented the middle of the market have nowhere to move but down."
Tiger Woods Will Win The Masters
Woods will enter the 2012 season having not won an official, full-sized PGA Tour event in more than two years. The way he played at the Australian Open and Presidents Cup, followed by a dramatic win in his 18-man event at Sherwood CC, however, lead us to believe that streak will end this year. In a major way. "Tiger Woods will make one more run at greatness. A victory at the Masters will bring the record of 18 pro majors by Jack Nicklaus back in play," says Golf World Executive Editor Ron Sirak. "Then it will be a race to see if Woods can get to the finish line before his left knee -- and his putter -- go out on him again."
High-Intensity Interval Training Will Gain More Traction
Ben Hogan may never have worked out this way, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. This method of training has been around for several years, but it's finding its way into golf more frequently. Why? "Since golf is a 'burst sport,' meaning alternating levels of high-energy activity are followed by periods of low-energy activity, training the body to perform coordinated movements while under duress, such as trying to catch a tennis ball while sprinting, might be the best way to prepare for a round," according to Golf Digest Fitness Editor Ron Kaspriske.
More Short/Par 3 Courses Will Be Built
Times have changed and so have the wants and needs of golfers. People are looking to play quicker rounds and nine-hole, 12-hole and par-3 courses are becoming more prevalent. "Short courses less than 18 holes will be an on-going trend in golf. It's the answer to golf being too hard, taking too long and being too expensive," says Golf Digest Senior Travel Editor Matt Ginella. Even America's hottest golf destination, Bandon Dunes is joining the fray. In addition to its four full-size courses, the resort will open Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole par 3 course (above) in 2012.
Non-Traditional Footwear Will Become The Norm
"I think the big trend will be alternative golf shoes like the Ecco ones made popular by Freddy Couples," says Golf Digest Fashion Editor Marty Hackel. "Isn't it interesting that the one guy whose mantra is 'whatever' is setting the trend?!" But while Ecco and Couples got the fad started, other brands like Adidas and FootJoy have followed suit. Expect these types of shoes will be a fixture on the course -- from munis to the most-exclusive of country clubs -- in 2012.
Homemade Swings Will Continue To Find Success
People marvel at the perfection of touring pro's swings, but even some of the game's best do things that would make David Leadbetter cringe. Bubba Watson achieved as much as any golfer with an unorthodox swing in 2011, but don't expect him and others like him to disappear in 2012. "We're seeing a lot of untaught, freewheeling swings," said Golf Digest Senior Instruction Editor Peter Morrice. "Guys like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Their moves are far from textbook; they play more by instinct than by swing mechanics. Prediction: We'll see more homemade swings winning in 2012, because great athletes will continue to rely on their natural form over computer-generated models."
The Equipment Power Struggle Will Come To A Head
Is distance on the PGA Tour getting out of control or is it about to be controlled even more? "Average driving distance on the PGA Tour lept this year to 290.9 yards -- the single biggest leap since the USGA issued its joint statement of principles stating that if there were a significant increase in distance in the future they may be forced to take action," says Golf World Senior Equipment Editor Mike Johnson. "In other words, looking forward, 2012 may be Armageddon between the USGA and manufacturers on the distance front should this increase continue."
Golf As An Activity Will Continue To Be Redefined
Want to play golf, but don't have time? Want to practice, but tired of the monotony of the driving range? Places like "TopGolf"(left), which combines the classic driving range/mini-golf experience with arcade-like competitions and an entertaining atmosphere solve both problems. "Experiences like TopGolf have struck a chord because they put fun and socializing ahead of performance and serious competition," says Golf Digest Brand Editor Bob Carney. "They appeal to young people who aren't interested in "trying out for the varsity," just goofing around with their buddies -- or their dates. Golf needs this ... as the the success of these new businesses proves."
Young Players Will Win Even More
The trend of players succeeding on the pro tours at a young age has been getting stronger the past couple years, but it went to another level in 2011, most notably with 22-year-old Rory McIlroy's dominant win at the U.S. Open. Expect more of the same from the game's youth in 2012, led by the youngest pro, 16-year-old phenom Lexi Thompson. "I don't know if Lexi Thompson, who turns 17 in February, will win a major championship during 2012 but expect her to contend in at least a couple of them," said Golf World Senior Editor Bill Fields. "Winning an LPGA event this year has to give her a huge bolt of confidence."
Long Putters Will Take Over The Greens
Long putters, specifically of the belly variety, were the craze of the PGA Tour in 2011, highlighted by Keegan Bradley (left) becoming the first player to use one to win a major championship. As a result, you can expect to see more of them in your weekend foursome this year. "Belly putters are going to have the single largest effect on the equipment industry," Golf Digest Senior Equipment Editor Mike Stachura said. "I see a legitimate chance that there will be for the first time in recorded history as many belly putters bought by golfers as there are belly putters made by manufacturers. At which point, the USGA will have to step in and take another hard look at whether this is the type of stroke that should be allowed in the game. If you thought the groove rule was a mess, you'll love this one."
Golf Apps Will Be Created At Record Rates
There's an app for just about everything these days and golf is certainly no exception. And the list of options, especially those created by your favorite players, will only continue to grow. "More professional golfers will attempt to promote their personal brands through various media, including instructional or simply informational apps," GolfDigest.com Contributing Editor John Strege said. "Last year, Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam launched instructional apps. Rickie Fowler and Lee Westwood launched informational apps."
Golf Will Become More Fun
2011 saw the introduction of initiatives like the PGA's "Tee It Forward" campaign spearheaded by Barney Adams and Golf Digest's "Wide Open" competition featuring 15-inch holes. But in 2012, we'll see an even greater spread of these and other ideas aimed at making the game more fun and accessible. "There's a point when you want to end the torture. I think a lot of golfers welcome the permission to play shorter tees, experiment with larger holes, all of it," Golf Digest Brand Editor Bob Carney said. "It's okay to make the game more fun. Note that the most popular new architects are far less obsessed with difficulty and much more into playability. Let's have some fun!"