Mid-Missouri, U.S. golf market hitting a wall
COLUMBIA - When it comes to golf, there are a lot of choices that need to be made.
What club to use, where to aim, or how hard to hit the ball are questions that routinely come up on the course. Maybe the toughest decision, however, comes before all of that: where to play?
PGA Head Golf Professional at A.L. Gustin Golf Course Jim Knoesel said the boom of one popular golfer contributed to the mass increase in courses.
"After Tiger Woods came on the scene in the late '90s, early 2000s, golf experienced a big upswing in players, you know an economic boom for the sport," he said. "There were corresponding increases in the supply of holes. The number of courses increased and it worked out great for four, five, six years, but then the players started decreasing again and you then you were left with the over-supply of golf courses."
More golf courses closed than opened in 2013 for the eighth straight year, according to the National Golf Foundation.
But Knoesel said there are 13 courses, three private and 10 public, within a 30 minutes drive of Mizzou's Jesse Hall.
"At least in mid-Missouri, there's too many golf courses, there's too many holes, there's too much inventory," he said.
On top of that, the interest level to play has been decreasing. According to the National Golf Foundation, the golf industry lost about 400,000 players last year.
Knoesel and Travis McCubbin, General Manager at the Club at Old Hawthrone, say it's been a struggle to continue to be profitable and the time and expenses that go into golf turn people away.
"There are a lot of other sports where you buy shoes and you buy a ball and immediately you can start to play. Golf is much more than that," McCubbin said.
Participation among those aged 18-34 fell about 13% between 2009 and 2013 to 6.5 million, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. To combat this, Knoesel said he and other clubs are focusing on teaching and growing youth golfers.
"We're really investing a lot of our time and energy trying to grow the game with the next generation," he said. "The problem with that is you have a lag time. You know, you have a 10-15 year lag time before the people you're introducing golf to turn into fee paying golfers."
But McCubbin said he thinks the work will pay off.
"Usually, people who play young, they continue to play," he said. "Very rarely do they put it down and stop playing."
It's not just the golf courses who are having issues however. Even the producers of golf equipment have felt the pain.
"There's only so much they can do with drivers now, there's only so much they can do with irons," Knoesel said. "It's become really difficult for the companies, TaylorMade, Titlist, Callaway, they're trying to innovate, except there's not much left to do."
TaylorMade Golf, the world's biggest maker of golf clubs and clothes, saw sales nosedive 28 percent last year, according to its parent company Addidas.
McCubbin said people are more aware now that new clubs aren't necessarily better.
"A set of irons from this year is probably not any better than a set of irons from two years ago. They just can't improve them that much. They might look a little better, they might look a little different," he said. "But for the most part it's not going to be a major improvement to someone's game."
For now, Knoesel said all he can do is continue to try and entice players and wait out the decline.
"The knee-jerk reaction of golf businesses is to lower prices, but I don't think it's prices that are keeping people from playing," he said. "You can play 18 holes with a cart for 35-40 bucks on a weekend. I mean people spend $25 to get their haircut for five minutes."
As for the future, McCubbin said he believes golf clubs in central Missouri won't be closing due to the growing community in and around Columbia as long as more aren't built.