My head has been swimming in golf thoughts lately...all kinds of them. First, and most importantly, after 5 months without swinging a club I finally played golf last Saturday! It was awesome to have golf shoes on my feet and tees in my pockets again. My swing definitely had to shake off the cobwebs, and off-season arm and neck issues proved that they're not quite ready to leave me yet, but I still loved the heavenly sound of my ball dropping into the cup on each hole, even if it took me an extra shot or two to get there (and just for the record, I'm 1-0 vs. Gunner!). Now that my clubs have found their way to the back of my car, they will be there until November. Ah, golf season is finally here.
But I realize it's not like that for everyone, and in this changing and more challenging economy I think for a lot of people golf becomes expendable...and that gets me to start thinking about the business side of golf.
Vendors and attendees were down this year at the PGA golf show in February (down 4.5%), but it wasn't nearly as bad as other merchandise trade shows. We're still seeing new lines of clubs, balls, and apparel items, but some sales forces, such as Titleist have been trimmed. As more people re-evaluate their discretionary spending, bigger ticket items, such as new clubs, and even season passes or memberships, might not make the cut this year (thank goodness for 2putt for helping the golf economy!).
The professional side of golf is also struggling. Just this week we could read the Golf International article about the LPGA Corning Classic ceasing to exist after this year...that coming after seeing the 2009 LPGA schedule with 3 less tournaments on it. Ouch. The PGA tour is faring better with more sponsorship extensions being announced, but more commitments will be up after next year and it's hard to know right now if all of these companies can afford to fork over $4-5 million to be the title sponsor anymore.
And we can't forget about Buick not being able to afford Tiger anymore...
There are a lot of conversations in the golf world about the globalization of the game and how more players are going to "follow the money" outside of the States. I guess you can't really blame them, since it is their livelihood, but how long will it take before international travel takes it toll? Will players be willing to play for the same or a little less here if our economy doesn't rebound fast enough? Can we just take a step back and realize that maybe we went a little bananas a few years back made costs and purses too high?
If you read Sam "insert new nickname here" Johnson's latest post (and you should), he ponders Tiger's greatness, or potentially the lack thereof since taking some time off last year. He points out that the success of the PGA tour is because of Tiger, and that fans pay money to see him, not Brian Gay. So maybe the solution to the golf economic downturn is to just have 15 "Tiger Tournaments" on the schedule and double the sponsorship costs and the purses. Players still have a chance to make good money, but they'll have to do it in half of a season...and with Tiger in every field. Probably not the best news for the other 143 players, but the sponsors sure would be happy!
Tiger could play from the tips and even enter a few LPGA events to help with marketing - I'm sure Michelle Wie would love that.
It saddens me a little to think that the success of the PGA tour is dependent on one person, but I guess the numbers don't lie. If Sam is right, and Tiger is shedding some of his greatness, I truly hope that the marketing minds in the golf world are working on a new plan right now. We're all riding on those coattails and heaven only knows where we'll end up if we let go (even if it's a year or two from now) without a new roadmap.
I will be interested to see how the business side of golf continues to change and evolve, and I'm hopeful that our economy will not be a barrier for people to enjoy all that golf can give. But closer to home, as I get ready to start another golf season, I'm really going to take time to be thankful for the opportunity I have to play the game I love. It may mean a few less dinners out and foregoing the new irons this year, but to me, it's definitely worth the sacrifice. I've got a tee time at 4pm today...I can't wait!
Filed under: Tiger, marketing, economy, LPGA, Sam Johnson, sponsorship