Last month I made a case for the golf industry’s rebound in 2017. Consumer confidence is at a 15-year high, and the stock market has risen to record levels since the presidential election. Golf flourished under similar macroeconomic conditions in the early 2000s, but I still caught plenty of side-eyes at the Golf Industry Show earlier this month.
There isn’t a lot of optimism in the industry right now. Ten years of decline will do that to you, and folks who make their living in the business of golf are wondering if we have hit a new normal of fewer golfers, fewer rounds, and an industry ready to be right-sized. That’s what people fear, but it’s always darkest before the dawn.
Consider this: Millennials are the largest living generation in the U.S., and they are just accruing enough money, time and social status to begin playing the game. When Generation X was entering the workforce, the golf industry experienced the same apathy, a sentiment that helped define my generation. But we eventually took up the game when we had enough disposable income and time to justify it. The sentiments that helped define Gen X were merely the older generations’ opinions of young people, not a cohort effect.
Young people act, well, young. They vote progressively, prefer to live in urban places where there are fewer golf courses, and they spend their money on craft beer, fancy fusion restaurants, $14 cocktails at dive bars and things they didn’t know they wanted until Groupon sends them an email. “Why, yes, I do want to pay in advance for a restaurant I’ve never been to so I can save 50 percent on at least two entrées at regular price on Mondays through Thursdays between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., and I don’t mind that it never includes drinks.”
At some point, they will learn to cook, have kids, move to the suburbs, put down their phones, and, yes, they will golf for many of the same reasons the previous generations took up the game. Every generation has for 70 years.
This issue features results from our annual State of the Profession Survey, which has a few bright spots, including the sentiment that golf businesses are doing better than in years past, and rounds appear to have surged in 2016 thanks largely to an early spring and mild autumn weather in many of the Northern states. It also addresses ways to grow the game and the ever-present labor challenges that superintendents face.
We will continue to address these lightning-rod issues with Superintendent in the magazine, on the website and on social media in 2017. In addition to our State of the Profession survey results in this issue, we are featuring a story about GPS-guided spraying and have plans for other data-based decision-making articles. We’re expanding our coverage on organic inputs, biological products and IPM to help spur innovation. We will be taking a closer look at water management, runoff, wildlife corridors and other consumer-facing issues that influence public perception. And we are planning reports that might help golf course managers find some solutions to labor and employment issues. Judging by our country’s new immigration policies and sentiments, this dynamic will get worse before it gets better as low-wage industries compete for a shrinking pool of workers willing to do manual labor.
I’m looking forward to working in this industry again, and despite the challenges it’s facing, I have nothing but optimism for its resurgence in 2017 and beyond. The fundamentals are there, so we will continue to track the turnaround, even if we’re the only ones.