The best days of golf are yet to come

Lately we have heard ad nauseam about how the game of golf is in decline and in trouble. All the affiliate organizations are scrambling to figure out how to stem the loss of golfers and save the game with millions of dollars of programs and advertising.

Larry Norland, Green Haven Golf Course
Larry Norland, Green Haven Golf Course

I have quite another view of the game and its health. The game certainly saw a surge of participation when Tiger came onto the scene, but I would argue now that the game is drifting back to its normal participation rates throughout the world.

There are basically three big issues and common complaints that are thrown around as the reasons for the “drop” in players. First of all, cost of the game has exploded and has become prohibitive. Let’s look at the facts.

I started in the golf business in 1988 and have been working in it ever since in various positions. If you factor out the new high end daily fee courses, like Rush Creek, The Classic, The Legends, I think you would find the average green fee charged in 2013 is virtually the same as the average green fee charged in 1990.

Sure, you can throw caution to the wind and pay $120 to play 18 holes, but you can also play 18 holes walking during twilight times for less than $20.

Yes you can buy a brand new driver for $400, but you can also buy a decent set with a nice bag for $120.

For instance at Green Haven, a weekday season pass is only $652, if you play two times per week you net your green fee down to approximately $11 per 18 holes. Now show me a recreational activity that only costs you around $2.75 per hour.

The second big myth is time, or the time it takes to play 18 holes. At Green Haven our average pace of play is just over four hours – four hours and four minutes to be exact. Now is that a long time? I guess it would depend on your definition.

I know that when I am enjoying a day with friends at the golf course the last thing I want is for it to end too soon. As busy as our lives seem to be these days, when I get that opportunity to play, it is a nice escape from that hectic pace, a great chance to slow down and smell the roses.

The third big issue is the younger generation doesn’t seem to be attracted to the game so that dooms it in the future. I think every generation has said the same thing about the younger generations. They always seem to think the younger generation is falling apart and falling away from everything they loved growing up – just like rock ‘n roll.

We have plenty of kids playing golf at Green Haven and junior programs (such as The First Tee) are booming. And besides, how many of us golfers know someone that didn’t start until they were 40 and are now addicted to the game and play five days per week?

The golf business is still important to the state of Minnesota and its economy. The size of Minnesota’s direct golf economy is $1.2 billion with over 34,000 jobs. The more than 500 courses in the state help filter rain water, provide critical habitat for many Minnesota species, and give us large amounts of green space that we as Minnesotan’s value.

The golf business is like all other businesses in that it has seen ups and downs before and it will see ups and downs in the future. I have faith that the best days of this great game are still in its future, and I hope to be a part of it as a player and employee for many years to come.

Larry Norland is director of golf at Green Haven Golf Course in Anoka.

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