by Robert Bicknell
I was in a discussion with some golf friends the other day, specifically the sustainability of golf in Việt Nam. As you might expect, golf in the US came up as part of the discussion, because the US seems to be the benchmark for everything… which still confounds me.
Most expensive healthcare, most expensive school fees, most gun deaths… you get the picture. And now we could probably add – most golf club closures as well.
According to the NGA (National Golf Foundation) around 200 clubs close per year in the US, which had over 16,000 golf clubs at one time. Now it’s down to 14,800 in 2018. The reasons for the closures can be mostly attributed to a lack of interest (milennials do not like golf… or anything else it seems), the high costs to play (equipment, fees, etc).
I just read where an old club in Illinois just changed from private to public in a desperate effort to keep their doors open, but the owner is still hoping for someone to buy it… and turn it into a residential housing estate.
Which poses another problem, real estate developers look at golf clubs as prime real estate for construction projects, and do whatever they can to get their hands on them.
Australia is another haven for golf, but I frequently get emails of clubs being closed or sold. Europe is the same.
So, when we look at the future of golf in Việt Nam, we have to consider how much of a good thing is a bad thing. Right now there are 51 golf courses in Việt Nam, with 25-30 new ones expected to open within five years. In total, there are 65 new projects on the horizon, but nobody knows if they will even get off the ground.
I hope not.
Việt Nam is a small market with limited players. At present, there are only 40,000-45,000 players nationwide, of which Vietnamese only account for 55-60 per cent of them.
Adding 25-30 new clubs is tantamount to suicide for the industry as there simply aren’t enough new players entering the game to sustain the total amount of clubs. Also, farmers look at golf projects and think: “I could grow stuff on that land.” So they’re not happy either.
The bottom line is that, like with any new project, the owners must complete due diligence and identify where their potential customers will come from, how they can develop new players and have a good business and marketing plan. Failure to do so, or simply relying on taking players from established clubs is not growing the market, but an act of cannibalism. The industry begins to eat itself.
Normally, I am against government intervention in anything, but this is one time where I hope they keep a close eye on the situation and restrict new golf project licenses if the developers cannot see the golf course through the trees.
Now then, who will win the US Open at Pebble Beach?
Right now, the smart money is on Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson as they have been red hot, but you cannot discount Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson from making their presence known either as they have the experience at Pebble to pull off a surprise.
The biggest question is if the USGA will listen to the players who have been literally begging for “fair playing conditions” this year, which is a fair thing to ask for as the USGA has been making the courses more ridiculous each year.
Look, I like watching the “Best players in the world” lose their minds out there each year, but it does reach a point where it’s no longer fun to watch. Imagine a football player getting kicked in the nuts. Every guy watching will instinctively flinch and say “ouch”.
It’s the same thing when watching ridiculous golf. It’s no fun and you begin to sympathise with the players, but at the same time you cannot look away either. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck.
Personally, I’m pulling for Tiger or Phil because I sympathise with the older guys now.
Speaking of Tiger, he recently slapped down Hank Haney – you know the guy – he coached Tiger for a while, then wrote a book claiming how good he was compared to Butch Harmon and whined that Tiger “never offered him a popsicle” for his racist comments.