Can Golf Be Saved?

What is wrong with golf today?

Everyone has heard about what is wrong with golf today. We’ve heard all the indicators and seen 12+ years in a row of declining golfers in the US.   In 2014, Dick’s Sporting Goods fired its 478 PGA professionals.  While no detailed explanation was provided, the company’s first-quarter earnings report set the tone. DKS chairman and CEO Ed Stack said in May, 2014 that the company’s overall golf business missed its first quarter 2014 sales plan by approximately $34 million. “We really don’t know where the bottom is in golf. … The industry has a real issue,” he said then. But can golf be saved?

The consensus has been consistent, as Lauren Lyster of Yahoo! Finance put it on ABC News, “We haven’t seen signs of a turnaround; if anything, we’ve seen signs of continued decline and continued struggle.”

Some golf officials are aware of their sport’s decline, and several ideas have circulated to change the game to bring in more players.  Country clubs are lowering prices for membership and non-member rounds of golf. There’s talk of cutting playing 18 holes in tournaments to just nine.

A bit more on the wacky side is an idea to increase the golf hole from 4.25 inches in diameter to 15 inches, in order to make the game easier and faster.

Better still, another thought is to play FootGolf at courses, where people almost become football players (soccer to Americans) and kick the ball into the cup.  There is something called the American FootGolf League that started in 2011. The game is played with a regulation No. 5 soccer ball at a golf course facility on shortened holes with 21-inch diameter cups.  FootGolf has spread to the golf course of PGA America’s Ted Bishop, where they’ve had, “More FootGolfers on our par 3 course than regular golfers.”

“Price reductions will help, but these other ideas aren’t really going to bring in more players,” said Dr. Patrick Rishe, Associate Professor of Economics at Webster University. “They’re just too ‘out there.’”

What will happen, said Rishe, is that golf will continue to decline in popularity. It won’t go away, he said, but will likely tread water over the next couple of decades.

Disc golf has also become very popular in recent years, currently growing at about 15% per year, with over 3,000 courses around the United States and over 11,000 members of the PDGA.  This program has actually helped some golf courses stay alive.

The PGA has also created the “Tee it forward” program in an attempt to make the game easier and faster.  But are these and other programs really solving the problem?  The statistics say “no.”

Statistics:  Since 2006, golf has seen a decline in golfers every year.  In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the drop factor has lowered to about 2.5%/year.  There are now less than 25 million golfers in the US, losing a net 600,000 golfers a year at the current rate.  Sadly, 4.2 million golfers quit in 2013, and this increase is rising for its third consecutive year.  We used to blame the economy, but that is clearly improving, so why isn’t golf?

The National Golf Foundation cites the top three reasons for the decline:  Golf costs too much, golf takes too much time, golf is too hard. 

Why are costs so high?  With decreasing number of golfers, the US has seen an unprecedented number of private clubs with lots of membership openings and few have a waiting list.  Number of rounds played at public and municipal courses has also declined.  The overhead costs of maintaining both private and public courses roughly stays the same, so with fewer members and fewer rounds played, golf courses have to cut amenities and quality and charge more to stay afloat.  Many courses have succumbed to the saddest fate of all, going out of business and closing down altogether.

On a brighter side, Ted Bishop, former CEO of the PGA, noted that 80 percent of the rounds played in the US are at public golf courses where the average green fee for 18 holes is $28.  I’ve noticed that public facilities have stayed afloat by not increasing their greens fees, but by reducing maintenance budgets.  One common cost-cutting measure I’ve noticed is reducing fairway widths and reducing water.  Doing so decreases labor costs significantly by reducing the amount of mowing and frequency of mowing.  Course conditions have gotten worse and more difficult, making them less enjoyable.

