(Second in a Three-Part Series)
By George Moore
SafeTees Pouch, Inc.
Golf, the game played on an outdoor course with 14 clubs and a little ball, is in trouble.
Number of rounds played dropped 4.8 percent from 2017 to 2018, and nearly 200 18-hole courses closed their doors last year. Only 12 new ones opened in 2018.
Meanwhile, “golf activities” designed to resemble golfing, sort of, are going great guns and making tons of money in the United States and throughout the world. In South Korea, more “rounds” are played off course than on course.
What will the game, the one with a course, 14 clubs and the little ball, look like 25 years from now? Nobody knows for sure, but …
Traditional on-course golf has four strikes against it: It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s hard, and it competes poorly with other forms of recreation in today’s culture.
The only break the game gets, it seems, is with kids ages 7-18. Golf is one of their 10 favorite forms of recreation, thanks, probably, to The First Tee program.
First Tee, which reached 5 million kids last year, is a serious and well-funded attempt to recruit young golfers and ensure the viability of the game forever.
Still, “golf activities” with funny names like TopGolf, Drive Shack, BigShots, and Flying Tee seem to be doing better than traditional golf.
And then there’s “Foot Golf.”
- Topgolf: “Your premier entertainment destination.”
“We’re talking about a place where you can come for birthday parties, bachelor or bachelorette parties, corporate events, date nights, or just a night out with friends, and everyone will have a great time.”
There’s food, drink, music and a taste of golf in bays as patrons accumulate points for hitting targets.
There are 55 Topgolf facilities, most of them in the United States. At Topgolf Orlando, bay rentals range from $30 to $55 per hour, depending on time and day of week. Maximum of six players per bay.
A Classic Burger (w/fries or tater tots) runs $11, and a pint of Miller Lite is $5.
- Drive Shack: “A premier golf entertainment destination.”
“Players of every slice or fade can kick back, kick it up, or kick aside everything they know about golf. It’s the place to play the game your way, with friends, the kids, or just hang out with a couple of beers.”
Patrons can play on a virtual course “as if you were on the course.” Bay rentals range from $30 to $50 an hour, depending on time and day. Up to six players per bay.
Drive Shack is in Orlando now and plans three more big-city openings this year. A fifth is planned for New Orleans in 2020.
The Drive Shack Classic (w/fries, tater tots or home-made chips) runs $10.50. A Miller Lite, bottle or can, is $5.
- BigShots: “A family entertainment experience.”
“You don’t have to be a professional golfer to have a good time. We want all our guests to have the best experience possible while having the time of their lives.
‘Knock Out’ at BigShots
Earn points by hitting virtual objects on the driving range. The point value is shown next to each object. Items farther away from the tee box are awarded higher point totals.
BigShots is a two-story ”golf recreation and entertainment experience” on 10 acres in Vero Beach, FL. Two bars, a private event space and 30 tee boxes.
Tee box rentals run from $10 to $40 an hour, depending on time and day. Up to six players per tee box.
The BigShots Classic half-pound burger (with crispy shank fries) goes for $11. A Miller Lite, $4.
- Flying Tee: “One of a kind dining and entertainment venue” in Tulsa, OK.
“Fantastic for all ages. Our games range from pool and shuffleboard to our signature golf games, which are designed to bring the best parts of golf to those who have never held a club!”
The golf games, in climate-controlled bays, are “Darts,” “Blackjack,” “Horse,” and “Long Drive.” Bay rentals range from $20 to $50 an hour, depending on time and day. Up to six players per bay.
The Tee Burger (w/fries or house chips), $9.45. Miller Lite, bottle, $4.
And then there’s FootGolf, not to be confused with a golfer’s highly illegal use of the right or left foot to improve the lie of a golf ball.
FootGolf started around 2001, and at this writing, FootGolf courses are blended into more than 500 regular golf courses in all 50 states. The sport even has leagues, and the governing bodies are the American FootGolf Association and the Federation of International FootGolf.
The AFGA promotes FootGolf to traditional golf courses by saying that FootGolf will increase annual memberships. Also, the AFGA says, FootGolf “is a great way to bring a younger and more diverse demographic to your course.”
The rules are strikingly similar to those of regular golf, only in FootGolf, players use their feet, with indoor sports footwear, to strike a #5 soccer ball.
The holes (9 and 18) are shorter, and they come complete with bunkers and water hazards.
Each hole has a “green zone” and a 21-inch hole, and the objective is to kick the soccer ball into the hole. The player with the fewest kicks at the end of a round wins.
Each golf course decides how it will accommodate FootGolf.
At the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, for example, play is allowed after noon on Tuesdays. The cost is $15 per player, and soccer ball rental is $5.
The club says, “We’re progressive in all we do; this is just one more opportunity we offer to our loyal guests. You’ll love the precision of FootGolf.”
A ‘Hit-and-Giggle Thing’
A couple months ago, Adam Stanley, writing for the National Golf Foundation, recounted a conversation with Dana Garmany, executive chairman of Troon Golf, the world’s largest golf facilities management company.
Garmany listens to his wife, and she says she’s more comfortable with off-course golf, Topgolf in particular.
Garmany: “She went to the first tee at Pebble Beach as a new player, looked around at all the people and said, ‘I’m not hitting it.’ She picked it up, walked out in the middle of the fairway and dropped it.
“That’s the intimidation factor in golf,” he says. “We’ve got to make sure it’s more of a hit-and-giggle thing; like nobody cares. She now plays in a group called ‘Five and Wine.’ That’s all she wants to do.”
Garmany says, “We have to make sure that group of people isn’t looked down on because they’re not playing 18 holes and posting a handicap. They’re still paying money and they’re out there enjoying it, so what do we care?”
Maybe. But that rustling sound you hear is Thomas Mitchell Morris, the founding father of golf, rolling over.
And Old Tom isn’t giggling.
Next Week: Steps that can revitalize the popularity of the game
as played on a course with 14 clubs and a little ball.
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LET US HEAR FROM YOU: Nobody has all the answers. If you have a question or comment regarding anything golf-related, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line “Comment.” Our goal is to encourage a conversation about the world’s greatest game.