Scylla and Charybdis Are Still Alive: Stay Alert, Course Owners

 As seen in Golf Business November/December 2021 

jk.jpgBy Jay Karen, NGCOA CEO

For an industry with a reputation for resisting change, it’s hard not to get whiplash trying to keep up with everything that is actually changing. Or, at least on the precipice of great change. There is something in the air in golf right now, and it smells like progress and success. Yet we cannot be fooled into complacency by the tailwinds we have received from the magnetic effect that COVID precipitated, or the surprisingly good economy that has continued for the affluent in America. There are headwinds and storms still on the horizon, and as captains of our own fates, we must heed them.

For courses in water-challenged areas of the country, where battles to maintain access to the lifeblood of a golf course have been waged for a long time, the future looks concerning. If you thought COVID presented an existential crisis to golf, it can’t hold a candle to water rights and access. To those with power over water access, golf can still look like a “nice to have,” instead of a critical business. Misconceptions about golf’s water usage and stewardship pervade public offices. It will be vital for the local golf industry to stay in front of this one, and there are many formidable, capable people in our industry who can fight the good fight.

Why would any young person want to work in golf? Seriously. Why? What sounds like a rhetorical question is actually a fundamental query for our industry. I think working in golf, at a course, club or resort would be a pretty amazing job, but I came of age in the “build it and they will come” era of golf. I’m hearing a lot from industry veterans about how terrible the work-life balance has always been for people who work at golf courses. And what’s more important than the work-life balance to the younger generations? Not much. Between rising wages, the changing definition of work satisfaction and the competition from other industries, we need to crack the code for golf.

And don’t get me started on the increasing threat of government encroachment at the state and local levels. As long as the federal government continues to live in the land of dysfunction, state and local government will fill the void with their plethora of regulations and policies.

And yet I’m bullish on our future in general. The progress I’m seeing in the efforts to have the golf universe (customers, workers, vendors, leaders, etc) look more like America are heartening. The openings for new and improved revenue in our business are better than they have been in over twenty years. That includes confident and dynamic pricing, more control of the customer relationship (including direct booking), advancing the golf entertainment concept (tech-and-F&B centers on the driving range, golf simulators and more), rising land value and more. I’m also seeing more holistic approaches to player development at every age and ability; we have transcended grip-and-stance as the nucleus of golf pedagogy.  Golf continues to show our relevancy and goodness up and down the economic ladder and across cultural spectra.

Every industry at all times will have threats and weaknesses, but also strengths and opportunities. It’s all about what you do with what you can control, and I’m a firm believer it’s usually a lot more than you think. It feels darn good to finally be operating from a position of strength.  Let’s do good work with that!