Has The Game of Golf Peaked in America?
Recently I noticed a golf channel advertisement touting their broadcast of the SBS Championship at Kapalua Plantation (what most of us remember as the Tournament of Champions before the corporations started selling themselves). The draw was ‘cutting edge seat of your pants’, ‘wall to wall excitement’; certainly not something most people would associate the serene game of golf with but a good advertising effort nonetheless. That got me thinking, “Who is the Golf Channel trying to attract with this line of advertising?”
Most diehard golfers, the ones who have been patrons of the game long before Tiger Woods was even born, are most likely going to tune into this broadcast, but not for the drama and intrigue the Golf Channel was touting. Instead, they will study the professional’s golf swings, course management, and reactions to hole by hole challenges. We will all tune in to see how a golfer comes back from misfortune to right the ship and shoot a low number.
These diehards are known in the business as core golfers. The National Golf Foundation’s definition of a core golfer is one who plays at least eight rounds of golf per year. In the United States there are approximately fifteen million core golfers who provide approximately 90% of all golfer spending. That is only five percent of the entire population, hardly a large enough number to compete as a spectator sport with the big four sports of baseball, football, hockey, and basketball. I am afraid that is exactly what the Golf Channel (and numerous other outlets) had in mind for the game of golf during the past decade or so.
Those high-powered advertisements are aimed directly at the remainder of the non-core golfer population in an effort to make golf the all-American sport, an effort which may have just doomed the business. As much as we all love the game of golf, it just might not have the all encompassing attraction the NFL may possess. All the money that was poured into television, luxury tents at events, and elsewhere, were only to give corporate America a vehicle to do business. As soon as the economy tanked, corporate America was gone, leaving the core golfers to pick up the pieces. Overpriced golf equipment and over the top golf course developments stagnated the game as well and created a negative pall over golf that, frankly, is unwarranted.
Maybe the game of golf is not meant to be a part of Americana. Do we really need a twenty-four hour golf channel? How many golf tournaments will the average American really watch on a weekly basis? Does the average American truly have the desire to watch closely as Geoff Ogilvy confronts the challenge of Rory Sabbatini throwing a 63 at him on Sunday forcing him to respond with well-timed birdies on the final five holes of regulation? I am afraid not.
So let’s back up and stabilize this great game and grow slowly. Let’s quit being a vehicle for corporate America and let’s quit trying to compete with football for the attention of the average American. If the golf industry cleans house a bit and focuses on the aspects of the game that truly make it a special experience for the core golfers, then maybe we can grow properly. Misguided growth for economic reasons unrelated to golf may have doomed the business, but it won’t doom the game.