State of golf industry better, with room for improvement

Golf bags on carts
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The sale of golf equipment is improving, but hasn't yet returned to pro-recession levels.

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 | 11:10 p.m.

With the arrival of Thanksgiving Week, golf season around much of the country is winding down -- or at least slowing down -- so it’s a good time to take a look at what kind of a year the industry is having.

A few days ago, I posted an item reporting the good news that rounds played through the first three quarters of 2011 were up about 9 percent nationwide over the same period in 2011. That info came from the National Golf Foundation's State of the Golf Industry Update, which also takes a look at several other aspects of the industry.  Here are some more details from that report:

Golf Course Operations: Logically, golf courses operators have benefitted most directly from the jump in rounds played. PGA PerformanceTrak reports golf fee revenues up nearly 9 percent at member facilities, and these facilities report similar gains in food, beverage and merchandise revenues. However, the report noted, the weather, local competition and the state of local economies drive individual course performance, and stressed that courses are battling harder than ever for business.

Golf Course Development: U.S. golf course openings remain at historic lows and that won't change for the foreseeable future, said the NGF. Course closures will be about the same as last yea, and the NGF believes this gradual reduction of the number of courses open for play is expected to continue into at least the near future.

The good news is that golf course transaction activity has increased in 2012 as distressed properties are being purchased by opportunistic entrepreneurs, many of whom continue to operate them as golf courses rather than re-develop them. Some of the factors preventing course owners from turning their courses into housing developments or finding other uses for them are the lack of available credit, low commercial space occupancy rates and large amount of houses already on the market.

Outside the United States, golf course development continues to grow. The NGF says it has identified more than 150 new course openings in the last two years, and is aware of more than 300 new courses currently under construction in 85 countries around the world.

Golf Equipment: Sales of golf equipment continue to trend upward after bottoming out in 2009, says the NGF. Wholesale golf club sales are up more than 8 percent in 2012 (in both units and dollars). While still below pre-recession levels, the report adds, this evidence of recovery is encouraging.

Interestingly, however, the sale of golf balls has yet to recover, even despite this year’s 9 percent increase in rounds played. In fact, the total dozens of ball shipped this year has actually dropped over the last year, though the dollar amount paid for those balls has risen over last year.