Golf's Decline in America: Work/Life Balance Is the True Culprit

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2011

BANDON, OREGON, UNITED STATES - JUNE 23: The 363 yard par 4, 16th hole on the Bandon Dunes Course, designed by David McLay Kidd, at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on June 23, 2005 in Bandon, Oregon, United States.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Golf is on the decline in America.  That reality has finally smacked us in the face like a two-by-four.

The number of core American golfers (those playing eight rounds or more per year) has fallen between three and 4.5 percent every year since 2006.

Since 2007, the number of golf courses closing in America has significantly outnumbered the number of new course being built.

This downward trend in American golf is even making its way to the professional level.  In 1986, American golfers made up 60 percent of the Top 100 players in the World Golf Rankings. By the end of 2010, Americans made up only 32 percent of the Top 100.

Upon viewing these numbers, most immediately peel that two-by-four off of their faces and cite two main causes: cost and time.

While those are certainly two of the main factors, I would contest that the cause of the time issue in particular is actually one of, if not the biggest problems when it comes to the decline of golf in America.

In terms of pure participation in the game, the cost issue isn’t that large of a factor, in my opinion. 

More than 80 percent of golf participants play at public courses and junior and senior golfers combine to make up only 30 percent of all golfers in America.  This means that the other 70 percent of golfers are between the ages of 18-65, and a very large portion of that segment would have the financial means to pay a $45 public green fee once per week if they so desired.

Plain and simple, the majority of Americans that have the means to play golf simply don’t have the time.

Any sharp increase or decrease in the golfing public will be driven by the common golfer.  Nine-to-fivers with a little extra money in their pockets that enjoy going out and playing a round of golf with their buddies truly drive the amateur game in America.

But one of the major issues when it comes to the common American golfer is that our modern lifestyle in not conducive to golf.  When I mention nine-to-fivers, it’s more of a figure of speech than a reality.  There are really no more nine-to-fivers left in America these days.  You’re lucky if you’re a nine-sevener.

According to The Center for American Progress, more than 85.5 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week (not counting an hour for lunch).  38% of professional males are working more than 50 hours per week.

Americans work 270 hours more than British workers, 300 hours more than Australian workers and nearly 500 hours more than French workers each year.

That means that most Americans have little time for anything other than working, eating and sleeping during the week.

For most Americans, there’s virtually no such thing as catching a quick nine after work. We simply work too many hours.

This also cuts into the potential time available on the weekends to get in a round of golf.

Being that most working Americans have little time for much else other than working during the week, there’s a lot more that has to get done during those measly 48 hours on the weekend.

Taking four or five hours out of a Saturday afternoon to play a round of golf with friends simply isn’t feasible for many Americans.

The other issue is that, although vacation time may differ from company to company, generally speaking, most Americans only receive two weeks of paid vacation days per year.  That’s only 10 days, folks…and Americans covet those precious few days more than gold.  

Every single country except Canada, Japan and the United States mandates between 20 and 30 paid vacation days per year for full-time employees.

That may not sound like a big deal in terms of its effect on golf participation, but it is.

Americans take those 10 vacation days to bring the family on a trip once per year.

Taking a Friday off here and there to play golf is virtually unheard of in America.  You do that just five times per year and you have plowed through half of your allotted vacation days.  Heck, at many companies, it would probably even be “shunned,” whether you’re using your own vacation days or not.

Taking a week off to relax at home and catch a few rounds of golf and maybe do some housework would have your boss and co-workers suggesting that you seek some kind of psychological help.

Plain and simple, the view that Americans live to work is right on the money.

In general, our work/life balance here in America is horrendous.  Being that golf falls within the “life” section of that time balance, it should come as no surprise that people are playing fewer and fewer rounds of golf these days.  The time simply doesn’t exist anymore.  

So yes, the American economy is still struggling, and yes, golf in America is extremely expensive if you’re looking to play top-quality courses.

But all of that is trivial when compared to the true underlying reason why so many people are reluctant to go out and pay a $45 green fee at a public course on Saturday afternoon.

The game of golf is not the problem nor is the four hours it takes to play 18 holes.

The problem is that the work, work, work, go, go, go American lifestyle simply doesn’t leave four hours for most Americans to sit back and relax each week.

Now, this lifestyle issue affects far more important things than golf, such as time with your family, people’s ability to help their kids with their school work, people’s ability to attend or even take part in their children’s after-school activities, the time people have to exercise, etc.

Golf is only one aspect that is affected by this general lack of balance most Americans have in their lives these days.  But make no mistake; golf is being detrimentally affected by the American culture of living to work.

You can address the issue by trying to make 12-hole courses or night golf.  But why not address the main underlying issue as to why people simply don’t have the time to participate in this great game anymore?

The fact is that most Americans need a lot more balance in their lives, and with more balance comes more time to relax and take part in things such as a leisurely round of golf with friends and family.

For more golf news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report.


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