The Bug That Saved Golf
By R.J. Smiley
Remember the last golf boom?
The last golf boom was spawned by a mixed-race kid named TIGER.
Let that sink in.
Who would believe that the demon virus BUG, COVID-19, will prove to be a much needed shot in the arm for the golf industry?
The stay-at-home quarantine created by the BUG has changed our lives in many ways. People have found the joy of cooking and baking. The BUG has subconsciously taught people that we don’t need major league sports to provide entertainment, both attending games in person or watching on TV. The BUG has taught business owners that productivity actually goes up when employees do their work from home. People have discovered that they don’t need the three times a week trip to the health club. The BUG has taught companies that a ZOOM meeting is just as effective as a face-to-face meeting. Often in a city an airplane ticket away.
A recent poll of golfers, who have tiptoed onto the golf course after course closings due to the BUG lockdown, has shown a renewed joy in just playing golf for the experience. Not the score.
For years the number of golfers in the USA has been flat while annual rounds played have declined.
Golf organizations and professional associations have researched how to attract new players to the game. But, more importantly they have agonized over how to get existing golfers to play a few more rounds each season. Research has identified three major reasons that golfers don’t play more. Time and costs are the first two; someone to play with is the third.
The real time commitment to play an 18-hole round of golf is around six hours when travel time, range balls and a beer are included. That means that a golfer who players twice per week commits a minimum of 12 hours per week to his or her hobby. Hold that thought.
During the BUG-time of self-quarantine, as many as 40% of workers worked from home. The majority of these, work from home, people fit the National Golf Foundation’s “core golfer” profile perfectly. Core golfers (golfers who play 8 or more rounds per year) average 20 rounds of golf per year. They are well educated and in the upper income group. A large percentage of these workers commute at least 30 minutes, each way, to work everyday. Many even more. That commute time wastes at least five hours of each week. Even more important, when working from home many jobs do not fit the typical 8 to 5 work day.
Back to the golfer with no time. Suddenly golfers have found enough time to squeeze in a few extra rounds each month. When combined with the fact that work hours were flexible, golfers will find time to play more golf and still make it to their daughter’s soccer game.
Now, let’s look at cost. Daily fee golfers pay greens fees between $35 and $75 for an 18 hole round. Compare those golf costs with the cash savings created by working from home. Take a guess how much the average commuter spends on gas and parking each workweek. That’s right, enough to pay a greens fee. That gas and parking number has been established at between $75 per week. Add in the price of lunch each day and a cup of coffee in the skyway. Now our work at home golfer has the money to play a round plus a bucket of balls twice a week.
There are 24 million golfers in the U.S. Those golfers play 540 million rounds. If 20% of those 24 million golfers would play just one extra round per month for 8 months per year (both northern and southern courses) that would generate 32 million rounds, a 7% increase in play.
Now that golfers have the extra time and money to play a few more rounds the questions becomes, who do I play with? The truth is that there are many opportunities to find golfers who have the same desires. Most daily fee golf courses have a weekly league (some 9-hole leagues even couples leagues). Course managers or golf professionals will be happy to connect the golfer with the chairman of the various leagues.
In addition, technology has again come to the rescue like a knight on a white horse. Golf group finders like GroupLooper (www.grouplooper.com) (no fees) can find a player or three to join you at a time that works for you. It is easy to social distance on the golf course.
Golf is not the only outdoor exercise activity that has come into favor as a result of the BUG. Hiking and daily recreational walking have gained a new audience. But the biggest beneficiary has been peddling a bicycle in the fresh air. Bicycling has been growing, but the BUG also gave the bike sales business a shot in the arm.