May 6, 2010: Mark Twain once commented that "Golf is a good walk, ruined." Apparently, more people are taking his words to heart.
In 2009, there were 486 million rounds of golf played on courses nationwide, down from 518 million rounds played in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation. NGF, based in Jupiter, Fla., said that leading factors contributing to the decline are weather and the economy.
Golf has attracted the interest of more casual and non-golf fans this year due to the headlines being made by Tiger Woods off the course and Phil Mickelson's achievements on the course, including winning The Masters in April. However, that interest has not translated well for golf courses themselves. According to NGF, the decline has continued in 2010, with the number of rounds of golf played down 12.4% in the first three months of this year versus the same period in 2009.
The NGF also said the number of golfers in the U.S. has fallen for each of the past several years. Beginning with a peak in 2005 when more than 30 million golfers hit courses across the nation, the numbers were down to 29.5 million golfers in 2007 and 28.6 million golfers in 2008. (Numbers for 2009 have not yet been released to the public.)
However, two golf retailers have taken measures to help reverse this decline.
Golfsmith, which operates 75 retail stores across the country, has teamed with more than 70 golf courses to launch "Free Golf Month," during which it plans to give vouchers for upward of 50,000 rounds of golf to customers who have a minimum in-store purchase of $99. Golfsmith said the average free round is valued at $45-$50.
Separately, an online boutique for women's golf apparel, accessories, gear and fitness products has launched at Golf4Her.com. According to "webtique" founder and golfer Christina Thompson, golf retailers stock less than 15% of their inventory for women. "Golf4Her.com is 100% for women [and] caters to the growing number of female golfers who want to look chic, sexy and fashionable on the golf course."
Golfsmith said that its promotion is a win-win for for golf because offering free rounds makes golf a bit more affordable for customers and will also benefit golf courses by potentially attracting new golfers to their courses. And Golfsmith also benefits. "With our ‘Free Golf Month’ promotion we’re now providing our customers a free pass and access to our network of great courses throughout the country while setting ourselves apart from the competition,” Marty Hanaka, CEO at Austin, Texas-based Golfsmith, said in a statement.
The vouchers, one per customer while supplies last, are good at participating golf courses that have partnered with Golfsmith locations in their respective areas. (Full details here).
“We’re making golf very affordable,” said Hanaka. “Despite the challenging economic climate we are giving our customers exactly what they want - the opportunity to play more golf."
Golf4Her.com said its strategy is to tap into what the National Golf Foundation defines as one of the fastest growing demographics in the game, with an estimated 6.5 million women who are avid golfers.
"At Golf4Her, our goal is to inspire women to look and feel their best on and off the course", Thompson said in a statement. To that end, Golf4Her said it has partnered with the golf industry's top designers to offer the "latest styles, newest fabrics and hottest trends" in women's golf fashion.
"At Golf4Her, our goal is to inspire women to look and feel their best on and off the course", said Thompson. "We hope to be the first stop when shopping for golf apparel and accessories."
Thompson said the new site also offers a live chat feature that provides visitors with real-time support.