The Current State of Pro Golf

tigerBy: Kayla Mortellaro

In the wake of men’s professional golfers playing for purse sizes larger than ever before but retail sporting stores are laying off PGA teaching professionals from their departments, where is the real state of the game of golf?

On Tuesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced the company laid off 500 of its in-store PGA professionals due to a decline in golf equipment sales. The retailer claims its golf sales missed the first-quarter sales mark by $34 million. The report, obtained by espn.com, indicates golf sales account for 15 percent of the Dick’s Sporting Goods market.

On the contrary, PGA tour professionals will tee it up this week at the RBC Canadian Open for a total purse size of $5.7 million, with the winner’s share of $1,026,000. By all accounts, this tournament’s field does not draw the world’s top names like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy. But it does offer world-class PGA tour players teeing it up for the chance to win.

Furthermore, the second major championship on the schedule was the U.S. Open, played at Pinehurst. The total purse was $8 million and the winner’s share of $1.62 million.

These playing professional golfers are teeing it up for the opportunity to earn a life changing amount of money. Most will argue that the interest Woods brought to the game is why everyone has the opportunity to become a millionaire and why each tournament’s purse output is so high. Sponsors are willing to put forth the money to draw fans to the tournament whether it be walking the grounds for the week or watching on T.V. at home.

Television revenue has changed the landscape of sports in general, and golf is no different from that impact.

However, according to Paulsen of Sports Media Watch, final round T.V. ratings were down 28 percent for The Masters, down 44 percent for the U.S. Open and down 26 percent for The Open Championship over last year. All three of these tournaments were broadcast on three different networks, CBS, NBC and ESPN, respectfully.

The backbone of the golf industry is struggling. The statistics are proving there is a lack of interest from consumers to buy new equipment frequently and hone their skills by taking lessons. This trend is not only going to continue to effect the teaching professionals, but it will begin to take its toll on golf equipment companies. And if television ratings continue to drop, sponsors will no longer see their value in ponying-up a lot of money.

All of these statistics, trends and potential pitfalls beg the question, what is happening to the state of golf? Where are the consumers going and why aren’t they watching the sport?

Some safe theories would be that top-of-the-line equipment is too expensive and especially too costly to change every year. The technology for the equipment has changed for the better within the last 10 years but now the changes are so small it isn’t worth it to the consumer to purchase the latest style. And as for the viewership decline, fans are expecting the heroic efforts of Woods from every person that tees it up. What he did was absolutely remarkable but it has stunted the expectations of the common on-looker. No longer is a watching a flawless (fairway to green to one putt) performance exciting. No longer is watching a one or two stroke win on the edge of your seat worthy.

Golf is going through a change. Woods isn’t the dominate player he once was. Fans need to find a way to appreciate the game for what it is and realize those unbelievable shots Woods always seemed to pull off, are actually rare. The art of the game and the ability to appreciate a skill common fans and players don’t have needs to take higher precedent. Golf can be and is exciting.

It is an unfortunate day for true golf enthusiasts to see the infrastructure of the game decline and the start of something that has golf reeling; unless the game can find a way to become more affordable, quicker and provide proper education to give the fan a chance at true appreciation.