WHY GOLF IS BROKEN
While everyone basks in 21-year-old Jordan Spieth’s lights-out victory this weekend at Augusta, let’s keep one thing in perspective about the Golf Industry: We’re seeing a massive bifurcation in participation, and it’s not particularly healthy.
Simply put, a significantly smaller number of golfers are playing a far greater number of rounds. The number of golfers in the United States has declined by 5mm, or 16%, in the past six years. On the flip side, the number of rounds per player is up 12% to 19 rounds per year over that same period.
Two factors explain away 80% of this drop. One is the ’07-’09 recession, which took the marginal golfer out of the game (‘core’ golfers will golf in any economy, weather, zombie apocalypse, or whatever…). Then just as the US emerged from a crippling recession (6/09), Tiger Woods fell from grace (11/09), thereby removing the biggest positive mass-marketing force the game has ever seen.
Fortunately, what we call ‘core’ golfers (plays at least 8 times a year) accounts for about 56% of golfers, and 85% of spending. For the most part, this is a healthy demographic. But someone who plays 20, 30, or even 50 rounds per year almost certainly does not go to a Golf Galaxy or a Dick’s. They likely belong to a Club, and buy gear at the Club’s pro shop.
It’s the ‘non-core’ golfer (less than 8x per year) who uses mass channels, and that group has been decimated – accounting for almost all the decline in players over the past six years. Before the Recession/Tiger Debacle, there were 13.2mm ‘non-core’ golfers. Now there’s closer to 10mm. That’s roughly a 25% decline in a customer base for the mass golf retailers.
Could they come back? Of course. But we’re going to need a lot more than Tiger passing the torch to Rory McIlroy, or UA’s Spieth crushing the field at the Masters.