Do we really want to close a golf course a day?

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Robert Vasilak, in a recent opinion column on this site, said that “it's apparent that the idea of building "a course a day" was a ticking time bomb. The NGF's research, the foundation of the construction program, simply didn't pan out.”

He said that the National Golf Foundation is now, in effect, calling for the closure of a golf course a day, which he says is equally misguided as it would hurt play among affordable golf courses. He writes …

“The NGF says that the nation's most at-risk facilities -- the ones most likely to close -- are older nine-hole courses, par-3 and executive-length 18-hole tracks, and courses that offer cheap greens fees.

“It just so happens that these are the places that typically give birth to and nurture new golfers. If we lose 2,000 of these "affordable" golf courses, where will we be five, 10, or 20 years from now, when our industry is disproportionately stocked with private tracks and $75- to $100-a-round daily-fee layouts? Where will beginners learn to play? Where will the nation's First Tee programs establish themselves?

“And what about seniors and blue-collar golfers? Where will they play when affordable courses disappear?

“How does the NGF propose to grow the game without a critical mass of low-cost, low-pressure venues? Why does it presume that the rounds currently being played on low-priced courses will simply transfer to more expensive tracks?

"Personally, I don't think it's going to happen. I fear that the number of U.S. golfers will simply continue to shrink, due to the high cost of entry. Which means that things will just keep getting worse."

So, do you agree with Vasilak?


Right on Robert! A good analogy is used cars. Why not buy a new car as your first purchase? Because first time buyers usually can't afford a new car but can buy a used one which requires less money. The NGF has some very good ambitions but just doesn't know how to make them work. The key to the golf industry's survival is the simple most effective selling tool ever developed...create a need - a reason to buy and show value to justify the investment. A membership in a private country is a "personal reward" and a way of life. How much is this worth? A new mentality is needed in the management of private clubs. Managers must realize they are in the "dues business" not the golf business. Top priorities and allocated dollars should be directed to maintaining membership levels. Back to Robert's comments, "keep the teasers out there(low green fee facilities)they will bring in the big prize"

I had the opportunity to read the full editorial on Bob Vasilak's blog. I agree 100% with Bob's comments. Plus, I attended the first Golf Summit (1986?) when Joe Beditz outlined the need to open a "new course every day" until the year 2000. Ooooops. The NGF's projections were based on statistics that didn't follow the likely trends available in 1986. And, though I am unclear of the exact year(s), I am aware that the NGF did make modifications and corrections to their projections starting in the mid-90's (I believe). A little late some might argue, but the projection miscalculations were addressed. Regarding Bob's retort to the unidentified "NGF VP" about which courses were "most" likely to close (older 9-hole courses, Par-3 courses, Executive courses, and courses offering "cheap" greens fees)", well, I again agree 100% with Bob's response to that statement. However, the NGF didn't really say: "Those courses WERE going to collapse." I think that statement was a well-intended (maybe even protective) misspeak on the NGF representatives part. Any course poorly managed or marketed is at risk of demise in these economic times. To single out the above types of courses for ruin was simply incorrect or only part of a thought-response. I work with a lot of upscale public-access courses (and "others", too) that are in financial trouble now. Golf courses' economic turmoil is more tied to debt (like our current US economy) than the 'type' of course they are. If positioned in your market properly, managed well, and marketed aggressively you will succeed, right? Only if debt isn't strangling you. When the red ink is too much to cover you're in trouble. I agree with Bob's comments. And, I'll bet the unnamed NGF VP would like to reword his comment regarding the courses "most at risk of closing". The NGF has it's faults as we all do. This, I believe, unintended earmarking probably was taken out of context to some degree. JSB

I have read the NGF data regarding the courses most at risk of closing. It states that one of the reasons they are more at risk is because the costs associated with running the shorter 9-hole facilities is about 70% of a regulation 18-hole course. Therefore, with the lower revenues and higher expenses it puts those courses more at risk. Sounds logical but I know it is not the same in every situation or location. So look at your data and then you decide whether you agree or not. I don't agree with Bob's blog because we have to interprit the data, review our own data, and then make our own conclusion. The NGF is a great source of information but with all due respect, they do not run my business. I do agree with Amos's comments and we need to stop worrying about the downfall of golf or closing of facilities. Instead we need to seriously research what changes should be made to our game to increase play.

The NGF is clueless. Its data, etc. is usually good, but its analysis has zero value. Within the industry, its feasibility studies had (have) zero cred. The courses at risk are the courses built in the mid-1990s and later. They spent too much $$ on clubhouses and designs, cannot generate the fees (or dues) to sustain themselves, and were often built with land restrictions prohibiting alternative use or future development.

Not all golf clubs will stay in business. Darwin was right! Courses are competing for dollars from people who have more choices and less time than ever before. Delighting customers, treating them well and encouraging trial by new prospective customers seesm to be a good starting point to competing effectively.

This is an interesting quote: "I fear that the number of U.S. golfers will simply continue to shrink, due to the high cost of entry. Which means that things will just keep getting worse." If this industry keeps doing the same thing as it is doing and has been doing for the last 20 years then this will come true. Albert Einstein said it best: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is INSANITY! So we at Boxgroove decided to do something different to help the game. Why not take a lot of that excess unused capacity at private clubs and let these clubs push this inventory to golfers yet they remain in control of how often, price, handicap, geography and/or club affiliation. There is a marketing phenomenon called “The Endowment Effect” that these courses can now utilize. Everybody wins here: the private club, the members of the private clubs whose dues stay flat or avoid an assessment, and, of course, the Boxgroove member who can play a variety of golf courses. Increasing revenue is not achieved by lowering the price or using a discount service. The answer is classic yield utilization and anybody who has been in the hotel or airline business can tell you about how important this is to staying in business! By giving people more access they are keeping them involved with the game and we will grow the game. Anytime somebody is talking about an experience at a course that is a good thing. Isn't it? Tell me one company that wouldn't want a customer saying to a friend over dinner - you know Bob - I just played this course and it was great. You mentioned you want a vacation home you should look at this course I just played......." Is it tradition that keeps a club from changing? Is it the same tradition that paralyzes a club as it fails and goes into bankruptcy? Will the club be eulogized as a club that kept its chin up and resisted change as it drown? Many readers in this forum may have heard of what Boxgroove is doing to help private clubs. This week I followed up with six clubs that I spoke to less than 6 months ago. Two are now owned by the bank. The other 4 have no initiation. If you have no initiation right now are you really that exclusive anymore? Sure you used to have a 50K initiation then again AIG used to be a $200 dollar stock! Golf will grow when it becomes more inclusive...inclusive of juniors, women, minorities and the recreational golfer. We are helping solve the high cost of entry for those who are ready and for those who may come in the future!

As a golf professional that has been in the business for the past 45 years I have seen many changes in the industry. Yes,times have changed and we have to change with it. We can debate the reasons that private country clubs are in trouble and try to lay blame on the NGF or the economy. But lets be honest, private country clubs themselves are at the root of it all. They are not only killing themselves but in turn killing the game. It all starts with bringing in new players to the game. How do we do that? By providing quality golf instruction, affordability,consistent service,and losing the attitude of entitlement.

I think NGF is funny how they hire golf architects, local real estate appraisers, and a few other "consultants" to review different "elements" for a feasibility report. A few years later after the report is utilized all the sudden some of these same people have contracts with the facilities. How can a group that has tons of conflicts of interest keep doing things such as this. Google a NGF report, several are available on the web since lots are public info from government agencies.

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