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Golf market
February/March 2011

Is the golf market

on the upswing?

BEVAN FRANK examines whether there are greener pastures for the golf market as 2011 gets into full swing

The golf market was quite badly affected by the economic downturn, especially during the World Cup when hardly anybody went near a golf course.

High green fees discouraged people from playing and discouraged new entrants from entering the market, while existing players were in no rush to replace their clubs.

The big question is: have golf sales improved since then?

“We have seen a slight improvement during the second half of 2010 driven in part by the return of corporate golf days after the Soccer World Cup, and the launch of new equipment by the major brands,” says Lloyd Waldeck, CEO of The Pro Shop.

“The industry, however, remains under pressure as the economy makes a slow and long recovery, and we expect the mild improvement to continue into 2011.”

After the dismal World Cup period Jason Rowe, MD of The Golfers Club, maintains that there has been improvement in the market. “The second part of 2010 was up and so far 2011 has been better than last year this time,” says Rowe.

Waldeck maintains that the fact that sales have improved is linked to the increase in the number of rounds played.

“In addition to great initiatives by golf courses to increase rounds, PlayMoreGolfSA has also delivered higher activity to the market, which had a positive impact on sales,” Waldeck maintains.

This initiative has made golf much more affordable for new entrants. Members can, for example, play on over 95 golf courses countrywide, seven days a week, for less than R400 a month.

“Golfers will always play golf!” Rowe proclaims. “The market is driven by new products. People want to play with the latest equipment and obviously want to buy the new products.”

“Interest rates being so low have also helped see an improvement in player spending.”

Development

With various development programmes, such as the SA Golf Development Board and the Ernie Els Academy, the question arises as to what role, if any, these programmes play in growing the market.

“Development programmes are essential to driving the younger golfer and has a positive impact,” says Waldeck.

“It is safe to say that once the golf bug has bitten there is no going back and consequently, we do see young players entering our stores on a regular basis.”

Waldeck maintains that it is unfortunate that the numbers of golfers that go through these programmes are insufficient to grow the overall size of the market.

“It is incumbent on the industry to find new and innovative ways to develop an interest and passion for golf among the broader population,” Waldeck says.

Golf as school sport

Golf is catching on as a school sport. Rowe refers to a number of programmes such as Little Kids Golf where youngsters are learning about golf.

“Also, golf leagues are being established at various schools,” says Rowe. “Parents who are golfers encourage their kids to play. We sold 2 800 junior sets over the Christmas season.

“We sold both boys and girls sets! This is definitely a good sign for the market.”

Waldeck believes that there is further opportunity in making golf the sport of choice among a larger proportion of South African school goers.

“This is key to the growth of the golf industry.”

Demographics

Has the number of women playing golf grown?

Waldeck says that they have seen a reduction in ladies entering the market, particularly the younger lady.

“This has been partly driven by the economic climate and demands of the modern life,” Waldeck explains.

Rowe, however, maintains that the number of women playing golf has increased. “More young girls are playing golf, as well as more black, Indian and coloured people.”

He predicts a massive increase in a more demographically diverse market.

“The golf market has definitely changed and is becoming more representative of the demographics of the country,” agrees Waldeck. “Having said this, we need to do more work to further develop new markets.”

The future

Waldeck believes that the growth of the golf market is dependent on a collective ability to attract and retain new players.

“This will be achieved through programmes that remove barriers to entry, such as greater access to facilities, removing intimidation factors and more affordable pricing of both equipment and rounds,” says Waldeck.

“Research has shown that there are more than 1.5-m South Africans (According to the All Media and Products Study, known as AMPS) interested in golf. Converting them into playing the game should be our collective pre-occupation.”

Rowe says that there is a need to become more first world in terms of the service and administration offered in the golfing world.

“Golf clubs need to be run like businesses,” he states. “They are facing financial difficulty because of the traditional club dynamic having changed.”

Declining memberships is a big problem for clubs, says Rowe.

Last year some clubs even advertised for new members — something which would have been unthinkable a few years ago in an industry where prospective members had to wait years before being accepted as members of a private golf club.

Equally telling of the changed fortune of golf clubs is the fact that SMS messages are now sent to encourage members to book rounds at a club where you previously had to book a round weeks in advance.

While PlayMoreGolfSA has certainly brought new players to the market — which is good for golf retailers — it has created problems for private clubs whose members are doing the sums and not liking the answer that they could join PlayMoreGolfSA and pay R400 a month to play golf, compared to paying thousands for an annual membership, another R1 000 monthly membership, plus R100-200 green fees just for the benefit of club membership.

“Private clubs are not doing enough to work out innovative member packages to keep their members from leaving because of the recession,” believes Rowe.

As the world embarks on its post-recession recovery path, he believes the golfing market will continue to improve and hopes that by 2014 the market will be back to where it was in 2007 before the recession struck.


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