January 3, 2024

Let's Talk About Golflation

Is Golf Getting More Expensive?

If you’ve been actively playing golf in 2023 anywhere in the US, you’ve definitely noticed how much tee times prices have skyrocketed since the start of the 2022 season.

I wondered if it was due to soaring inflation in-line with everything else? Can we simply chalk it up to supply and demand? Are golf courses just cleaning up nowadays? If not, who’s really benefiting from the 3M+ new people that started playing golf in 2021? What do these dynamics mean for the future of the sport that has been praying to “grow the game” for the past decade? Should we care about these issues or do anything about them as an industry?

Is Game Growing Too Fast?

These are the questions I’ve been increasingly grappling with over the last year. Because quite honestly, either playing less, playing cheaper courses or not playing at all anymore aren’t awesome solutions for those of us who are cost conscious. Some will say the game has grown too fast and that’s actually what’s needed to put some balance back in the market. Which does seem like a reasonable response when you need to book a round well over a week in advance (mostly on weekends), and those same rounds can run 5+ hours. And some would actually prefer prices to keep rising in order to weed out those they consider golf tourists, as the former clearly has the means to pay whatever to keep playing. Maybe we’ll see more of a balance going forward if the return to the office vibe gathers more steam.

What’s unfortunate is that millions of people were either introduced or reintroduced to the incredible game of golf in such a short timespan. Those who played frequently as kids dusted off their sticks and those new to the game threw everything they had at it to learn, improve their game and compete with friends and family. But we all in one way or the other got hooked on this powerful drug that now feels like it’s slowly being pried away from many of our ratty gloved hands.

The Data Says Golf is Expensive!

We surveyed over 100 of our audience on the current state of green fees and the results are:

  • 17% believe current prices are priced about right
  • 60% believe current prices are on the expensive side
  • 23% believe current prices are getting ridiculous

Further, a third of respondents believe rising costs in golf will result in younger generations playing less golf and 25% believe people will start turning to other sports such as tennis, biking or hiking. Time will tell how this plays out and if we can count on these people to come back to the game when the next downturn comes. I wonder if it’s short sighted to let these groups slip away for the game or if there’s just so much cash flowing throughout the industry now that it really doesn’t matter. Realistically, it’s the latter, on top of the fact that there’s just a massive base of core, well off, and good at golf people out there that will continue to play and spend on the sport for the rest of their lives. And the impact will be felt by those groups who were going to be relied upon to “grow the game” prior to the pandemic boom.

Who's At Fault for Price Increases?

It’s hard to argue that courses themselves are at fault. They are absolutely being squeezed on rising costs of labor, fertilizer, fuel, equipment, etc., on top of consumer tee time booking trends that eat up significant margin. Most public golf courses are what you’d consider a small business simply trying to turn a profit. Unfortunately many were motivated to outsource tee time sales to 3rd party booking apps over the last 5-10 years when they needed the help, but now they’ve conditioned a generation of golfers to take the easy and lazy route to look for daily deals and book/ pay via an app that really don’t need to exist in this current environment. And all they do now is drive up average green fees in an attempt to regain some of that lost margin. The takeaway here - call the course or book on their website to reserve a tee time!

As always the case, it’s the large corporations and big golf entertainment that continue to benefit from the sport’s renewed interests, none of which will result in better affordability for the everyday golfer - not that it’s their responsibility. But it’s easy to succumb to the thought that it is what it is and will be a natural (some will go as far to also say unfortunate) byproduct of the current trends. Regardless, the current trajectory of all-in playing costs can’t be healthy for the future of the game. Maybe we don’t really need to grow the game, but look for ways that continue to allow the game to evolve, be accessible to new players and new communities, and focus on player sustainability throughout one’s entire life.

A New Generation of Golf Brands & Companies Are Emerging

I’d argue that given the game’s growth, there are many ways to inspire a new generation of potential entrepreneurs, creators, influencers, etc. that can not only generate wealth for themselves, their companies and their networks, but create new ways for millions more to participate in the sport. These are the conversations we’re really interested in having.

While there’s no perfect solution that is a win-win for everyone, we think it’s an important discussion for the future of the sport. And most will agree that we don’t want there to be a graveyard of pandemic golf “tourists” over the next 10 years. That’s what we’re here to ensure.