The lead article by Roger Blitz acknowledged the positives for the game. These include the growing TV revenues, steady viewership figures, well rewarded elite players, recognisable new markets, and the fact that the game will feature in the 2016 Olympics. Yet, the article was titled 'Sport stuck in a rut has to get a grip on its future' (allowing for the fact that the title may well have been chosen by a sub-editor). According to Blitz, the rut that golf is stuck in appears to be its image problem. It is viewed as "boring". And, the reason it is stuck in that rut is because of the power structure of the sport. It is run by amateur players in charge of governing bodies and there is a problem with competition between the US and European tours.
Another problem that golf has is its format. Richard Gillis documents how those less time constrained over 65 averaged a round a week whereas those under 30 averaged only seven rounds a year. Time constraints are one of the problems contributing to a massive decrease in participation. Gillis quotes the head of the National Golf Foundation in the US saying one six golfer were lost to the game over that last decade. The fall in participation is one of the reasons for a drop in sales of golf equipment. An increase in supply has resulted in large decreases in price. Ed Stack, chief executive of Dick's Sporting Goods, says that in the space of 20 months drivers that were selling for €299 are now retailing for €99. As a result, Dick's Sporting Goods announced it would lay off about 500 PGA-qualified professionals it employs to sell golf equipment.
The drop off in participation in primarily amongst males in mature markets. Sarah Stirk explains how the female market is growing - although not a quickly as it might. One of the problems attracting female golfer is the discrimination against females when it comes to access. While it is acknowledged that things are improving, it is also clear that there is a distance to equality.
There are clear growth opportunities in less developed markets. According to Samantha Pearson there are only 120 golf courses in Brazil whereas a country of comparable size (the US) has 15,000 courses. However, the difficulties constructing the course for the Olympics in 2016 could be symptomatic of problems in growing these markets.
There are many interesting articles in the Financial Times Special Report but the one I liked best was the one by Richard Gillis titled 'A lament for the lost art of shot-making'. The title gives a good indication of what is in the article. One of the fascinating observations by Fred Couples is the change in driving distance over the last 30 years. He earned the nickname "boom, boom" when he was averaging a driving distance of 280 yards. Nowadays, he says, the game passes by those who don't hit it 320 yards. This observation is consistent with a previous post on this blog (here). To what extent is this improvement due to human improvement or improvement in the equipment? If this improvement manifested itself in cycling then it would be attributed to drugs. Maybe golf does not have as big an image problem as other sports.