Hate the long winter? So does the golf industry
Nobody is feeling the itch of cabin fever more than golfers. The unusually harsh winter that has gripped many parts of the country has taken a toll on the golf industry. After all, despite the existence of technological advancements in simulators and video games, golf is still an outdoor sport.
Those involved in the business of golf have been trying to find new ways to get golfers to focus less on the winter weather and more on spring. It’s one of the big reasons why equipment makers like TaylorMade Golf have decided to take a “grass roots” approach to kick-starting momentum for the upcoming season.
TaylorMade, a unit of German sports giant Adidas, opened urban driving range and golf centers this week in New York City, San Francisco, Toronto and London. The pop-up venues lasted only for a day and are designed to showcase new products and drum up interest in getting back into the swing of things once the weather improves.
People trek through a snow covered golf course in Durham, N.C., on Feb. 13, 2014.
“A long winter isn’t good for the golf business, but [by itself] it can’t hurt us too badly,” National Golf Foundation President Joe Beditz told CNBC. “Now if the bad winter weather extends into bad spring weather—then we have something to worry about from an equipment sales perspective.”
That winter weather worry is legitimate for the equipment industry. Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on equipment and apparel for the game of golf.
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Golfers often make choices about spending for gear depending on how early they can actually get out and use the stuff. If winter lasts too long, or the spring gets too wet, some golfers could delay their purchases for the year or abandon their plans completely till the following year.
“When you extend the winter by a month, you reduce the sales almost by a month in the U.S.,” said Benoit Vincent, TaylorMade’s chief technical officer. “It’s not exactly a ratio of 1-to-1, but in the toughest part of the country when it’s the coldest, that’s what you find.”
An even bigger impact can be felt among golf courses across the country. The golf foundation estimates that around 12.5 percent of golf rounds played in any given year are played during the months of January through March. That’s not a lot, but if harsh weather lasts beyond that, it starts to hurt.
About $3 billion is spent on greens fees during March and April combined. Rounds of golf are a highly perishable inventory, much like hotel rooms. Once the day is gone, the revenue potential for that day is gone forever.
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That’s why golfers are chomping at the bit to get out and enjoy more temperate weather.
Golfers “are real excited about the better weather because that’s when they play golf,” said Hank Haney, former coach to Tiger Woods. “Everybody in the golf business is hoping it improves, especially on weekends and holidays.”
Others are optimistic not just that the golfing industry will recover from the winter, but that it will start to show real signs of growth again. Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer said he sees signs of improvement in various parts of the industry and country because the overall economy is getting better.
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“It’s not an even or level recovery across the board,” he said, “but folks I’m talking to are getting more optimistic.”
—By CNBC’s Dominic Chu. Follow him on Twitter @thedomino.