The Golf Industry Show – and the golf course maintenance industry in general – passed a major test last month. If attendance and exhibit space had been down for the show in Orlando – a place that historically has drawn well for the show – it would’ve been a major downer for the industry. It would’ve cast doubt on a recovering industry that has struggled the past several years for myriad reasons because of general economic malaise.
But attendance at the GIS in February – 14,147 – was up 8 percent from the previous year’s show in San Diego. More superintendents also attended the show than last year.
Exhibit space at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center was 184,500 square feet, a 7 percent increase from the previous year (173,000). The exhibit square footage was 179,800 the last time the show was in Orlando in 2011.
Also, qualified buyers in Orlando numbered 6,845, a whopping 14 percent increase from San Diego. In addition, the number of GCSAA education seats (5,192) soared 15 percent from the year before (4,524).
There was also a good vibe at the show. Every vendor I spoke to was not only positive about the show, but positive about the industry in general. It seems vendors have revamped their business models the past few years, taking into account the fact that more golf courses are closing than opening.
In December, Rhett Evans, CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, told me that he felt good about the direction that things were heading.
“We feel like we’re running downhill, and we’re starting to go a little faster,” Evans said. “Things are starting to come together, and we feel momentum.”
Evans had hoped for a 10 to 12 percent increase in attendance in Orlando, but I’m sure he’ll take 8 percent. Hopefully, the momentum the GCSAA and the industry gained from the GIS will carry over well to next year’s show in San Antonio, where the industry hasn’t been in nearly 20 years.
Despite the good news about the show, there’s a huge pink elephant sitting in the middle of the green on the 18th hole – golf course closures.
2013 marked the eighth consecutive year that more golf courses closed than opened … and by a whopping margin. For instance, 157 courses closed in 2013 compared to just 14 openings.
The National Golf Foundation (NGF) expects this trend to continue for the next several years. The NGF says it’s a much-needed correction to an industry that was overbuilt.
It’s funny how things turn out. I recently came across a story that appeared in a 1989 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer that stated, “Golf course developers would have to build a course a day for the next decade to meet this country’s demand for new courses, according to the National Golf Foundation.”
What happened to that demand?
I have the utmost respect for the NGF and what it has done for golf, but I’m not sure what to believe here. If you bet on the NGF’s buoyant outlook in 1989, you lost. So, should we believe the NGF when it says that hundreds more golf courses need to close before the supply-and-demand issue is resolved?
My question is: What happened to growing the game?
I’ll be the first to admit that there are people in this industry who know a lot more about the Xs and Os of industry economics than I do. But I can’t help but wonder if we’re just sitting back and letting all of these golf courses close. Are we giving in? Have we admitted defeat?
I understand that many of these courses cost too much to build, charged too much for green fees, and now have come home to roost. That’s just bad business.
I also keep hearing there aren’t enough golfers to play all the courses we have, which is now below 15,000. But isn’t it on us to grow the game?
I have lots of questions, and I don’t know the answers.
All I know is that I cringe when I hear that another 150 golf courses closed. I think of the superintendents and their staffs who lost their jobs, not to mention the courses’ other employees.
I might not know them personally, but they mean more to me than just numbers.