Message from the PGA President on the state of golf in the United States

By john.holmes

One of my favorite Westerns when I was a kid growing up in northern Indiana back in the 1960s was “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” The movie starred Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. It was a great John Ford film and the most famous line of the movie was uttered near the end, “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

In the past few weeks, the sport of golf has been bullied around similar to the townsfolk of Shinbone who were victim to Liberty Valance, the gunfighter who was brilliantly portrayed by Lee Marvin. Enough is enough. Golf is not “in a hole” nor is the “golf market stuck in a bunker,” and those inside the sport are addressing the issue of “where are the next golfers?”


As an outdoor sport, golf is dependent on weather. The year 2012 was a banner one for weather, with an average of 288 playable days for golf in the United States. Favorable weather contributed to the highest average rounds played per course since the last recession. Given that 2013 had the fewest days open for golf (268 days) in the past seven years, it was encouraging to see that golfers played more rounds of golf per day open than they had in the previous years. There were a total of 37 states with consistent or increased rounds played per day open in 2013 compared to 2012.

There is no question that the winter of 2014 was one of the worst in U.S. history and it has impacted courses in many ways, most notably a slow developing spring and widespread winter kill affecting turf conditions. These are circumstances beyond the control of course operators and they will no doubt impact rounds played in 2014, but it is not a reflection of the health of the sport. Rounds played are up this spring in areas of the U.S. not affected by the weather.

Growth Segments

According to PGA PerformanceTrak, golf facility operators reported growth in three of four key performance revenue indicators from 2012 to 2013, including golf merchandise sales (up 2.2%); food and beverage revenue (up 2.0%); and total facility revenue (up a modest 0.3%). Despite the recent financial news regarding Dick’s Sporting Goods, green grass facilities have seen increases in merchandise sales.

Through PGA PerformanceTrak, we have documented four consecutive years of same-store sales growth for golf merchandise at green grass facilities, with a 15.5% increase since 2009. Food and Beverage revenue at America’s golf courses follows a similar trend, with four consecutive years of same-store sales growth, for a combined 12.2% increase since 2009.

Growth of the Game

Get Golf Ready offers golfers five lessons for $99. There are currently 4,053 GGR certified facilities across the country. There were nearly 86,000 GGR participants in 2013, which reflects a 13% growth over the previous year. Through this past weekend, we have seen a 10.7% increase in overall GGR consumer registration, which is pretty incredible given the weather in the North.

PGA Junior League is golf’s version of Little League Baseball. It is for boys and girls ages 7-13 and the format is a 9-hole Scramble played in three-hole segments. Players are provided golf shirts with numbers on the back to promote a team concept. There was a 490% growth in PGA Junior League from 2012 (1,500 kids) to 2013 (8,900 kids). In 2014 the numbers have more than doubled (1,500 teams and 18,000 kids) compared to 2013 (740 teams and 8,900 kids).

The Drive, Chip and Putt (DCP) competition was so successful in 2013 that it has been expanded this year from 11 PGA Sections and 19 States to all 41 Sections and 50 States. We are very proud that Lucy Li, the inaugural DCP 10-11 year-old girls division champion, qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open last week with scores of 74-68. We expect more success stories from DCP participants.

In the past eight years, The First Tee program doubled its participants compared to its first eight years of existence. Twelve First Tee chapters are hosting Drive, Chip and Putt competitions in 2014. Many First Tee chapters have PGA Junior League teams. It’s unprecedented to see this kind of overlap and structure in junior golf initiatives and speaks to the collaborative efforts of the PGA of America, the United States Golf Association, the PGA TOUR, the Ladies Professional Golf Association and The Masters Foundation.

PGA Growth of the Game Task Force

In addition to the traditional approaches designed to grow the game, the PGA is very excited about the progress of the PGA Growth of the Game Task Force that we launched in March of this year. We have called upon leaders inside and outside of golf to explore ways to grow the game through non-traditional means.

Through annual golf participation studies conducted by the National Golf Foundation we note that 3.5 million to 3.7 million new and former golfers took up the game in each of the last five years. We also note that recent declines in participation have offset gains in our sport. As such, a stagnant industry is clearly not the goal and that is why our Task Force is exploring innovative ways to bring new people into golf.

FootGolf is a phenomenon that combines soccer and golf using a 21-inch hole and a soccer ball. Since January, FootGolf has spread from 25 golf courses in 10 states to nearly 150 courses in 31 states. Since May 3 at my facility, The Legends GC, we have had more FootGolfers on our par-3 course than we have had regular golfers. FootGolf is a way to get new people into golf and expose our sport to those who play soccer, the fastest growing sport in America.

The PGA Task Force has implemented a pilot program in the Midwest utilizing time clocks and a fee structure that charges golfers by the minute rather than by the hole. The intent is to allow consumers with limited recreational budgets to fit golf into their schedules. This is part of our goal to redefine or broaden the golf experience.

We advocate new ideas such as 15-inch holes, which will make the game more fun and enjoyable for new players. The Task Force sees no problem with providing beginning players with equipment that will make the game easier and more inviting. The goal is to allow our PGA teachers to convert the beginners into core golfers. We should find some creative ways to make that transition fun and easier.


The PGA TOUR provides the most visible product in golf each week. The number of hours that the TOUR is broadcast on television increases every year. So far this year, 124 million television viewers have watched the PGA TOUR on television – that number is nearly identical with 2013 even without Tiger Woods playing most of the current season. PGA TOUR sponsorships are at an all-time high. Additionally, the LPGA’s telecast hours are up 15% over last year. And, ratings for their North American tournaments on Golf Channel are up 27% from 2010 to 2013.

Much has been written about Millennial (ages 18-35) participation in the sport. The fact is that today there are 6.3 million Millennials playing more than 100 million rounds of golf. This represents 25% of the golfing population in the U.S. There are more non-Caucasians in this group than there were 20 years ago, demonstrating a greater diversity in golf today.

Golf has a tremendous impact on the nation’s economy. Golf is roughly a $69 billion annual industry responsible for roughly 1.98 million jobs with total wage income of $55.6 billion. Golf has a profound impact on every one of our 50 states and its charitable impact across this nation is by far the greatest in all of sports. A total of $3.9 billion is raised annually through golf for charities. Twelve million people participated in 143,000 golf-related charity events in 2013.

Finally, Golf Channel had its most viewers ever in April of this year and its viewership has set all-time records in the past three years.

We have our legends. They are names like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. And we have our facts. I am not suggesting for even a moment that golf does not have its challenges. We have plenty, including time, diversity and difficulty. Interestingly, 90% of golf played in the U.S. is on public courses at an average of $28 per round, dispelling the notion that golf is unaffordable.

It is time that the facts became the legend … print the facts. Liberty Valance is dead and as the script said, “Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.”


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