show and tell, part ii

Thursday morning the PGA kicked off the show with a Global Economic Summit featuring speeches from the PGA heads from Scotland, Australia and the US. The format changes from year to year but generally the center-stage presentation consists of 1) big shots reading the tea leaves and seeing big numbers ahead, and/or 2) some equipment guys taking potshots at the USGA, and/or 3) flagwaving. TV talking head Jim Huber got the latter out of the way with a cute but pointless story about being in the Sudan and seeing a little kid hit a rock with a stick, "just like Tiger." Amazingly, Huber's story was as political as the speechifying got this year: the PGA of America is arguably the most politically conservative governing body in any sport -- for instance, I'd guess there's hasn't been a Democratic captain of our Ryder Cup team since oh, maybe Sam Snead (who probably charged ten bucks for his vote) which, heh-heh, might be one reason we keep losing -- and the fact that politics was kept out of this keynote presentation is a rather amazing sign of some understanding among the PGA brain trust just how much people hate this President and his administration.

No rosy forecasts this year, either, because everyone knows the golf business is in the toilet with no way out for the moment. After a period of intensive course-building and promotional efforts such as "Play Golf America," the golf business is flat with the number of rounds played annually decreasing and course development at a standstill. Instead, the speakers at the PGA's "Global Economic Summit" polished the brass with testimony about the trickledown benefits golf brings to local and national economies.
The stagnation in golf might not be puzzling, except we're in the middle of the zenith of maybe like the greatest golfer in history, who appeals to just about every demographic there is. Plus equipment has easier for bad golfers to play than it's ever been before (unfortunately, as far as I'm concerned).
I suppose I should care about the growth of the game, since I'm in the business. Except that for all the trickledown talk, the magazines -- the ones that aren't going out of business -- have steadily been paying less, if anything, and that's not going to change whatever shape the business is in. And so as a golfer and a bit of an elitist, what I personally like about the game of golf hasn't got much to do with making money from it. But I'm not the only golfer who thinks that golf has become expensive and time-consuming. At most public courses you are lucky to finish in five and a half hours. If the course is pleasant enough you might not particularly mind, except the better golf courses are charging at least $75-85, $100 a round. To the degree it's a leisure sport, it's okay for golf to be a waste of time, but not if it's also waste of money. If there's one thing the Scots understand it's that as soon as the game becomes spendthrift, it loses a good deal of its charm. The way that much of the golf industry has come to predicate its success is upon getting golfers to buy equipment every year and pay more for golf as an amenity. Which may work for high-end golfers but doesn't do much for people on a budget. No one is going to feel stupid about shooting 111 on a scorching day in July if it cost 35 bucks using dad's old set of Wilsons -- on the other hand, if you just spent $800 on a new set of clubs and another $125 to get onto the course, your frustration might be incentive enough to cut your losses and not waste that $125 again anytime soon.