Editors' Blog
July 07, 2008

Growing the Game

Good, thoughtful letter this week from Daniel Phillips of Austin about Matt Rudy's "How Healthy is Our Game" story in the July Golf in the Business Life section. Phillips realizes that time and access are issues for new golfers--and some longtime golfers as well. To Phillips, 18-hole golf courses are, or ought to be, a thing of the past. Whether you buy all of his argument or not, it makes for a provocative read, especially in light of recent statistics that have rounds played trending flat.

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The answers to the industry's problems are right there in the article. While many people are interested in golf, the barriers to entry and ongoing enjoyment are too high. I chalk this up to lack of innovation in course development. Consider this, is there any product that we would buy today, unchanged over centuries? For example, would we want to buy and play the equipment used by early players? Certainly not, and equipment has made stunning progress since. On the other hand, golf courses still package and try to sell the same ancient 18-hole concept. This makes for a very expensive round of golf, both in terms of time and money.

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Today's golf course development has it backward. Vast areas are dedicated to the course (18 holes) and very little to practice areas. This business model leads to high fees, fewer rounds played, and players frustrated by a long day in the sun and too many bad shots. Players would be better off with the exact opposite set up - generous practice facilities and fewer holes. The smaller footprint would translate into lower real estate and operating expenses, and thus lower fees for players. I don't fully understand golf course financials, but my bet is that re-packaging the "product" would fix a lot of things.

Leave 18 holes to the tournament and resort players. Give the rest of us a two hour, nine-hole concept more consistent with modern life.

Not sure I'd cede all 18-hold rounds to tournament players, Daniel, but your desire for a faster golf experience is one of the reasons why industry leaders are now promoting leagues, which deliver exactly the experience you're calling for and can serve juniors, seniors, couples, singles or corporate groups. Over the long Fourth weekend, after outdoor work and other family obligations were out of the way--one of them was taking our son to computer "camp"--I had time for two nine-hole outings. As someone who used to argue that if you couldn't play 18 it wasn't worth taking out the clubs, I found both nines thoroughly enjoyable--and, under the circumstances, plenty of golf.

I'd love to hear how the rest of you feel about less-than-18 golf and Daniel's letter.

--Bob Carney