The game of golf has been around for hundreds of years, with history dating back as far as the 15th century—back to a time when the Scottish people used to hit balls made out of sheep skin across an unplowed field with sticks. Golf has changed completely since then. It’s now played on perfectly manicured courses with titanium clubs and multilayer balls. Despite its rich history, the sport has fallen on hard times.
The current economic situation in North America has left golf courses across the island bare—although the problem isn’t only about economics. Some experts believe the downturn in business could be the beginning of the end for the game. Perhaps no one has time to spend four hours of their day outside playing, but is it possible for golf, with such a long, rich heritage, to die out? Could golf become a thing of the past?
It was once again a slow summer for golf on Vancouver Island. Anyone who wanted to go golfing this year certainly didn’t have a hard time finding a place to play, and by early afternoon, almost every course on the island was empty. Golf on the island has struggled greatly since the recession hit the U.S. Courses on the island once relied heavily on American tourists to fill up their now-empty tee sheets. Golf tourism used to be a big industry—Vancouver Island was even named North America’s best golfing island by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Tourists used to come from all over the world to play the famous VI Golf Trail, a stretch of ten championship-calibre courses spanning from Victoria to Campbell River. The clubs on Vancouver Island relied on off-island tourism to fill up their courses. That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of golfers or less people playing the game. It means golfers aren’t traveling as much as they used to.
Ward Stouffer, Head Professional at Fairwinds, believes the problem is complicated. Stouffer is quick to mention that golf needs to shake the image that it’s an “old man’s game.”
“There has to be more kids involved in golf,” he says. “We need to start creating the next generation of golfers.”
Stouffer is quick to the point out the boom that happened in the game during the ‘90s. During that time, the demand for prime tee times all over North America exceeded the amount of tee times that were available. This meant more golf courses needed to be built all over the continent to fill the demand. Stouffer claims the mass construction of courses in the ‘90s was the beginning of the problem.
“The problem was it was only the prime tee times people wanted,” he says, “the game looked busier than it was, because no one was willing to wait for a later time.”
Stouffer feels the overbuilding of golf courses wasn’t the only mistake that was made during the ‘90s. “We ignored a generation of kids,” he says. “No one tried to get kids to play the game 20 years ago, and now you can see the effects.” Stouffer also insists that growing the game is now a major focus in the golf industry. Fairwinds runs youth clinics during the summer months in an attempt to get kids introduced to the game at a young age.
“The goal is to get kids addicted to the game early,” says Stouffer, who feels there also needs to be a focus on introducing the game to the kids of the ‘90s, who weren’t shown the attention they deserved.
The economic issue is the last topic Stouffer touched on. “The positive side to the recession is it brought the cost of golf down to a reasonable amount,” he says. “We have to make ourselves accessible pricewise to the younger generation.”
Stouffer feels that as golf gets cheaper, it also gains the ability to become more inviting. There is a chance for a game that has been long known as an old man’s game to appeal to a younger crowd.
The talk around the golf industry these days is mostly negative. People say the game is reaching the end of its era, that nobody has the time or money for it these days. Thankfully, that feeling is not unanimous around the industry. Golf is not a dying game that people will one day stop playing—it’s a game that’s changing, trying to become more accessible and friendly. One thing is for certain, though—golf isn’t going away anytime soon.