2010 PGA Merchandise Show
PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka speaking at the 57th PGA Merchandise Show. (Pritchard/PGA of America)

PGA Merchandise Show: Day 1 Notebook

Despite the difficult times, the game of golf is still in a good place, according to PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka. Craig Dolch looks at that and more in his notebook.

By Craig Dolch, Special to PGA.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -– All things considered, golf has weathered the worst economic downturn in the last half-century better than most industries.

Golf courses around the U.S. saw only a drop of 1 percent in rounds played and 8 percent in revenues for 2008 and 2009. Moreover, the unemployment rate in the golf industry of 4.3 percent is about half the national average.

"If you would have been the head of any other industry, and said, looking back over 2008 and 2009, would you take the number of customer visits being down 1 percent and revenue down 8 percent?" Joe Steranka, the PGA of America's CEO, said Thursday on the opening day of the 57th PGA Merchandise Show.

"And my guess is, a lot of the folks, especially in industries that rely on discretionary time and money would say, 'Yeah, shoot, we'll take that.'"
 
That's not to say the golf industry hasn't struggled, especially the courses tied to recent real estate developments that sagged under the failing economy.

Golf also struggled with an elite image that included several prominent politicians questioning why certain companies sponsored professional golf events. To counter that, the PGA of America unveiled its "We Are Golf" initiative Thursday to show the positive effects golf has on the economy and the environment.

"We still have an elitist image," Steranka said. "We are still viewed as a game that is played at private golf clubs. We are still viewed as being an expensive sport to play.  Well, nine out of 10 people who play the game do not belong to a private club. The vast majority of golf is available at very affordable prices."

A study on the economic impact of golf in Florida showed the industry's direct golf impact on the state was $7.5 billion, highest in the U.S., and it generated a total economic impact of $13.8 billion. Golf is responsible for more than $167,000 jobs, according to the report.

"The significance and the importance of golf – not just to the Sunshine State, but the entire country and world – is really about jobs, jobs, jobs," said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who attended the Show's opening. "To live in a state that has a record number of golf courses and where the PGA is housed and so many golfers live … is truly special."

Celebrity watch: Among the celebrities spotted Thursday were Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, golfers Jim Furyk, Peter Jacobsen and Jan Stephenson, as well as noted instructors Hank Haney, Dave Pelz and Jim McLean.

Rooney starts Show: Major. Dan Rooney, a PGA Professional and F-16 pilot who has served three tours of duty in Iraq, kicked off the 57th PGA Merchandise Show by hitting a ceremonial shot Thursday.

Rooney is the founder of Folds of Honor and Patriot Golf Day, which helps raise money for families of fallen or killed soldiers in Iraq.

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