How the Golf Industry Went On a Binge and Got Caught For DUI

Golf has been around for 500 or so years and is not going to die anytime soon.

Download Hireko Golf CatalogI have been in the golf industry for 30 years now and seen a lot of changes both good and bad.   Back then golf was considered a rich man’s game where doctors and bankers would get away in their own sanctuary wearing snazzy clothing to enjoy a quick round at their local country club. I’ll be honest golf was foreign to me growing up as few of my peers every laid foot on a golf course. However, I did follow Jack Nicklaus on TV, a local legendary figure, and held him in reverence in the same way I did Pete Rose, John Havlicek and Fran Tarkington.

Growth in the golf industry started its roots back in the early 80’s. That is where the Hireko’s and Dynacraft’s of the world emerged because investment casting opened the door for new companies to invent, manufacturer and distribute better products. You had the players of the day changing over from century’s old technology like blade-style irons to cavity back models and new-fangled “metal” woods were starting to supplant those wooden beauties. Graphite shafts were better and gaining market share too.

Karma Glitter GripsIf you couldn’t make money in the golf industry in the 1980’s, you were doing something very, very wrong. That continued in the 90’s although you had to work harder to do so. Once more new technology led to customer buying clubs in droves again when golfer eschewed their stainless steel driver for the larger, more high-tech titanium models.

Many middle class families were enjoying golf at record levels. And when Tiger Woods debuted on tour in 1996 and excelled, there was no telling how rapid the growth of golf could become. Golf courses were developed at record pace for the anticipated numbers of new golfers to enter the game. Golf was all-the sudden cool and what could go wrong?

Too much of a good thing
9-11 made us mourn and changed people’s priorities and spending habits. Two wars and an economic melt-down didn’t help either. USGA regulations hampered innovation. Golf companies gobbled up one another and became behemoth companies that had to appease shareholders.  More people took to training for golf teaching jobs than there were positions available. The growth of the 1980’s and 90’s was unsustainable and the golf industry was in denial; no one wanted to hear the truth. Yet the golf industry continued on its’ binge. Defying decade’s long product life cycles, companies began flooding the market with new product after new product only adding fuel to the fire and where the industry stands today.

It is not all doom and gloom
The media will paint a dark picture about the state of the golf industry because they remember the days of wine and roses. I look at it a little differently. The perception has changed and golf is now accessible to far more demographics and is no longer just a rich man’s game. Many people I see on the local golf courses might not be there if it were for those responsible for the innovations in the 80’s and 90’s. Yes participation has declined. So too did tennis and yet it is making a comeback. There may be 5 million fewer golfers than there were a decade ago, but there are still 5 million more players than in 1986. More courses are closing than opening, but that is because they built way too many and we still have more options to play than we did 15 years ago. Course conditions are much improved and so too is the equipment.

With all the negative reporting we still have to remember people are still playing golf and it is not dying anytime soon. There are lots of other activities to stimulate our senses and occupy our valuable time. Yoga is trendy right now. You can bet companies will capitalize on it while the fire’s hot. But will it have a two decade bender the golf industry enjoyed? No one can tell, but usually the slow but steady win the race at the end.

Answers or solutions
Many say golf is too expensive and I would have to argue. OK, it can be if you want the latest and greatest immediately when it comes out. Golf courses are vying for the same dwindling pool of players and as a result rates are low. As for purchasing golf equipment there are lots of different price points and avenues than the traditional retailer route. That’s why I proud to be at Hireko even though I know we and our brands (Acer, Dynacraft, Power Play, etc.) may never be household names.

One of the biggest obstacles is golf can be time consuming, especially at newer courses that are extremely long to appease the better player. But the problem is the golf industry has had a top down approach by going after the upper echelon of players and hoping it has a trickle-down effect. Maybe it needs to implement a bottom’s up approach to get more golfers involved by having access to shorter courses like par 3’s or executives. It would cost courses less to operate and golfers cold play quicker and possibly with less clubs which will further reduce expenses. Over time, many of those players will get hooked and play their local regulation courses.

Golf has been around for 500 or so years and is not going to die anytime soon. I have learned over the years how trends change; some just last longer than others. When things change you adapt or get out of the way. While we may never again encounter the rare success as seen in the go-go ‘80s, there are still opportunities in the golf business.


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