Friday, April 29, 2016

Vital Signs, april 29, 2016

     If you ever have trouble falling asleep, start paging through “Golf Facilities in Canada 2015.” The report, published jointly by Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada with assistance from the National Golf Foundation, is a dull inventory of limited and mostly useless data about the nation’s golf business. As part of my long-time commitment to serve the public interest, however, here’s everything you need to know about golf north of the border: Canada has 6 million golfers and, according to the study, a participation rate of 20 percent. (By contrast, the United States has a golf participation rate of about 8.5 percent.) Really, you could stop reading right here if you wanted to. But if you insist, Canada has a total of 2,346 golf facilities, more than 90 percent of them public. (If you’re wondering, the report says that 75 percent of U.S. golf courses are public.) Regarding Canada’s courses, “the overwhelming majority” of them are located within roughly 100 miles of our common border -- which is, by lucky coincidence, also where most Canadians live! Who could have guessed? Finally and thankfully, here’s a marginally interesting tidbit: More than one-third of Canada’s courses are nine-hole tracks.

     The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has set an official target for golf construction: 96 courses by 2020. Seeing as how the nation currently has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 courses, that means home-grown and foreign developers might very well open more than 50 courses in Vietnam over the next five years. (Don’t put it past them.) Of course, such a pace of construction begs an obvious question: Can Vietnam’s resident golfers (all 10,000 of them) and vacationing golfers from other nations (7,000 annually these days) sustain nearly 100 golf courses? I’m betting against.

     In at least one county in the United States, private golf clubs are seeing a little bump in their bottom lines. According to an analysis of tax returns, 20 private clubs in Fairfield County, Connecticut collectively registered a 4.2 percent increase in fees from members in 2014, the last year for which records are available. The increase, combined with income from special assessments that members agreed to cough up, enabled the clubs to spend 15 percent more on capital improvements than they did in 2013. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, and not all of the news from the IRS was good, because the clubs’ income from initiation fees reportedly fell by 9.3 percent. Still, it’s good to have conclusive evidence to support the gut feelings that most observers have about the health of our nation’s private clubs.

     Looking for a place where private clubs are still suffering? Look no further than Auckland, New Zealand’s largest metropolis, where one of every five golf clubs are said to be “technically insolvent.” According to a financial analysis submitted to Auckland Council, the area’s golf clubs are by and large operating in “survival mode” due to over-supply.

     It’s just one small city in a flyover state, but Chaska, Minnesota had what’s been described as an “incredible” golf season in 2015. The boost in play was most evident at the city’s 18-hole track, which reportedly rang up 33,500 rounds last year, 2,500 more than expected. (It’s an 8 percent bonus.) “Our golf course couldn’t get any busier,” Chaska’s city administrator told the Chaska Herald.

     The United States has long been a favored destination for foreign golfers, and their impact on our golf industry is currently being measured by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. “This is undoubtedly the most ambitious project that we have undertaken, considering the sheer size and variety of the USA’s golf destinations and the number of golf courses involved,” the group’s CEO said in a press release. The results of the year-long study will be revealed in June.

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