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October 2018

It’s Time to Change the Narrative About the Future of Golf

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By Jay Karen, CEO, NGCOA

Just yesterday, I received an email from a homeowner in Clermont, Florida, who lives in a golf course community. She was pleading with me for ideas on how to compel the city to take ownership of the golf course no longer in operation. Obviously her concern is about what would happen to the land adjacent to all these homes, and the promise of having perpetual golf course views when the homes were built 14 years ago. The words “eminent domain” were thrown around. Even without local knowledge of the situation, I sternly advised against the eminent domain idea. But I will admit, it’s painful to hear about any golf course that has failed.

Not long after the email exchange with the distraught homeowner, I was asked by someone in the media what I thought was the single biggest challenge facing the “viability” of the golf course industry. At first (and despite the story of this failed course in Florida fresh in my mind), I rolled my eyes at the word “viability.” The word “viability” implies the question about our industry is an existential one; as though if we don’t do something today about the perceived (and real) problems, that all courses might close soon. I felt the need to correct the writer and explain our issues are not existential in nature, but about an industry that is evolving.

That sounds like corporate spin, doesn’t it? And to a certain degree it is, because we need to change the narrative when we talk with the media. Yet turn to page 38 in this issue, and you’ll read Scott Kauffman’s article about the billions in capital being reinvested in golf courses to keep them thriving and green for the next generation. Read in other places about how the demographics in the younger generation of golfers is changing, and how youth golf is turning into a team sport with participation rising. Recognize we have every tool we need to improve the dynamics of our industry right here in our own tool box. Success will be found when course operators make the small, incremental changes to the customer experience. Can you add ice cream bars to the beverage cart in the heat of summer? What a delight to the golfers, and imagine the profit margin you could achieve. Can you promote combo tee sets on the scorecard and encourage folks to play white-and-yellow instead of just white (if they can’t drive the ball like they used to)?  Can you bring local brewery owners to the course to let golfers experience the “cool, new IPA” as they go from No. 9 to No. 10?

Where we are as an industry reminds me of the old saying, “Save like you’re going to live forever, but buy insurance like you are going to die tomorrow.” As business owners and operators, you feel the acute pressure of keeping the doors open and lights on. That pressure is what often makes any business work. But just like most people don’t always act as though they’re going to die tomorrow, that sense of mortality eggs us on to (hopefully) live the lives we desire. I think if we act as though the industry could die tomorrow or our businesses could fold next year — that if we operate with a healthy dose of concern — we could possibly see the tide turn sooner than later. We might not have to wait 20 years for today’s 10- and 12-year olds to buoy our industry. To all you readers doing something new and different each season, thank you! You are the ones supporting our industry’s viability. Keep it up!

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October 2018 Issue
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