Can Tiger Woods Save the Industry of Golf?

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIJuly 22, 2010

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - JULY 16:  Tiger Woods of the USA walks off the first hole alongside his caddie Steve Williams after play was suspended by high winds during the second round of the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 16, 2010 in St Andrews, Scotland.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The golf industry is struggling. I'm not just talking about the professional game with their weekly million dollar paychecks to the winner and their millions of dollars in prize money for the guys who manage to simply finish.

I'm talking about recreational golf. Public golf; private golf; resort golf.

The health of golf, the recreational game and the business that accompanies it, is in direct correlation with the popularity, or lack thereof, of the PGA Tour and the European Tour and the other tours around the world.

Golf ratings, specifically, are a barometer of how popular the game is. No other recreational sport is as dependent on television ratings of their professional sister more so than golf.

Recreational football, baseball, hockey and soccer don't matter to the health of those professional sports. Youth participation does, but not recreational participation at an adult level.

Golf is unique in this way. Golf's health is dependent on the health of the PGA tour, and the other tours, to a lesser extent. And, it could be said, it is the same if you were to turn it around. The PGA tour is dependent on there being a large number of golf fans (fans who actually golf, unlike other sports), who tune in on TV and show up at the tournaments and pay large amounts of cash to enter through the gates.

If you work at a golf course, as I do, you know the impact the economy has had on the golf industry over the last couple of years. No one is immune. Private clubs, public clubs, municipal clubs, resort clubs. Everyone has been affected.

The recreational golf industry needs its players to be into golf. That starts not only with youth golf, but with an interest of its players in the game. An interest in professional golf.

For the better part of eight months I have been listening to commentators and reading articles about how great golf will be without Tiger Woods.

Golf doesn't need Tiger Woods.

What a great chance for golf to show he is not important to the game.

Good riddance to Tiger Woods.

Well, if the first seven months of 2010 has told us anything, it is golf needs Tiger Woods more than anyone could have possibly imagined.

Tiger Woods, love him or hate him guy (there appears to be no in-between for most people), is more important to the success of his sport than any other athlete, probably in the history of organized sport.

And I'm not just talking about golf ratings and how big the pay checks may start dropping for the winners on tour. I'm talking about all of golf. Recreational golf. Tiger Woods impacts the business of recreational golf.

Peyton Manning does not impact recreational football. Recreational football is not a billion dollar industry dependent on its professional sister.

LeBron James does not impact recreational basketball. Recreational basketball is not a billion dollar industry dependent of its professional sister.

Albert Pujols, same thing.

Sidney Crosby, same thing.

Over 17,000 golf courses in America today are all, each one of them, from the nine hole mini course to the elite private country club, dependent on the popularity of the game at the professional level.

If you haven't heard this number before here it is, and believe it. It is well-documented: Tiger Woods doubles television ratings when he is in a tournament.


This has been proven time and time again, comparing ratings of events Woods plays in and events he does not.

When Tiger Woods lapped the field at the 2000 British Open, the ratings were great. When Louis Oosthuizen lapped the field at the 2010 British Open, the ratings were the lowest they've ever been.

Can professional golf survive without Tiger Woods? Of course it can, and it will. But how long will it take to rebound, and at what level?

And, in the meantime, can recreational golf survive the loss of interest? Golf courses are closing and going bankrupt at an alarming rate. Membership and rounds played are down all over the United States at all levels of golf courses. Public courses are losing daily fees and private clubs are losing members.

This can not all be attributed to Tiger Woods. It is a reflection no doubt of the spending money people have for non-essential things these days. For some people, golf has taken a back seat to paying for heat or groceries. The choice is not difficult in many instances.

But there is also a large faction on the fence. A percentage of the population that is driven to play golf because of their interest in following golf on television. This is the group hurting the golf course industry right now. If these people find something else to do, or we don't continue to get new people from this group, golf is in trouble.

Can someone step in and gather viewership like Tiger Woods?

Right now the answer is no. A big fat no. Recreational golf is taking as big a hit from Tiger's lackluster performances lately as anyone.

It doesn't matter how we got here. Here we are, like it on not. Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy or anyone else isn't going to come riding up on a white horse and save the day.

Golf, for now, needs Tiger Woods. The sooner the better, if you don't mind.