Is Golf Dying?

I see many golf courses closing not only in my immediate area, but also near where I grew up in Chicago. I have fond memories as a caddie at one particular course that is closing. What's the deal?

'I tell ya, country clubs and cemeteries, biggest wastes of prime real estate.' - Late Al Czervik, RIP

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Comments (42)

Nov 1, 2019 - 12:36pm

I think because it was ruined by a bunch of highschoolers who think shotgunning beer for their snapchat story on a golf course is cool or something.


Nov 1, 2019 - 12:58pm

A lot of people play golf for the sole reason to drink beer because I'm pretty sure most of us are ass at actually playing golf. The beer helps. Freaking hard sport and too expensive/time consuming to get good at at my current age.

To your point OP, I have not seen courses closing near me (TX) if anything they are getting better and added improvements like golf carts that show distance and what not. And that is happening at one of the cheapest, worst courses I've played at.

Nov 1, 2019 - 1:11pm
Pump and Dump:

I think because it was ruined by a bunch of highschoolers who think shotgunning beer for their snapchat story on a golf course is cool or something.

he jelly they didn't invite him to shotgun tallboys at the gold course


Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.
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Nov 1, 2019 - 12:56pm

Its not dying, probably just more contracting.

In the late '90s/early 2000s when Tiger first won the masters (1997) golf exploded and many people who never played were brought into the game. So courses were build at an interesting pace to full the need, and many others were redone in the hopes of attracting golfer.s

However, golf courses has begun to decline over the years due in grow, with many shutting down. A lot of country clubs by where I grew up have become semi private or public. Its just hard to maintain on the course side. Costs on the equipment side have crept up as well, with not much benefit coming from $600 as the one you currently play.

Rounds also taking longer than ever as people copy pros routines and courses have grown longer to accomodate equipment.

I also think its harder for family's to justify the cost in terms of time away from family and the dollar cost with everything else going up in price.

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Nov 1, 2019 - 1:04pm

Golf has been dying for a generation now. Thousands of courses have shut down and the trend is continuing. Golf is in death spiral. American football is also in a slower death spiral for very different reasons. But generations change. E sports is on the rise as some of the others are dying.


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Nov 1, 2019 - 1:04pm

Golf is not dying, but the folks who like to play it are.

I don't know... Yeah. Almost definitely yes.

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Nov 1, 2019 - 1:06pm

Golf is merely returning to normal, pre-Tiger levels of popularity. It'll be fine.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

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Nov 1, 2019 - 5:47pm

It makes sense that golf is losing popularity because it is disproportionately played by older white men and this demographic has been contracting as a percentage of the population in the US.

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Nov 1, 2019 - 10:04pm

Does it have anything to do with Chicago loosing population? Maybe wealth is going out and golf courses are closing?

Not to mention the climate. I don't see many golf courses in the South closing

Commercial Real Estate Developer

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Nov 2, 2019 - 12:20am

Does it have anything to do with Chicago loosing population? Maybe wealth is going out and golf courses are closing?

C'mon Bill, you should know. You did get that part in Caddyshack entirely for your technical expertise having worked at a golf club for years.


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Nov 2, 2019 - 12:40am

It's really hard to find good stats on golf because almost all stats are put out by the golf industry. But what's clear is that golf is seeing a steady decline in participation annually and that Tiger Woods and Top Golf are the primary things that ar rescuing the golf stats, which I find somewhat ridiculous because Top Golf and driving ranges are to golf what batting cages are to baseball--light entertainment that is only loosely connected to the real game.

Golf is not going to die anytime soon, but it will go through a steady decline, and if you were to jump ahead 50 years in time you would see that the sport is a shell of its former self. American football is experiencing the same thing--a 1-2% annual decline in participation among youth, which, over a long period of time, will devastate the sport.


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Nov 2, 2019 - 11:32pm

I think sports go through a cycle like a business. It starts as a niche thing, then keeps getting refined until it gets the casual viewer, then a decline. Football is a good example, bc the NFL figured out that people like scoring and throwing more than running and great defense; but it makes the game over simplistic. Add in the health problems, and the decline makes sense.

Back in tehe 1930s, the top three sports were boxing, baseall, and horse racing. One is basically non existant, one is up and down but declining, and one is important about 2.5 days a year.

I actually see golf growing in the future, maybe not in the US, but abroad. The potnetial top three sports could be soccer, basketball, and golf, depending on how E sports plays out.

Nov 3, 2019 - 12:41am

I can't speak globally but I definitely think golf goes on life support in the U.S. in the next two generations (and I'm excluding driving ranges and Top Golf-type places). I agree that soccer, basketball, and eSports are the wave of the future in the U.S. Young people are really adopting these games.

As a result of this thread I did some more searching into American football and my prediction is that if you fast-forward 50 years into the future it will be essentially non-existent. I was shocked to find that it's actually declining more rapidly among the youth than golf.


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Nov 2, 2019 - 3:43pm

Despite what the biased and clueless economists who calculate CPI will tell you, life is getting more expensive. Things like owning a home, owning two cars for a married couple . . hell, even getting married . . are increasingly viewed as luxuries today whereas if you're someone who grew up in the 90's you know that these were basics for middle class people.