Why does golf take so long?   According to a recent article in Golf Digest, the average round of golf in America takes 4 hours, 17 minutes, according to Lucius Riccio, Ph.D., who analyzed 40,460 rounds.  Many people are reducing rounds to 9 holes, which still allows one to post scores and keep a handicap.  Tour Players are known to play 18 holes by themselves in a cart in under 2 hours.  Having played in hundreds of pro-ams in my career on the PGA Tour and PGA Champions Tour, I’ve noticed how much faster the round is played when I am playing with good golfers versus high handicaps.  The difference between playing in a group that averages a score of 80, versus a group that averages a score of 120 would be well over an hour. The National Golf Foundation reports the average golf score in the US has remained at 100 for over four decades despite newer golf technology.  Ben Hogan was once quoted saying, “The average golfer should be able to break 80.”  And I believe him!

So why golfers haven’t improved in decades is the key question that affects declining golfers, higher costs, and longer rounds.  Why haven’t golfers improved?  We have better equipment.  We have better technology.  What’s missing?

The answer lies in education and instruction.  Today’s average golfer is FRUSTRATED!  Not only has the average golf score not gotten any better in decades, the average golfer’s game hasn’t improved either.  I’m not necessarily pointing the finger at golf instructors as much as I’m pointing the finger at what is commonly understood among most golfers as the key swing thoughts to build a good golf game.  The average golfer today thinks that the proper fundamentals of the game are to keep your eye on the ball and keep your head down, two of the worst thoughts- and thoughts that are known to destroy impact dynamics.  Such thinking has led to an epidemic of 120 shooters who never improve.  Take for example this typical comment I’ve heard over and over when playing in pro-am events on Tour.  “I looked up”, the common assessment made when a golfer hits a thin shot off the fairway.  “Keep your head down, stupid,” is often the follow-up comment.  Then I watch their next shot, and they do just what they have told themselves to do, “they keep their head down”.  And do you know what happens?  They hit the ball “fat”!  They can’t find the remedy for the fat shot, so they continue their round alternating between hitting fat and thin shots from the fairway.  Sometimes they are in the rough where their poor impact can sometimes get a decent shot when they get a really good lie.  That’s where they get that “one shot that brings them back”.  So they leave the course frustrated and confused, wondering where they can get help for their game.  Some are led to take a golf lesson.

When they do take a lesson, they are often given the following advice and possible remedies for their problem.  “You need better posture”, “Your swing plane is off on your backswing”, “”Learn to hit through the ball”, “Let’s change your swing style,” etc.  Rarely are they told that their predominant issue is their “swing bottom at impact” being behind the ball instead of in front of the ball. Thus the only shots they can ever possibly hit from the fairway are thin and fat shots.

Golf equipment companies have jumped in to try to help these golfers with poor impact dynamics.  They build special sets of clubs with “game improvement” qualities, such as Low Center of Gravity and a larger sweet spot.  They convince the average golfer through marketing that this will help.  Statistics show otherwise!

The average golfer lacks an understanding of impact, the common denominator of all the best players in the game and the only thing that really matters to playing better golf.  Thus the answer to solving the decline in golf is teaching golfers how to understand their impact and how to improve it.  The 5 Dynamics as taught in my IMPACT-BASED® TEACHING is the key that releases the average golfer from years of frustration and opens a new world of possibilities for improvement.  With this newly found knowledge and proper concepts of the golf swing, the average golfer can actually be able to understand cause and effect relationships; understanding what caused bad shots and even more importantly, how to fix it.

When golfers start to understand their golf games through understanding “Impact”, they are empowered.  They make the proper assessments when hitting a poor shot and thus make the proper correction, leading to improvement.  When they see improvement, they enjoy the game more.  When they enjoy the game more, they play more.  When they play more, costs go down and experience (conditions) goes up.  When their games improve, their handicaps drop, leading to faster rounds and fewer lost balls.  You see, the real problem with golf today is frustrated golfers with little or no hope due to their improper understanding of their swing and being under-informed about how to create proper impact. They’ve tried it all and are still not improving.  I am not bashful to say that their answer lies in Impact-Based® instruction.  Golf can be saved!

Golf is not an “enigma”, a “mystery” nor even a “confusing” game.  Everything is understandable and explainable through an Impact-Based® approach.  We don’t have to accept Dr. Rishe’s prediction of golf treading water for decades.  Impact Zone Golf is the game changer.

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