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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

State of the Industry

I’ve just returned from another one of my planes, trains, and automobiles trips (see past Golf Course Design Today Blogs) to San Diego for the annual Golf Industry Show. Despite getting re-routed away from Dulles Airport in favor of blizzard conditions in Chicago on my way out and having to take the MARTA train north from the Atlanta airport and then walk a mile to a Hertz rental location only to take a cab to another Hertz location when that one with my reservation refused to open, and then drive the seven hours from Atlanta to Pinehurst, my few days in San Diego were well worth the hassle.

The Golf Industry Show simply was known as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America trade show until that organization joined forces with the National Golf Course Owners Association and Club Managers Association of America to form an industry-wide trade show and convention. This year’s edition follows a forty percent decline in attendance at last year’s show in New Orleans. As is probably true with most industries, this show is piggy-backed by numerous cocktail parties and educational seminars. This always affords the opportunity to see how your colleagues and others are doing.

This year’s edition seemed to be well-attended by the look of the floor show the two days of operation (Wednesday and Thursday). Unfortunately that appearance was skewed a bit as the trade show portion of the GIS was condensed this year from two days at the end of the week bleeding into a Saturday to two full days). Actual attendance for the show was 16,000, a seven percent decrease from the previous year. The number of “qualified buyers” remained the same as last year at 7,000. I guess the heavy bleeding is slowing for the industry but there is still a hemorrhage effect. Businesses are settling in for the long road of “correction” that the golf industry now faces. Someone used the term “maturing industry” to describe the golf business, meaning that growth is done and now it will settle into mid-life. For me, I hope it can prevent old age from settling in for a long time.

Three particular groups were missing from the trade show floor, each of which may not be in attendance for the same reason: lack of ability for the small business owner to stay afloat in a volatile business that went corporate a while back (possibly the very reason for the business’s death-knell). Although the show started primarily for golf course superintendents, I saw very few actual superintendents walking the floor. For a business that gained popularity from its folksiness in customer service over the years, it was disappointing to see few turf managers in the room, many of which work for mom and pop operations.

The very same mom and pop-type operations were missing as exhibitors this year in a big way as well. That was readily apparent as we walked the floor, bouncing from big booth space to big booth space. Lacking were the rows and rows of small entrepreneurs with innovative wares to share. In fact, there were one-hundred fewer exhibitors than last year. Total exhibit space was down twenty-one percent as well.

The final group of attendees that was officially absent by one-third was my bunch of cohorts in the design business. Clearly there were fewer architects attending the show, but the ones that did attend certainly pulled their weight in hunting down anything that seemed like a potential bite of a project. Certainly our end of the golf industry may be the hardest hit as new golf course development in the United States has truly disappeared and no one has any money for renovations.

The hot spots for golf development are overseas with China leading the charge. If you ask the architects, there must be five-hundred golf course projects in China on the boards. That may be true in theory, but it may take some time before the concepts hanging on the wall actually break ground. Yes, there is the labor to pull off a multitude of golf projects, but the demand is just not there for players. Personally, Richard Mandell Golf Architecture is fortunate to have a twenty-seven hole project in Hunan Province scheduled to break ground after the Chinese New Year is sufficiently celebrated. I will write about the progress of this project in future installments in an effort to provide the readers with insight into a new cultural phenomenon in China known as the golf industry.

Although small businesses were down in attendance at the GIS, I believe that it is the small businesses – the mom and pop-type shops- that will return to prominence within the golf industry as they once were. The days of corporate golf are slowly receding and golf will soon return as an affordable venture. Probably reflecting actual numbers the feeling around the trade show floor was not one of optimism per se, but more one of business as usual and that 2010 will be better than 2009.

About Richard: Richard Mandell is a Golf Course Architect in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).

Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since August 20, 2009

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