Economic pressure is higher than ever because even if today's numbers look good, long-term projected GDP growth is still low. So a young guy who's doing great today is still looking at his long-term trajectory and is rightfully cautious about it. And this leads to very conservative behavior with respect to both money and time.

So leisure activities now, more than before, need to pass a test of offering a certain level of reward for an expenditure of time and money.

I look at malls for example. People say they're struggling because of online but there's been more convenient ways of getting stuff for 20+ years. Mall struggles have spiked more recently than that. Some of it is the growth of online but I think there's a separate thing going on, which is people are less comfortable investing time in what is essentially a leisure activity, mall shopping.

I see the same thing with restaurants and movie theaters. It was always cheaper to make food at home and entertain yourself at home, but not long ago people felt more comfortable spending a few extra bucks/hours for the comfort of eating out or seeing a movie. These days there's a lot more pressure there . . the mix of restaurants has moved to a lot more fast casual (places that support a busy lifestyle) than leisurely places to eat.

I look at golf and see the same thing. It was always expensive and now I think people are becoming a lot more sensitive to the time expense as well.

It seems like today people will only do time-consuming leisure activities if they can rationalize it as providing something more than just the leisure. For example, international travel is way up, and while AirBnb is one cause I also think its because people feel like they're doing more than just taking time off, they're also broadening horizons and learning about the world. I don't buy it personally but I think that's what is happening.

Biggest trend I see working against golf in the long term is that I have to imagine youth participation is way down. Haven't seen stats but I've seen trends in other youth activities and the common theme is that younger kids are under a lot more pressure to position themselves to get ahead in the college/career world. High school kids doing internships, elementary school kids learning Mandarin and taking extra enrichment programs after school. Pre-school starting earlier and earlier. Where do sports fit into that . . it seems kids these days have a much more transactional relationship with sports where they are weighing tangible benefits against costs (esp. time costs) and golf seems weaker on that metric.

Nov 4, 2019 - 9:51am

I don't want to be hyper-reductive here, but golf has been around since the 16th century, so I'm willing to bet it will continue to exist for a very long time. Couple that with the fact that unlike every other sport I can think of, it's the only one whose participation isn't totally impacted by age.

I will concede that in the United States golf is "declining" but this phenomenon is more akin to a hot streak cooling off from the Tiger era, rather than the same reduction in participation you see in say football. Every development in the early 2000's that just threw a golf course around it to be posh and juice housing prices is now coming to the realization that they probably could have done something better with the land they bought and probabaly are wishing they had back the few mill it took to develop a lifeless, punchout-style course with wayyyy too many water features on it.

TL/DR; golf as a money making enterprise is experiencing a contraction in the US in the post-Tiger dominance era. The shitty weak courses will get culled and the money makers and munis will remain. Mean reversion rather than true decline.

Nov 4, 2019 - 11:20am

Surprised no one else has mentioned the massive elephant in the room, which is that golf's recent surge in "popularity" doesn't necessarily represent more people playing, but rather more courses being built. There was a giant explosion in communities built around golf courses, and while some of the decline in golf's fortunes is because fewer people are playing, golf as a sport is more visibly suffering because the demand for living in those communities is much less now.

Nov 5, 2019 - 9:54am

Seems like it's a lot more common for people to only hit up a driving range than actually play a round these days. I know a lot of people who aren't necessarily any good at golf who sometimes go to ranges but would never have the patience to play 18 holes (and it shows when they upload instagram stories of appalling swings).

Having said that I think this may be a slightly US/Euro-centric view of things, from what I've heard it's still very much on the rise throughout Asia.

Nov 5, 2019 - 5:16pm

I've always viewed golf in America as sort of a cultural thing, with the era from Caddyshack to Tiger Woods being the exception where golf was mass market consumer product. For most of golf's history, it was something you didn't really care about unless you grew up with it. Golf will return to being one of those obscure sports that has a devoted, but small fan basis that is not open to outsiders. Expect to see a lot more emphasis on things like "the purity of the game" rather than mass appeal.

"Work ethic, work ethic" - Vince Vaughn

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Nov 7, 2019 - 2:52pm

Dying, no. Evolving? Sure.

If you look at the amount of really good, young players on tour right now it is unlike anything golf has ever seen. Hovland, Wolff, Champ, just to name a few...These are really young players who are pushing the envelope for the sport and bringing excitement to the game of golf for youth. It's nothing to the scale of what Tiger did, but the quality and followings of these young players is significant and growing.

Golf, and especially the traditional country club/private course model, may be in decline...but like anything else this will force the game to evolve to meet the demands of consumers. A long-standing, traditional club in my hometown just went through this process by adopting a semi-private model which allows non-members to play the course on certain days during specific hours. Members still get all the same benefits and exclusivity for the most part (they just don't really frequent the course during the public hours) and non-members can experience an exclusive course and club. Through that access, someone who originally had no ties to the club may be influenced to join. They have a traditional member's only bar but also have an amazing public bar and restaurant that is always busy. They offer steeply discounted membership rates for new members under 35. The club was struggling big time prior to these changes and less than a couple years after, they are now completely full. The club still has the same feel of exclusivity and offers massive potential for networking with prominent individuals...but there is also a new, upbeat, youthful energy that makes the entire facility feel more inviting and engaging. The experience is massively more exciting and enjoyable and it comes at a lower cost. In my opinion, it is simply a better product.

