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Jul 24

Reports of Golf’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Popularity of Golf Always Up and Down

I have a rather snobby friend who, among other habits, such as being a physicist, is a tennis devotee, and generally scorns the game of golf. He’s had even more fun than usual lately by telling me that golf is in a state of decline, and will probably go the way of of the dinosaur at some point, in a very Darwinian fashion.

An article I read today confirms a tiny part of my friend’s point. Apparently, just over half a million fewer people are playing than they did three years ago. For starters, that’s fine with me – now it will be easier to get a tee time. Secondly, these are American statistics for the American game – we neither invented it, nor do we always come out on top of it, despite a bright history.
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The first reason usually given for the dip in numbers is the ongoing saga of Tiger Woods. When he was dominant, people who play golf vicariously lined up in droves to join in the game. When he faltered on and off the course, they lost their impetus to play. I played that way as a child, and outgrew it – but I still understand it. A certain segment of the golfing population, those in which the game is less deeply entrenched, need a hero to make them get in the car and go play. So, until Tiger rebounds or someone comes around who plays like he used to, we may be stuck with the loss of that segment.

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golf crowd 2 The cost is certainly a factor. I read that a typical round is 44.00, and the prerequisite equipment costs hundreds more. Here, we lose a few more people, especially men. They (we) buy the clubs that only NASA could love, go out there, blast away, miss the same putts, land in the same rough, and come in with the same score as we did with the old set. For many, that is too much disillusionment. There are too many other places to experience that. The cost factor reinforces the belief that golf is an elitist, aristocratic sport, and with the country club set, it certainly appears that way. However, the “municipal” game is huge in this country and many others, costs less, has some terrific courses, and is a lot of fun, without General Montgomery’s riding crop or Mary, Queen of Scots’ crown and royal entourage. Country clubs are beginning to lower their prices for membership, but unless the “elitist” claims are correct, it’s the municipal industry where the game’s overall health should be noted. Those people know that golf isn’t just for the upper crust any more. Knock a few bucks off admission, and they’ll be back.

golf crowds 1Someone’s gotten it into his head that maybe the game of golf is just too hard, and that maybe we should make the courses a little easier, or enlarge the diameter of the holes. Argh! Think about it. The game of golf is too hard for everyone! No one really masters it. When Tiger, Jack, Ben and Bobby had their big days, they simply played the game less badly than anyone else. Changing the hole size isn’t going to jack up our self-esteem to the point where we can’t wait to call for a tee time. We want it to be hard.


I read that numbers are somewhat down in the UK as well, and I haven’t checked the statistics in other countries, but I know that it’s hot as a firecracker in Asia, and new countries are getting into the tournament business every day. Since Tiger doesn’t play for the LPGA, I haven’t seen any lack of interest in those who follow the female stars. The rebound of Michelle Wie has been terrific for women’s golf.

At the root of it all, golf, in some form (looking, probably, much like the one we have) will always exist, unless of course we are launched past our primitive urges in a sudden wave of enlightenment. All boys, and most girls, I think, like to hit something with a stick, and a fair number of them keep the urge into adulthood. As Tigers come and go, costs rise and fall, courses lengthen and shorten, the numbers of devotees on the golf course will rise and fall within a certain window. Now, I guess we’re in a trough of sorts. In the U.S., only 25 million plus a few are still playing – eek! I can’t wait to ask my physicist friend what will happen if the Williams sisters and the top five men in the world of tennis all retire on the same day – so there.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.