Friday, February 24, 2017

Vital Signs, february 24, 2017

     For the first time in years, the Golf Industry Show has posted a number worth crowing about. Last month’s show attracted 13,600 attendees, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, exactly 1,000 more than it lured in 2016. Not only does the number indicate a solid increase in attendance – 8 percent – but it represents the third consecutive year of growth for the GIS: 12,400 showgoers in 2015, 12,600 in 2016, and 13,600 in 2017. Of course, all these numbers are down from the 14,147 posted in 2014 and not anywhere close to the 25,737 posted in 2008, before the Great Recession sucked the life out of our business. Still, the GCSAA is completely justified when it claims “rising attendance.” If the GIS is an economic indicator, it’s provided a reason to be optimistic.

     More welcome news: PGA Junior League Golf attracted 36,000 boys and girls last year, a a record level of participation. The number reflects a 20 percent increase from the 30,000 children who were part of the league last year and a 300 percent increase from the 9,000 who played in 2013. What’s more, the president of the PGA of America believes another record-setting season is on the horizon. “We expect this exponential growth to continue in 2017,” Paul Levy said in a press release. The league, one of the PGA’s grow-the-game initiatives, was established in 2011, with just 170 players.

     In a new report on “The REAL State of Golf,” the Sports & Leisure Research Group sets out to distinguish between some facts and fictions that relate to our business. But as we all know, truths are often difficult to pin down. To cite just one example: Most golf-industry observers believe that golf participation in the United States has been falling for a decade or more, and they can provide evidence to support their opinion: After all, data indicates that our nation had 31.5 million golfers in 2003 and 24.1 million in 2015. If you plot the year-by-year numbers on a bar graph, a decline is apparent. This view, however, is apparently a distortion – an example of a golf fiction. So SLR puts the numbers into a broader perspective. It provides a graph indicating that the number of U.S. golfers has been fundamentally unchanged since 1990, when the count was 24.2 million. When viewed through this lens, the number of U.S. golfers simply grew, peaked, and then returned to where it started and, presumably, where it belongs. There was no decline. There was a blip. So what’s the fact and what’s the fiction? Are we better off today than we were in 2003 or even 1990? Unfortunately, SLR provides no guidance. I’ve read the study, and I still don’t know the real state of golf.

     Although investments in golf-related residential real estate are no sure thing, it appears that home buyers in some wealthy areas of Florida are still willing to pay a premium for fairway views. In 2015, according to data compiled by Florida Atlantic University, houses adjacent to golf courses in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties fetched 8 to 12 percent more than similar houses elsewhere. “There is strong evidence to conclude that golf courses remain a positive draw to potential property owners,” one of the professors noted in a press release. Let the buyer beware, however: Florida Atlantic reviewed sales in a small, rich part of a warm-weather state populated by retirees who like to golf. Similar studies of real-estate transactions in other U.S. markets might not yield the same results.

     In an experiment that Golf Digest calls “genius” and “slightly diabolical,” a resort in Missouri is allowing golfers to choose between paying for golf the traditional way, by the number of holes they play, or by the amount of time they spend on the course. The Lodge of Four Seasons thinks a fair price is $10 an hour for time-based play, or maybe a little more at busy times of the day. It’s nice to think that maybe the resort is responding to the needs and desires of its time-pressed customers, but the various forms “dynamic pricing” we’re seeing in the marketplace these days don’t have anything to do with consumer empowerment. Lodge of Four Seasons is merely trying to squeeze an extra $10 or $20 out of a guest who’s looking to kill a little time while the rest of the family is splashing around at the pool. That being said, let’s give the resort credit for reminding us of a verity we sometimes forget: Time is money.

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