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Will our kids golf? I have occasionally played, watched and enjoyed golf throughout my life. Yet, I doubt the sport will appeal to future generations for a few specific reasons. First, golf is not the most sustainable use of land. Second, golf is a fun sport, if you are currently a golfer, but may not broadly appeal to new customers. What would golf need to gain popularity?
You may have already started typing up an email to tell me how wrong I am to hate on golf. I understand. Golf seems to be one of the most popular topics of conversation in our industry. If you are in an office and look up from this article right now, I bet you see someone wearing a golf shirt. In the work-from-home landscape of 2021, you may be golfing right now, for all I know.
I’m not trying to talk you out of being a golfer, but I am skeptical that the golf appeal will span further generations.
Sustainable use of land
The Guardian published an article examining the world of golf quite contentiously (http://bit.ly/3cdSOvm). One report sourced from a British organization called Tourism Concern mentioned that an average golf course in a tropical country, such as Thailand, uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers in a year. That is a pretty big environmental price tag for a sport where only 72 people can participate at the same time on roughly 150 acres of land.
Some ecosystems are better suited for sustainable golf than others. St. Andrews in Scotland is arguably the birthplace of golf. The course annually receives about 25 inches of rain, so it isn’t the rainiest place in the British Isles. Las Vegas averages about 4 inches of rain a year, making St. Andrews look like a rainforest. Desert destinations such as Las Vegas are highly popular for golf, even though a single blade of golfable grass could not survive the climate without assistance.
The desert climate golf courses across the United States could lose their goodwill for water access in the future. Las Vegas is so serious about conservation that you can be fined if you use water for landscape irrigation more than one day a week in the winter. They even assign specific watering days based on your location (http://bit.ly/3rAOSva). Yet, you can drive to more than 10 emerald-green golf courses located near the city center.
Will there be a day in a city such as Las Vegas where the residents collectively decide they would rather have less regulated home water use than many golf courses? In the Vegas area, are there enough golfers to keep funneling limited water resources to public and private golf courses?
Today, the answer is probably a solid yes. However, the water currently used to keep the Bermuda grass looking tropical could be used in a multitude of other ways by a much larger group of nongolfing citizens.
Scottsdale, Arizona, has used reverse osmosis filters to treat wastewater for golf course use since 1998 to reduce freshwater dependency. Twenty-three local golf courses invested in a filtration system to supply water for their courses (http://bit.ly/3rCdC66). In the winter, these courses consume 3 million to 5 million gallons of water per day.
Will a tax-based group or business sector in Scottsdale be willing to pay a higher price per gallon than these golf courses? What if it came down to either golf or flushing thousands of area toilets?
Many courses, associations and industry advocates claim the golf industry is working hard to be sustainable. A group called Golf Saudi has a flowery website declaring it is at the forefront of golf sustainability in the country (https://bit.ly/3erUNic). Here is the thing: there isn’t a single permanent river in Saudi Arabia. Not one. Golf can’t be made sustainable in every corner of the globe, especially the driest deserts.
The longer-term issue for golf is that young people often make spending decisions based on sustainability. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products, notes an Inc. article (http://bit.ly/30vF0XE). Golf would need to shake wasteful labels, or consumer habits would need to change for younger generations to support the sport.
For the second topic, I argue that golf is a sport built primarily for white guys. You might say that not all golfers are men, and you would be correct. Some statistics by pro-golf groups such as the National Golf Foundation show that only 77 percent of golfers are men.
You might point out that Condoleezza Rice is a woman who enjoys golf. The former U.S. Secretary of State was even allowed to join Augusta National Golf Course in (checks date) 2012, making her one of the first female members (http://nyti.ms/3bAtZKW). However, U.S. Golf Association pro women earn roughly 45 percent of what men do, a number that has remained consistent for the last 30 years, reports an ESPN article (https://es.pn/2Ok2xIz).
For a sport to grow, it will have to attract a wider audience. In this regard, golf might face an uphill battle if women are flocking to the sport. I recently talked to an engineer who noted that golf events for work are constant reminders that she is not on equal footing with her male peers, literally.
“Can you stop the cart at the women’s tee box?” she would begrudgingly ask the guys in her group. They needed to remember to go out of their way to stop at a different location designed to be a less challenging task, the tee box for women. Imagine reminding your work peers 18 times a day at the office that you need an easier assignment than they have.
This might be enough to discourage golf participation among women, especially as a work outing with their bosses and male peers. The number of women playing golf hasn’t grown in the last six years, the National Golf Foundation reports (http://bit.ly/3bAXAUo).
Golf will need someone to fight for it. The question is, who? If younger people would rather spend money on a more sustainable activity and women aren’t gaining interest, the current white, male golfers will have to live a very long time.
Today, the United States has about 16,000 golf courses, with many located in places requiring enormous quantities of water to sustain. At this rate, golf courses across the country may be transformed into fancy dog parks for aging millennial men and women where they can retire with their electric cars instead. That sounds more widely appealing.