USA Golf Looking to the Future

When talking about the health of golf in the USA, the focus of the conversation is really on the long-term future of the game. We know what the present looks like, and it is just fine. Some courses have closed, but thousands remain open, and millions of golfers love to play this game. But what are we to expect of future generations? What will those generations expect the game to provide them? Let’s discuss some likely paths forward for this great game.

  • Embracing technology. This is an obvious point, and it is one which is already well underway. Technology is an increasingly important part of life, and younger generations just expect that high-tech gadgets will be a part of nearly everything they do. Golf should be no different. Golf has already adopted technology in the way of GPS and laser measuring devices, which are permitted for use in most tournaments. Technology has also made a deep move into the equipment realm, where it is used to both develop new clubs and to fit those clubs to individual golfers. As time moves on, it seems inevitable that even more technological developments will find their way onto the fairways and greens.
  • Keeping an eye on the clock. The elephant in the room with regard to the popularity of the game of golf is always pace of play. If you head out to a popular public golf course on a sunny Saturday, you are likely to find the place jammed with golfers – and a six-hour round may be on tap. Even dedicated golfers who dearly love the game would have a hard time arguing that a six-hour round is much fun. If the game is going to appeal to younger generations, it simply has to find a way to keep the pace of play moving. Golf is a slow game even when there aren’t groups in front holding you up – when you spend half of your day waiting for others to get out of the way, it can become unbearable. There is no one magic solution to pace of play problems, but golf courses are going to have to keep working on functional solutions that keep as many people happy as possible.
  • Making youth golf accessible. Here we see another category where progress has already been made. In years gone by, kids mostly got involved in sports like baseball, basketball, football, and soccer at a young age, because those sports had well-established youth programs. Unless your family had a membership at a private club, you probably didn’t start young in golf. Fortunately, that has started to change. Golf has done a better job recently of creating opportunities for kids, and some of these initiatives have been quite successful. When kids start playing this game at a young age, it is far less intimidating when they are older. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of golf is closely tied to the success of junior golf programs.
  • A variety of courses. One of the potentially overlooked problems that the game could face moving forward is a lack of diversity among golf course options. With the recent rash of course closures, some of the affordable options for beginning golfers have been lost. When a few courses close in a specific region, it is usually the low-budget courses without all the bells-and-whistles of a high-end facility. The problem here is that very few courses are left for players who are just getting started. $100 greens fees might be fine for an experienced player who has a long history in the game, but it’s hard to convince a beginner to spend that kind of money. Courses at the lower end of the market are important, but it can be a struggle to keep such a facility in business.

The future of golf will be interesting to monitor, to say the least. The game has a long history and deep roots, but it feels like we are in the middle of a dramatic shift. That shift is necessary, of course, as an old game can easily fall out of style if it doesn’t keep up with the times. With any luck, the powers that be in golf will make the moves necessary to engage future generations while maintaining the basic core of what makes this game so enjoyable.