Fits to a 'tee': Golf is 'fore' everyone, and economically it's a great time to be a golfer
Friday, April 14, 2017
Jack Fry, director of the golf course management program at Kansas State University, says new options make golf affordable for everyone. | Download this photo.
MANHATTAN — Because of the golf industry's downsizing after the Great Recession, the sport is more affordable and accessible than ever, according to a golf course management expert at Kansas State University.
"There has always been a misconception that golf was only for the wealthy, but there are new options that are inexpensive and easy to start," said Jack Fry, director of the undergraduate golf course management program and professor of horticulture and natural resources.
Since 2008, more private courses have closed than opened, but Fry said the golf industry is responding in several ways, including gym-golf course hybrids, various golf-related spin-off games and the potential for shorter courses to cater to busy players.
Some companies are purchasing struggling courses, revamping them into fitness centers with the golf course as a secondary offering, and reopening the businesses as part of chains. Fry said the monthly fees for these courses are similar to the prices of typical gym memberships, and they allow players to golf at any location owned by the same company.
"These kinds of deals are making golf more accessible than it's ever been," Fry said. "It's a game for everybody."
The industry also is responding to the recession with a new option: interactive golf restaurants. At these businesses, groups of players do not have to walk anywhere and instead can sit at tables and eat and drink between shots, Fry said. Players direct drives and approach shots at targets, where they earn points based on distance and accuracy. Microchips on each ball keep track of players' points. Fry said the game's sociability level is on par with bowling, and this version of the game only takes an hour, compared to the three to five hours spent on a traditional round of golf.
"That's been very successful and has offered another way for people to participate in golf that is shorter time span and allows for socializing within a larger group," Fry said.
Another golf spinoff that is growing in popularity is footgolf, which combines soccer and golf. Players try to kick a soccer ball into 21-inch-wide holes in the fewest amount of kicks. Kansas State University's Recreational Services is holding an intramural foot golf competition on April 9 in Manhattan. Register online.
"Any exposure to golf in any way is helpful to the overall industry," Fry said. "Golf leaders are generally happy about anything that will get people curious about the game of golf. Whether exposure comes through putt-putt, golf-related restaurants or footgolf, they've been introduced to the game."
After becoming acquainted with golf, new players can become more familiar with the game by taking a lesson at a local golf facility. Also, Fry said some municipalities offer group lessons through their parks and recreation departments.
"Lessons are a great way for people who do not have any experience to become more familiar with golf because beginners are welcomed and encouraged," Fry said.
To accommodate busy lifestyles for seasoned golfers, Fry said there is discussion of opening shorter courses, where instead of 18 or nine holes, there would be just three to five holes. Fry said these courses would be a logical next step for those of all ages who are interested in the game, and they could allow those who have an hour or two after work to play a short round of golf.
"The idea is to get people out there to enjoy something after work, and then they're free for the rest of the evening," Fry said.