Joe Beditz of the National Golf Foundation is widely recognized as a leading expert on the business of golf. Beditz joined the NGF in 1984 and has served as its president and chief executive since 1989. Under his leadership, the NGF, founded in 1936, has become one of the world’s foremost research and consulting organizations for the golf market.
Part of the legacy that Beditz and the NGF always will have to overcome is their 1990s claim that America could open a new course each day and not fulfill demand. In fairness to the NGF, residential developers across the country leveraged that statement and produced a glut of courses, with little regard for golf’s local demographics. Those land developers worried more about selling fairway residences than the viability of the golf courses left behind. They are more to blame than Beditz and the NGF.
Earlier this year, Morning Read’s Ted Bishop had a chance to catch up with Beditz, who shared some insightful perspectives on the state of golf in America.
Bishop: What advice would you give to public golf courses?
Beditz: Public golf courses have more opportunity to grow their business with people in a 5-10-minute radius than they might think. But, you have to really sell your golf course. You can’t just open the doors and think golfers will come. Public courses should ask themselves: How many customers were there last season for the first time? How many were beginning golfers? What are we doing to capture data? You have to promote your facility and the game. Make people feel welcome instead of wanted. Everyone feels wanted but not always welcome. Public courses have a selfish customer base that is made up of baby-boomer men who don’t want kids and women on their course. These men view the course as “their club,” and many public courses are actually more cliquey than private clubs. It’s no wonder women play twice as many rounds at private clubs than they do public courses. They feel more welcome.
TB: In that case, what advice would you give private clubs?
JB: Get the wives and kids involved in the game. Teach free when it comes to women and kids. The benefit of greater participation with women and kids will reap big dividends. Get all of your members engaged in more social activities. That is where you really need to involve women. Make the club a social destination. I would encourage every private club to “know who you are.” I see clubs that are struggling many times trying to be something they are not. Obviously, an all-men’s club has a different focus. There is also a big difference between country clubs and golf clubs when it comes to amenities that attract families or just couples. You’d better know what you are.
TB: Tell us a startling revelation about golf.
JB: The biggest obstacle in golf today is “game shame.” People feel embarrassed by how they play. There are 24 million golfers, and 60 percent will say they don’t consider themselves a golfer. These are people who shoot in the 90s and play 20-30 rounds a year. In reality, they are the core golfers. Two million people per year take up golf and play on a regular course for the first time. Another 2 million leave the game. We need a pathway to change in light of the challenges we face with retention.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga