Golf courses across the nation are suffering from a quintessential economic problem: too much supply and not enough demand. How the game responds to this problem may define its trajectory in American sport for decades to come.
As articles in the LA Times and the New York Times recently explained, golf developers expected Tiger Woods to drive golf demand to new heights when he joined the PGA tour. In anticipation, developers built additional golf courses. And then a few more, and a few more after that.
However, for a variety of reasons—the time-constrained nature of modern-day life, Lance Armstrong and the growth of cycling, the rise of self-directed activities like Yoga, and other unanticipated factors—the demand never materialized.
Suddenly the game had too many golf courses and not enough golfers to play them. The Bay Area golf market in particular is overbuilt: it supplies 6 million more rounds annually than golfers demand. Under these market conditions, golf courses will close: the only question is which ones. If we subsidize under-performing, low-quality courses, we will force better courses to close instead, and the future of golf will suffer as its best courses are lost.
In contrast, the City of Burbank recently bailed out its money-losing municipal golf course while imposing $8.7 million dollars in cuts to libraries and other city services. This is not only an inequitable approach, but also unsustainable. Golf courses simply must close if demand and supply are to reach equilibrium again, and bailing out low quality courses only ensures that better courses will close instead. That’s why we should thank Supervisor John Avalos for introducing legislation to restore Sharp Park: it’s not only good for our communities, it also ensures the game of golf will exit this market crisis in the best shape possible.