Bang! Woosh! End Of An Era

That sound is the deflating golf bubble, as we know it today, and much has been made of the recent decline in the industry.  Nobody likes to see 500 PGA professionals get fired at Dicks or five million fewer participants, but we are simply at the end of a massive market boom known as the Tiger Woods Era. While the economic impacts are real and unfortunate, they are not a terrible cause for concern because the underlying market factors are natural.

As in any sport, interest is driven by three entities: Domination, Rivalry, and Disaster, and when they are removed, interest wanes. While Tiger was the face of the sport, all three were in abundant supply. Now that he’s a middle-tier, often-injured shell of himself, the draw is gone and the vacuum hugely noticeable. Tiger still drives TV ratings when he appears, and the mainstream media bend over backwards for a smidgen of real time coverage, but between the injury time, scandal time, and missed cuts, air time is rare. Broadcast of his arrival in a SUV for a PGA practice round was silly/obsessive and reminiscent of another guy driving his SUV down the freeway in 1994.

Try this quick exercise: Think back to the half dozen most riveting golf moments you’ve ever seen on TV. Mine; in no particular order:

  • Nicklaus wins the 1986 Masters – “Yes Sir!”
  • Tiger drops the huge curling chip on #16 at Augusta in 2005
  • Justin Leonard sinks the bomb to win the 1999 Ryder Cup
  • Jean van de Velde at the 1999 Open Championship
  • Greg Norman’s historic collapse to Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters
  • Phil crushing Tiger head-to-head by 11 in the final round at Pebble in 2012

Great theater, and there are many more, but each of these directly touches Domination, Rivalry, or Disaster, and that’s what sports fans live for. You had to love the playoff between Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson at the Accenture Match Play earlier this year with Dubuisson’s scrambling from incredible trouble in the desert to continually extend the match. It was truly fascinating, but Tiger wasn’t in the field and TV ratings plummeted. Whether you love him or hate him, Tiger was the major part of golf history for the last 15 years. Now he’s almost gone.

In three years, nobody’s going to remember “Day vs. Dubuisson In The Desert” so what will be the headliner? How will the industry recover? Does it need to recover or just return to the pre-Tiger state? Much is being hoisted on young Rory McIlroy’s shoulders because without him there is no compelling story out there. I wonder how this will play out.

In the meantime, enjoy the abundant starting times, wide open golf courses, and discounted merchandise at Dicks. What do you think will solve for this or does it need solving?

About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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9 Responses to Bang! Woosh! End Of An Era

  1. Brian

    You have written what everyone is thinking! Personally, I do not think anything is required to fix the golfing industry. As in all cases, it is an economic adjustment that will have an impact in all areas. However, it will right itself, new champions will be found and golf will continue to expand and contract. The cost of equipment and playing golf will drop until it is sustainable – such is the way of the free market. In the meantime, most of us will continue to play, look for deals, and enjoy the game we love so much!

    Cheers
    Jim

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jim, I agree; don’t change a thing and it will play out naturally. What scares me is the big hole (15″) movement that is gaining traction. One of the things that is so intriguing about golf is that it is hard. Conquering certain aspects of the game are rewarding. If you build holes the size of basketball hoops, you are playing a different game; not golf. Thanks! Brian

      • That is so true, but the size of the holes is for the weekend player who only wants to hang out with his buddies while hitting the links. I am sure there will be some crazy ideas surfacing over the next few years, but they too will fall to the wayside when they do not catch on. Play well this weekend!

        Cheers
        Jim

  2. Brian Penn says:

    Jim, thanks. I am anxious to see if my 1,000+ practice swings over the last 10 days has any payoff. I’m pretty sick of practice swings by now but if this works will make it a regular habit. Try and pull a Rory yourself this weekend and GO LOW! Regards,

    Brian

  3. Pingback: PGA Championship and The Ryder Cup | The Grateful Golfer

  4. The game has been around a long time, and it will still be here for a long time into the future. The only difference between the good and bad days is the amount of money the big conglomerates can get out of it.

  5. Brian Penn says:

    Pete, I understand that 15% of Dick’s revenue is from their golf business. I guess when people stop buying your $400 drivers, something has to give. Unfortunately it was the staff professionals. Such is free market economics. Thanks, Brian

  6. Wayne Halm says:

    Aloha Brian,

    A very pertinent topic – and one near to my heart. I’ve talked to PGAs about this for a couple of years now. They have ignored my assessment – so it is still pertinent.

    As I see it the game of golf is doing fine, but the business of golf has three problems:
    1. The Average Golfer – this is the key. No one in the business respects them – but everyone wants their money. Average Golfers aren’t leaving the game – they are being driven away. I’ve written about this in a blog article http://kauaigolf.me/2014/05/05/the-goose/ . I know that’s a ‘plug’ but it’s a pertinent one. The golf business needs to put some real love (not BS hype) on this group.
    2. They are pricing themselves out of the Entertainment Market. PGAs argue that they are not in the entertainment business – but they ARE. To some players, golf is golf and they will pay dearly to play. But to many players, golf is entertainment – and there are alternatives. The pricing need to be commensurate with the entertainment alternatives – not with other golf courses.
    3. They compete with themselves. Golf is not “A” business, it is a host of businesses – golf courses, equipment sales, televised events, and “governing agencies”. They all claim to be working for the “good of the game” – but they are all competing for the same Average Golfer’s money. They all need the money, but the Average Golfer only has so much money to spend on entertainment – again the emphasis is on ‘Average Golfer” and “Entertainment’.
    So what needs to be done? For the serious golfer – nothing. For the Average Golfer – compare entertainment options and chose accordingly. For the golf business – wise up, or downsize.

    A Hui Hou,
    Wayne

  7. Brian Penn says:

    Wayne, fascinating viewpoints. I wonder if your geographical location has put something in play. I’m guessing there aren’t a host of golfing options on the Hawaiian islands because of the limited real estate and prices (greens fees) are at a premium across the board. Course operators figure they can get that because even if the average local player stops patronizing, they’ll be enough from tourist bookings. Am I close?

    Here on the east coast, we are seeing courses drop greens fees to compete for our business. Tremendous deals are available from golfing destination spots like Myrtle Beach. This June, we booked 7 nights lodging and six days of golf for under $600 per man, which is lower than we’ve ever paid. The prices of our packages keep coming down every year. Oddly enough, the equipment manufacturers aren’t offering discounts on clubs and balls. I suspect that will change too as more folks do their comparison shopping on-line (I already do).

    Thanks for the well thought out comments!

    Regards,

    Brian

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