Traditionalists might hate this but I think it will continue and will ultimately have a positive impact on the game as a whole. For those who can write the checks, there will always be traditional and completely exclusive options. Conversely, there will always also be cheap municipal courses for those who can't afford or don't want to spend much to play 18 on a Sunday. But I think there is big chunk of people who want a country club type feel with a less pretentious atmosphere at a mid to upper-middle range price. Youth interest is paramount, but I think that mid to upper-mid group is the key to golf's sustainability because those are the people who really love, understand, and follow the game which makes them more likely to share the game with others, especially their kids.

Nov 8, 2019 - 11:21am

Golf is 100% dying. Higher rates and less play on a lot of courses. Courses are closing and it's a well known thing that for the majority, people aren't playing. It's expensive and most people suck. We live in a bubble where we see these videos on IG of kids hitting one another with cars and everyone's shotgunning beers. Golf is on the wrong side of the hill

Mar 3, 2020 - 11:16am

Hello. Golf does not die! He lives and will live forever. I have been playing this sport all my life, and I really like it. A very good idea was written to me, to open a golf club, if it's someone's view here how to quickly swing a golf club.

Mar 4, 2020 - 5:31am

Golf is alive and well. The problem is too many courses were built across the country over the last 50 years and the actual growth rate for demand was far less than what many industry analysts projected. I believe a lot of projections assumed that with America's aging population, the rate of retirees playing would grow as well, but that hasn't been the case.

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Mar 4, 2020 - 8:11am

Why do you think that is? Too costly? General lack of interest? Other factors or a mix of the two?

Mar 4, 2020 - 9:10am

Number of factors on why you see private club closing:

1.) golf use to more leisure activity, and something that people (typically men) did on weekends. More acceptable to spend all day away from the family.

2.) Use to be more of a business expense, but was one of the first things to get cut back on.

3.) Takes a lot of time to play or practice/sometimes still deals with being a snobby culture. Lot of millenials don't like that.

4.) harder and harder to finance to be top level. Gone are a lot of lower level private or semi-private clubs; not its more public or ultra private.

Big problem came when Tiger got on the scene, everyone thought golf would explode, which it did, but no one thought of the contraction. It mirrors a lot of other areas of business though, usually when they start building inventory its behind the 8 ball.

Mar 4, 2020 - 1:23pm

Golf is alive and well.

According to the golf industry, golf is alive and well if you consider Top Golf to be golf. Maybe you have some independent, non-industry data to suggest that golf is doing well? I can't seem to find any, but I'm genuinely interested in seeing third party, non-industry data, regardless of what it says.

Maybe I'm biased because I've seen the financials of the golf course my former company used to run and it was a complete basketcase. That certainly colors my opinion.


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Mar 4, 2020 - 7:19pm

I only have data for my market (Hawaii) and some national data that are both several years old. I'm no golfing expert, however I've worked on proposed developments with courses. I believe you would really have to look at the golf industry on a market-by-market basis. For example, the demand segments that drive golf in states such as Florida or Arizona probably aren't the same for states like Illinois or Colorado.

Its 100% true that the financials of many golf courses are in your words "a complete basketcase." However, this is true of any property type where the supply significantly exceeds the demand. The number of people who played golf in the US peaked in the early 2000's and has slowly been declining since then. Golf isn't going to become extinct in the US, but there is going to be a decline in the percentage of people who play. Regardless It will still be one of the most popular sports in the country, just not as popular as it once was. The US golf industry is currently an $80-90 billion industry, so its difficult to call it a dying sport.

If you made a demand model for a golf course development in the 90's you would have assumed a much higher annual growth rate than what has actually occurred. Considering how many years it can take to get entitlements and permits to build a course, a lot of the models being used were outdated by the time they were built and made it to market. The analysts making the models were looking at the growing and aging population of America with the assumption that the same percentage of people playing golf then would remain the same today .... that clearly wasn't the case. They were a few percentage points off, but that's enough to throw a bunch of old and new courses across the country into the red.

Two other factors I could think of that have hurt the US golf industry:

-Local governments selling off their municipal courses. In many cases the underlying land is more valuable for other uses or the municipality is cash strapped (usually a combination of both). A lot of new players began playing golf on municipal courses as opposed to expensive private courses. Losing those municipal courses means less players entering the sport. I could maybe see something like Topgolf reversing that trend, but I don't have any data to back that up.

-Water shortages in the Western US region has hurt many courses. I know in Clark County (Las Vegas) they've talked about decreasing the number of courses due to concerns over water. I can imagine similar conversations occurin in California, Arizona, and New Mexico as well.

Mar 4, 2020 - 7:18pm

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