“What could your golf course use right now?” The question is part of our third-annual Super Survey, the results of which will be published in February. As I write this, about 250 golf course superintendents have already answered the question from four choices: a greens renovation, a new irrigation system, a new fleet of mowers or more members/golfers.
To my surprise – or maybe not – an astounding 46 percent of those 250 answered “more members/golfers.” Never mind the other three answers are related to golf course maintenance. While the survey will garner possibly twice as many more respondents before shutting down, that 46 percent isn’t going to change much. Alas, it’s easy to surmise from this large percentage that superintendents are concerned about the economic state of their golf facilities because rounds and revenue are flat or down.
Considering price and level, there are golf courses for most everyone. Golfers can play affordable courses with wide fairways and forgiving greens. Hence, those two criticisms of golf – that it’s too expensive and too hard – aren’t necessarily warranted unless golfers are picking the wrong places to play.
However, the fact that the game takes too long to play is still a major problem, perhaps the biggest obstacle facing golf today.
Golf industry organizations are conducting research and developing programs to speed up play, which is all fine and dandy. Still, slow play is always going to be a problem. There will always be players who hit two balls on the tee, who spend several minutes looking for lost balls, and who feel the need to spend several minutes to line up a 40-foot putt they have no chance of making.
Most avid golfers want to play 18 holes, so let them play. But golf courses, public and private, need to push the nine-hole round like never before to increase rounds and revenue.
I’m classified as a core golfer, someone who plays eight to 24 regulation rounds a year. While a regulation round is defined as being nine or 18 holes, most of my rounds are nine holes for one reason: I don’t have time to play 18 holes.
People are working longer hours, a result of companies’ do-more-with-less philosophy permeating the post-Great Recession workforce. Today’s parents are also spending more time with their families, another factor inhibiting their time. For instance, if their kids are involved in sports, so are they.
I can play nine holes in about two hours and feel satisfied. I play whenever I can identify a three-hour window in my schedule. There are few five-hour windows, which is why I don’t play 18 holes.
As golfers go, I’m Joe Schmoe. I’m in the majority: players who like the game, but have much improving to do. What keeps me coming back, however, is “the birdie I almost had” in addition to the bogeys and double bogeys.
But like most Joe Schmoes, I only have time for nine holes. So you can bet your ball washer that most new golfers also only have time for nine holes and have no desire to spend five hours hacking around 18 holes.
If golf courses have a New Year’s resolution for 2015, it should be to attract new golfers by telling them that they do have time to play golf – nine holes.