If you spend any amount of time at corporate retreats, offsites and workshops, as I do, golf is ubiquitous. Bonding takes place on the course, the post-game conviviality is shared, and team-building exercises pairing golfers and non-golfers are part of the fabric of many such events. Indeed, a lack of proficiency at the game has even been blamed by serious scholars as a source of career disadvantage for women.
But, lo and behold, the transient advantage phenomenon seems to be undermining the continued success of the golf model and of the businesses that have grown up around the game. BusinessWeek reports that the number of golfers in the US has dropped 24% from its peak in 2002, to 23 million players today. It lost over a million regular players in 2013 alone, according to the magazine. Evidence that golf is no longer the sure bet to career building that it once was perceived to be is all around us. Golf courses are closing. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a major retailer, burned by inventories and slow-moving merchandise just announced that they are “giving up” on golf as a growth category. And uptake of the sport among millennials is in full retreat.
Pundits have named a number of factors for the decline in interest in golf, among them that the game is hard, expensive and time-consuming to learn, that it reeks of exclusivity unattractive to inclusion minded young people, and that with the explosion of other mechanisms for networking it really isn’t necessary for building effective networking relationships. Tiger Wood’s marital troubles have even been prominently mentioned. Something that I haven’t come across in the many articles bemoaning the fate of golf is the likely impact of two-working-parent families on either partner’s ability to take the four or more hours to play on a regular basis. I know in my household, had my husband bailed out on the treadmill that is a modern parents’ weekend to futz with friends on a golf course, he would have burned through an awful lot of marriage credits.
So, golf promoters – looks like it’s time for a new strategy. The specter of once-popular sports becoming marginalized, such as horse racing and boxing, lurks.