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The Loop

Golf Participation

__There is a slowness in affairs which ripens them, and a slowness which rots them. French artist Joseph Roux


In light of the letters we continue to receive about slow play—a recent one from Bruce Pollak of Fremont, Ohio simple quoted the sign at St. Andrews that says "3 1/2 hrs IS AMPLE TIME FOR A 4 BALL TO PLAY 18 HOLES OF GOLF"—the new National Golf Foundation participation report released last week is intriguing.

The NGF says that the number of golfers in the U.S. is now 28.7 million, down about two million golfers. Quoting the report:

The 2006 figure of 28.7 million golfers differs from the number published by NGF a year ago (30.5 million). The reasons for the difference include a different age definition (age 6 + in 2006 vs. age 12+ in 2005) and changed in methodology, icluding a different questionnaire, different population estimates, a larger sample size and a switch from a mail to an online survey.

Wait a second. We're now counting anyone six years and older who played a round of golf (instead of anyone 12 years and older) and the number of golfers is down? Granted, the methodology is different— the NGF is now partnering with the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA)— but this can't be positive news no matter what methodology we're talking about.

Far fewer respondents who only play a round a year tended to report that they played golf in the new study.

The good news is that according to the report the number of Core golfers (age 18 or over who play eight or more rounds) is up from previous estimates. But __"the number of adult Occasional golfers (age 18+ who play 1-7 rounds is lower."


Is slow play a factor in this? I'm betting it is, given the fact that time, or lack of it, is cited often by would-be golfers as to why they don't play or don't play as often. For parents who've ceded much of their recretation time to their kids and who are debating whether to play in the local league or even to take up the game, the pace of an average round is a big deal. And the difference between St. Andrews' three and a half hours and what is more likely a five to six hour round at public courses is, well, a Little League game.

What the report says to me is that core golfers play no matter what. Occasional golfers, those who the industry has sought to convert to core golfers, are having an increasingly hard time finding time.

—Bob Carney