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Golf's powerful role in the economy and society
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The Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale is known as "The Greatest Show on Grass" for its raucous, party-like atmosphere. But the tournament got even better this year with a record-breaking attendance of more than 200,000 during the third round. Won by Hideki Matsuyama in an exciting playoff against Rickie Fowler, the tournament ultimately set a new attendance record for the week with 618,365, despite the absence of Tiger Woods.
In 2011 the World Golf Foundation estimated that golf was a $68.8 billion industry. Although that represents a decline from $75.9 billion in 2005, the sport still generated a total impact on the US economy of $176.8 billion.
Steve Mona, chief executive of the Foundation, says examples like the Phoenix Open are clear indicators the game has righted itself after the 2008 recession. He explained that 24 million Americans play 455 million rounds annually at the nation's roughly 15,000 facilities. More importantly, the industry supports 2 million jobs and $55.6 billion in annual wages.
"It is solid and stable based on several data points," Mona said, highlighting the millions of regular players.
The PGA Tour also makes significant charitable contributions every year, giving more than $2 billion since its first donation in 1938 at the Palm Beach Invitationals. In 2015, the Tour contributed a record $160 million to charity.
Mona said tournaments like the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which saw an increase in attendance along with a new merchandise sales record, are further indicators of the game's growth. He attributes the game's increased popularity to younger golfers on the Tour who grew up admiring Woods.
"This new generation of athletes—Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Smylie Kaufman—has really perfected the coolness factor and it has generated into a closer connection with fans," Mona said. "Tiger Woods changed the face of the game and made the sport incredibly popular and these new players have redefined it with their play, their sense of fashion, and their social media presence."
Their effect has carried over to how pro shops do business, as well.
"The young players are driving the train," said Fred Curtis, the director of golf at the Isla Del Sol Yacht & Country Club in St. Petersburg, Florida. "Apparel is our number one area for sales. When merchandisers bring us the old, stodgy stuff, we don't even look at it. In our pro shop, you see bright colors not only because the guys on the Tour are wearing it, but it's what our members want."
In addition, the PGA and the LPGA announced in May a strategic alliance with TopGolf, a target golf driving range in a bar-type atmosphere. With 21 facilities in the United States and another three in the United Kingdom, the franchise has 8 million visitors annually and 12 million projected for 2016.
"This alliance could help immensely with conversion," Mona said, noting that TopGolf draws new players in. "People are trying the game, which is the first part of the battle. It also brings the millennial generation into the game while also bringing greater diversity to the game. And it adds to the coolness factor."
At Isla Del Sol, Curtis said that an effort to attract millennials to the club has influenced several significant changes. Those include reducing the bunkers from 90 in 2008 to 48 this year, summer-only memberships, free clinics on Thursdays, tee boxes for children, child-friendly activities at the pool and tennis courts and improvements to the fitness center. The club also no longer requires a dress code in the dining room and allows smart phone usage throughout the buildings and grounds.
"We've adapted with the times," said Curtis, 58, who has been playing golf since he was 4. "We're not just a golf club. We're a yacht club, pool bar, tennis, fitness center, and most importantly, a social club."
Mona said clubs like Isla Del Sol are examples of how golf continues to be a powerful contributor to society and the economy.
"We call this 'golf plus,'" he said. "It's a way of becoming a part of their patrons' daily life in different ways than the past."
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Chris Girandola is the Senior Staff Writer at Admiral Farragut Academy. His work away from Farragut includes 15 years as a journalist covering sports, most notably for ESPN and Major League Baseball Advanced Media.