Why is Golf Struggling? It’s the Economy, Stupid

Too time consuming. Not enough fun. Too difficult. Pundits blame golf’s declining participation rate on a variety of ailments. But the real culprit is the industry’s sky-high green fees.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Just as a government’s fate is inevitably determined by the financial outlook, so goes golf. Yes, it’s an extraordinarily difficult game that more people quit than stick with. And a round of golf stretching five hours or longer is a tight squeeze in these increasingly hectic times. But the biggest reason for golf’s declining participation numbers—a drop of 25 per cent over the past decade—is that it’s just too darned expensive for the budgets of most people.

In most parts of Canada, a $50 round is considered a bargain. But for a working class man or woman even that bargain green fee represents desperately needed money out of an already stretched budget; money better spent on food, or rent, or clothes for the kids.

So far, nothing earthshaking. Golf has always been a game enjoyed mostly by the middle and upper classes with time and money to spare. But, as has been well documented, North America’s middle class is shrinking rapidly, and the debt load carried by most families is growing just as fast.

All of which is why it comes as no surprise that one of the most popular feature stories on this website is Nine Unsung—But Must-Play—Canadian Courses, a survey of gorgeous and brilliantly designed courses across the country that also happen to offer bargain rates.

Only the very rich can afford to pay green fees of $150 or more every time they tee it up. The golf industry had better grasp this obvious truth before it’s too late.