Saturday, May 24, 2008

How Healthy is our Game?

Amid recent reports that golf is losing players, facilities, and equipment sales, we commissioned some fresh research. The prognosis is not all bad, but there's still work to be done

By Matthew Rudy
Businessweek May 15, 2008

Hank Haney is most famous for his prominent role as Tiger Woods' teacher, but long before he started working with the world's No. 1 player—and charging $500 for an hour lesson—Haney was a shrewd golf businessman.

Starting with a ranch he bought from World War II hero and movie star Audie Murphy in 1991, Haney expanded that McKinney (Tex.) range into seven practice facilities and three golf courses across the state.

Seventeen years later, despite a struggling economy, the most famous athlete in the world is a professional golfer (and a $100million Nike Golf endorsee), PGA Tour purses are at all-time highs, the largest equipment manufacturers are reporting record sales, and industry groups are noting that the overall golf "economy"—including equipment sales, golf tourism, and golf course real estate development—has never been larger.

But many people affiliated with the golf industry aren't celebrating. A series of studies shows that rounds played are flat or declining. Television ratings for PGA Tour events have plateaued. Traditional hot spots for vacation golf activity such as Myrtle Beach and northern Michigan have seen a raft of course closures—either from a lack of play or because of the tough business credit climate. Even Haney's flagship golf ranch became a more enticing business proposition as a real estate play than it was as a driving range, and he sold to developers.

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