The Decline of American Golf

The Decline of American Golf 1WRITTEN BY NEIL SAGEBIEL (that’s me, The Armchair Golfer), this piece appeared in the December 2008 issue of Golf Digest India.

The Decline of American Golf (pdf)

Based on research from the National Golf Foundation, I spell out, and give reasons for, American golf’s decline and provide a basic profile of the American golfer.

I also feature three golfers (two men and a woman) and their playing habits, touch on initiatives to promote the game, and reveal how many times I played in 2008. Any guesses?

−The Armchair Golfer

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Neil Sagebiel

13 thoughts on “The Decline of American Golf”

  1. Excellent article!

    I’m not worried too much (yet) about golf shrinking. Just like with the general economy, when there is an explosion, there is bound to be a corresponding contraction.

    Tiger caused a golf explosion and now we’re feeling the contraction. How far it will go, I don’t know, but I’ve been expecting it for years.

  2. I took up the game at age 48. Both sons were grown and the rigors of weekend activities were a non-issue. While I worked, I played every Saturday and Sunday and would ofter practice 2 or 3 times a week after work. It’s time intensive and it’s also being impacted by the state of the economy. I live in an adult community and there are probably 150 or more wanting to build here and retire but they are unable to sell their current homes.

  3. Super article…there’s no question that golf is in decline. The reasons, however, remain unclear. The difficulty of the game,the economy and the time that the game requires are probably big factors, but no one really knows. Tennis was flying high in the 70s but then took a dive that it hasn’t really recovered from yet.

  4. Armchair that is a great article. I want to pick on you for not writing more about the middle age female (35-40) but you did hit the basic profile on the head. I still thing the main reason for the decline is, golfers realize they cannot play. They try to buy a game, and it doesn’t work.

  5. Double Eagle: Yes, there’s a contraction, and it’s been going on longer than people may think, since 2000.

    Acemakr: You are correct. Golf’s decline has a lot to do with time and money.

    Lancer: I think you hit on three of the big reasons: time, money and difficulty. I didn’t talk a lot about it, but golf is a game that causes embarrassment, especially for those new to the game. That can be a barrier.

    Mad Hatter: I did feature a female, “Emily,” who is middle-aged. No, you can’t “buy” a game, absolutely correct.

    Golf Lover: I hope you’re right about golf making a comeback. It has a lot of competition.

  6. Good article and does address some of the issues golf is facing. I also have questioned some of the NGF stats since, like you, I play more golf than what their standard Core Golfer plays, so where does that put me and the hordes of other golfers who play on average three days a week?
    I am not as optimistic as the others here that golf will come back from this kick to the groan. It will level off someplace , hopefully before it hits bottom. But not before golf makes a LOT of changes. To say golfer lovers like us are in for a bumpy ride is a understatement. Guess all we can do is see what happens.

  7. Nice article Armchair!

    In July 2008, Tom Kite was interviewed by Jeff Rude in GolfWeek. Tom said golf was not growing because it “…costs too dang much to play.” They (PGA) are investing millions and there doesn’t seem to be an ROI.

    I got in 80 rounds last year and still would be playing except for the snow. It’s money, time, time and more money. Mad Hatter is right… you can’t buy your game, you earn it. Tiger and others just make it look too easy!

    Many public GCs are a joke and the private ones jack up the rates with monthly or quarterly minimums; passing time at any 19th hole gets pricy too. And, while I”m on a roll, I’m getting tired of subsidizing European golfers when I make my annual spiritual quest and pay outrageous amounts to soothe the soul.

    But… in spite of all the doom and gloom, rants and raves, I’m getting itchy for spring, heading down to Orlando for the PGA Show in a couple of weeks, and buff’in up the clubs and shoes. When it shines, I’ll be ready! Fore…

  8. Money and time are too huge issues, but where will the next generation of golfers come from? American children have all become one sport athletes. Coaches and parents encourage concentration in there chosen sport. Year round leagues and travel squads prohibit exploration into other time intensive sports like golf.

  9. Americans put in more time at work and take the fewest vacations days of any industrialized nation. Add to this the demands that your family makes on your 'down' time and it is no wonder that rounds played per year is in decline. When my kids were born I made a choice to either have good kids (lots of Dad time) or good golf (if my kids turn out bad I’m going to be mad!). Weekend golf is far from quality golf at least here in NJ. Courses begin charging weekend rates on Friday (climbing near $100+) and for that you spend a good deal of your time waiting around. On a nice summer's day you can expect to spend 5+ hours on the course. One round at Tamarack (cty muni course) took 7 hours to complete! Readers in other parts of the country are shaking their heads and thinking that this is an exaggeration but those of you in the NJ/NY area know it’s true. That one episode turned me off to weekend golf for the most part and greatly diminished the number of rounds I might play per year. So with a wife that works (the majority of us need 2 incomes to afford living in NJ) it’s hard to trot off to the course for the entire day leaving her to care for the kids. It’s her day off too.

    Unless you belong to a private club it is difficult and expensive to introduce your kids to the game. I get them out to the driving range but the game is played over 18 holes. I wanted to bring my boys (aged 7&8) out with me late on a Saturday afternoon. They wouldn’t play, just be with me while I got in some holes. Not one club around me would allow them on the course due to “liability issues”. How do you introduce kids in an environment like this??

    OK, enough of a rant but you obviously have hit a nerve here. Good job.

  10. threewood said…

    What I have noticed is the sudden decline in senior golf. During the 1980’s well into the 1990’s there were times at the local municipal courses I frequently played during my days off from work where you had to wait for better than an hour during the week to play a round. This is no longer the case.I am retired now and couses are empty durint the week. Significant discounts should be given to seniors.


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