Winners and Losers

Is the Golf Industry healthy?

As a long-time enthusiast and participant within the golf industry, I've witnessed firsthand the challenges clubs and golf businesses face, especially as businesses directly correlated to the larger economy: fluctuating membership rates, the struggle to maintain and grow revenue, and the temptations to cut expenses.

During the pandemic, the golf industry experienced a great resurgence. Stuck in the house, many of us connected with influencers like Rick Shiels, Eric Anders Lang, and the "No Laying Up" crew. We watched them play links golf in Scotland and Ireland, re-connecting with the roots of the game. Suddenly, courses like Royal Dornoch were booked out a year in advance. Golf travel is growing, and from this lens, the industry appears healthy.

But there's another side. The pandemic disrupted commerce for two seasons, wounding many businesses in the very regions now in higher demand. Any attempts to satisfy the massive global demand for these iconic regions are often at odds with local attempts to preserve what is iconic. The local businesses struggle to make the investments required to meet the expectations of the more and more well-heeled golf visitors.

Throw in the increasing economic divide between “haves” and “have nots” and you have – in many cases, for the first time ever - the realization setting in that there will be winners and losers, even among the well-situated and well-pedigreed.

Many businesses that would never have looked outside for new ideas now must. The traditional revenue model is no longer sufficient. It failed a large percentage of family businesses, and the macro threats of war and pandemics may only increase. Golf tours to iconic regions often ignore struggling local businesses that can't match the experience expectations set by elite courses.

There's a challenge here. And maybe an opportunity. Golf tours to the most iconic places are expensive, and while the winners have no interest in changing their successful business model, those struggling need to find a new one. And, for the first time in generations, they may be forced to act.

So, what to do?

A larger strategy for the well-situated and well-pedigreed, but ignored? I think it will take some trial and error, some innovation . . . but not massive amounts. The main thing required is a different mindset.

Life is fast. Business is fast. Maybe too fast for too many. The primary model for Golf Travel - blitz the most iconic jewels in the most iconic golf regions - is too fast.

Winners and losers. I think the answer for those who do not benefit from speed will be to embrace what is slow. Experiential. Immersive. Memberships vs. daily fee. Stay in one place and change speeds.

Is the Golf Industry healthy? I think it’s different; in a way it has never been. The answer for golf businesses who struggle for survival against the “winners” in the current model? The winners now locked into a model that might dry up in a sudden economic downturn? The winners whose travel model is full of constant movement and consumption, on planes, buses, and helicopters, in delicate local environments, with very little interaction with the locals?

I think it’s a good time to stop following the "winners".