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September 2002

Re-packaging Golf

Graeme McDowall of Elm Wood College takes a look at the challenges facing the golf industry

As a company Elmwood Golf Developments (EGD) are involved in many areas of the golf industry both nationally and internationally.

EGD is a company made up of golf industry professionals; we are part of Elmwood College nr St Andrews, Fife. Most notably we have recently collaborated with The Royal & Ancient (The R&A) in setting up training programs for the Chinese Golf Industry, our role being to train Chinese students to become Course Managers and Greenkeepers; many of these students will then establish parallel courses in China. Our other areas of work include running our own golf facility, sports turf maintenance and sports turf research. Part of my job as the PGA Professional to the company is to look at the golf industry as a whole, its strengths, weaknesses and the way in which we can create future opportunities for our clients.

A recent article in the Sunday Times confirmed what most of us in the golf industry already knew, the golf boom is long since over. The headline declaring “Golf in the rough as boom ends” goes onto to explain “Club memberships are down by a third. The number of rounds played at municipal courses have fallen from an average 46,000 rounds at each course in 1995 to 34,000 rounds last year, a fall of 26%”.

In reality the golf boom has been over for some time now and the era of “build it and they will come” has long since past. The slow pace of golf has become incongruent with the fast pace of many peoples lives. The cost of living has increased to such an extent that people work longer hours to enjoy a limited leisure time. A greater premium is therefore put on spending quality time with the family and there is a multitude of family orientated activities to choose from. This all suggest that golf in its traditional form is fast loosing its place recreationally. To re-establish its place the sport will have to undergo a repackaging initiative that attracts all sections of the community, in particularly those with the greatest disposable income.

The greatest challenge we face in attracting people to the game is changing the perception that golf is expensive, male orientated, slow paced, difficult to learn and weighed down by rules and regulations. It is a damming indictment on the games governing bodies that many members of the public still feel this way, are the games governing bodies, in particularly The PGA, doing enough to promote the game as all inclusive? This may be the perfect opportunity for The PGA to change the perception, held by many of its members, that it is a large machine that moves slowly, expending too much energy on the needs of its better players? The fact is that unless we are able to attract new people to the game by introducing new concepts, new branding and new marketing the industry will inevitably have to scale down its size.

If the boom is to return it will return in the form of Alternative Facilities, Dynamic Pricing and Customer Service. A recent report into the place of Alternative Facilities within the golf industry by Sportometrics concluded, “There are two basic issues. Firstly, what is the relation between alternative facilities and traditional courses? In economics two related products are either substitutes or complements. Secondly, what are the demographic characteristics of markets with successful alternative courses? Research, in relation to question one, has shown compelling evidence that alternative and traditional golf courses go hand in hand to make a better golf experience. Traditional and alternative golf are compliments. Secondly alternative facilities flourish in areas heavily populated by traditional courses or in communities where there are already established traditional courses or where traditional courses are being built”. Make no mistake about it the future of the golf industry is in the hands of the people willing to offer the public an ALTERNATIVE GOLFING EXPERIENCE, one that is family orientated, fast moving, fun, interactive and glows in the dark.

The reality facing traditional facilities is that compared to other leisu


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