Golf, like any leisure activity, is very closely tied with the ups and downs of the economy. The economy in its current state appears to be making headway in the right direction; golf on the other hand has continued its decline. Mostly it is a decline of participation, more directly it is not attracting as many new golfers as it is losing. For us golfers, this is going to be a bad thing. More and more courses are going to be forced to close because they just do not get enough play to remain open.
When I think about how we got here, we must first remember that golf has gone through ups and downs in the past. This is certainly not the first decline. Likely it will not be the last and golf will grow again soon. But we should analyze why we have had this recent decline.
People will tell you that there are two problems facing golf. One it takes too much time. The other is that it is too expensive. I just do not buy the second argument. I have heard people say that equipment costs too much. Yes, if you waltz into your local pro shop you can plop down four hundred bucks on a new driver. But that would be foolish. With the Internet there is no reason you can't wander onto eBay and find a second-hand driver from the previous season for less than half that price. Irons work the same way. Go back three seasons and the equipment can go for one tenth of the price. The equipment is not in bad shape and sometimes they were only hit a few times.
Green fees can be pricey if you are trying to play at an expensive course. Yup, that is true, but I would bet there are affordable places to play near you. I live in one of the most expensive places in the U.S. and I can go play on the weekend for less than sixty dollars. Not only that, if I look around on sites that offer tee times, they often have even better deals than that. It might take some work, but golf can be had affordably. Plus, range balls can be had for less than ten dollars and there is a local joint that throws in lunch with the range balls for even less! It is a great way to spend an hour or two and get rid of quite a bit of frustration as well. I suggest bringing a camera to help work on your swing or even a friend who you just haven't seen in a while. Even if they don't play golf they might enjoy the range.
The other problem that folks mention is how much time it takes. There are cases where this is a legitimate argument that I find hard to work around. Some public course can take five hours plus, add driving time and we can be close to six hours. If you have family, that is just enough time for your significant other to get really pissed off at you (on this I speak from experience!). I think that golf courses have to work harder at this. I have seen suggestions like playing nine holes, which is a good suggestion, but a round of golf should take no more than four hours. Preferably three hours and forty-five minutes. More aggressive marshaling, incentivizing golfers who play faster, and more ideas should be discussed by golf courses.
The alternative to the full round of golf can be a large bucket of balls. This can take a little over an hour or maybe two and if you do it early enough in the morning you can be home before the kids wake up. If you have a little more time hopefully your local range has a putting and or chipping green for you to work on your game as well. Golf doesn't always need to be about a full eighteen holes.
Occasionally I will hear the argument that golf is just too hard and that is why people stay away from it. I call baloney on this one as well. There is no doubt that golf is hard, and the better you get at it, the harder it actually gets. Perfection in golf is all but impossible. But this is what has drawn so many of us golfers in, the challenge of improving, setting a goal, and achieving it. Everyone can appreciate how golf is a challenge that is waiting to be taken on by everyone. This is one of the major draws about golf that brought me to the game.
The game of golf will continue on, because it has a really great group of people who play it. Look at most golf forums, and provided they are not arguing about Hogan's right forearm position at A6 they are mostly civil friendly people. We are the game that calls penalties on ourselves. Golf is a stand up game. So now it is our time to give back to the game. Erik J. Barzeski has started a thread here on TST where you can pledge to find a new golfer. He even gave you the opportunity to bring back a lost soul back from golfing Neverland. I encourage you to take the pledge, because it is time that we gave back to this game that we all love.
Photo credits: © Sam Greenwood.