News From Terre Haute, Indiana

On & Off the Course

May 29, 2010

On and Off the Course: Trends show golf in decline

TERRE HAUTE — You don’t have to watch the news or read the paper to understand that America is struggling on the economic front.

The evidence can be witnessed at the local golf course.

The trend in the number of rounds played in the U.S. has been going down since 2000. There were 518.4 million rounds played that year, 499.6 million in 2005 and 489.1 in 2008. In 2009 play on public courses was down .3% and down 1.8% on private courses. Part of those numbers is due to the weather, and part to the economy. But another part that should be in the discussion is the aging population.

Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and maybe the combination of fixed incomes and health issues, is keeping them off of the golf course. It’s not just baby boomers that concerns me though. It’s the lack of interest by younger players (and by younger I don’t just mean juniors! I’m thinking of the people in their 20s and 30s who aren’t playing golf too).

If the trends are already downhill, where will the golf industry be in 15 to 20 years? According to the NGF (National Golf Foundation), between 2005 and 2008 the number of golfers age 6-17 dropped 24 percent to 2.9 million from 3.8 million. What’s scary though, is that during this period of decline, the numbers of juniors being introduced to the sport is increasing, if we view the growth of The First Tee as an indication. The First Tee is a national program aimed at introducing younger players to golf, and along with it teaching sportsmanship, respect and other life lessons. There are now 200 First Tee Chapters in the U.S., which oversee programs for 400,000 school-age children. So 1.6 million children will be exposed to golf through elementary school gym classes. The First Tee has made great headway in reaching younger kids; the problem is keeping them interested as teenagers.

Before there was such a thing as The First Tee, kids were typically introduced to the game by their parents or grandparents. The success of those outings deemed whether or not a child would stay interested in the game. The way to make those outings successful was to have a relaxed time, without pressure, and particularly without being yelled at for being slow or in the way.

That’s where the problem really lies. Even though many new courses are being built, they are likely to be surrounded by property development, so the developer wants to build a course that is long and tough, so that adults will want to play that course and build a house alongside it. These kinds of courses are not the kind that are good for beginners.

When a child became relatively capable of playing golf, the thing that really kept him or her playing was when they had a group of friends to go out and play with. Competition with team sports is making it a lot more difficult for the golf industry.

The Terre Haute parks department has changed its junior rates in such a way that, I think it discourages grandparents or parents to take a child.

At both Rea Park and Hulman Links it costs $10 for a junior to walk either nine or 18 holes, but they pay full price, $26, if they ride a cart with an adult. I understand the logic in that, and I would never recommend to anyone to take a child out to Hulman Links in the first place. Hulman Links could scare a beginner away from the game for life! Rea Park might be too busy to be the ideal place for beginners — but find the slow times.

In Terre Haute, Marks Par Three and Trinity Golf Course at The Fore Seasons are wonderful courses for juniors and beginners. Trinity has 6 par 4’s and 3 par 3’s. Kids 14 and under play for $6 if they walk, $12 if they ride with an adult. At Mark’s Par Three juniors 14 and under cost only $5 when accompanied by an adult. They can play for free on Mondays after 6 p.m. when accompanied by an adult.

If trends are going to change for the better for golf, we will need for the economy to improve surely, but we also need to pay attention to our junior players. They will grow up and be adults someday, and then the hope is that they’ll play the game and pay full price for it!

• • •

• Quote of the Day — “If you really want to get better at golf, go back and take it up at a much earlier age.” -- Thomas Mulligan.

• Congratulations —  llen Royse Lapierre, former golfer at Terre Haute South, was inducted into the DePauw University Hall of Fame.

While at DePauw, she earned four varsity letters for women’s golf. She played in the National Golf Coaches Association Division III tournament all four years, and led the team to a second-place finish in 1991 and third place in 1990 and ‘92. She earned all-American honors in ‘92 and ‘93 after placing sixth and ninth at the national championship.

Jennifer Myers can be reached by e-mail at jfmyerse@xsthe.net.

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