The Chief Executive Officers of four of golf’s governing bodies in the United States provided a “bullish” evaluation of the game and golf industry Thursday during a far-ranging panel discussion on the “State of the Industry” on the PGA Forum Stage presented by OMEGA.
PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh served as moderator of the CEO panel, with United States Golf Association (USGA) CEO Mike Davis, National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) CEO Jay Karen and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) CEO Rhett Evans examining golf through the lens of each individual association – and as a collective telescope.
“We need to change the narrative on golf,” said Waugh. “There is a perception that golf is too pricey, takes too long to play, is too difficult and isn’t always welcoming.
“Some people think golf is struggling, but after walking the aisles of the PGA Merchandise Show, I’m convinced it’s a bull market. Golf is an $85 billion industry annually and we’re a significant engine that drives the economy.”
Davis agreed with Waugh, adding: “We’re very bullish on the game right now. We have a new worldwide handicap system ready to roll out and a new study on distance. Those will both help us make the game more welcoming and inviting.
“The game is growing worldwide and has evolved significantly during the past 20 years. Golf is stable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t pressure points as we look forward. We are giving people who want to play the game more flexibility and more options than ever. It doesn’t have to be an 18-hole experience any more. It can be three holes, six holes or nine holes.
“From a business perspective, there are pressures regarding water use and pressures from real estate developers who value the land for homes and business property more than for a golf course.”
The panel of CEOs realize that golf cannot rest on its laurels, with several challenges associated with the “bullish” market.
“When you look at sustainability of golf courses, there are a lot of great things happening, but there are also a lot of headwinds,” warned Evans. “One of the greatest challenges is that golf will always be a target for greater regulation, and by advocacy groups who don’t like the amount of water and fertilizer used to maintain a golf course. We have decreased water use by 20 percent on course over the past 15-20 years and cut nitrogen use by 30 percent. But there are 525,000 elected officials in the United States, so it becomes an issue for some local, state and federal officials.”
“On the business side, a lot of golf courses are struggling even while we continually introduce programs to grow the game,” said Karen. “We all agree we need to leave the earth a better place for our kids, but golf has become a generational issue. The kids don’t want to buy what dad bought, so we need to meet them in the middle. They want their own version of golf that doesn’t take as long to play and isn’t expensive. We need to reverse the negative narrative regarding golf, but we also need to make sure the narrative matches the product.”
Added Waugh, “I think all of us on this panel have similar goals in growing the game any and every way possible. We can accomplish a lot more together than we can individually, and that’s why each of these organizations is working together as partners in the best interests of the game and the golf industry.”