Golf on decline in Minnesota, but innovative game attracts new players

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The number of people playing golf has been dwindling over the last decade, which is taking its toll on Minnesota's golf courses, and the people who work at them.

Minnesota, a state that's been said to have the most golfers per capita, is feeling the effects of a declining industry. More than 650,000 people played golf in Minnesota at least once a year, but that number is dropping and so is the number of courses in the state, KSTP says.

The Star Tribune notes membership to the Minnesota Golf Association (MGA), which is an indicator of how many avid golfers there are in the state, dropped from a high of 94,000 in 1999 to 65,000.

Those who used to play, but have since given up the sport, say a lot of it has to do with the amount of time it takes, how much it costs and how difficult it is.

Tom Ryan, executive director of the MGA, told the KSTP there are about 500 golf courses in Minnesota, but no new ones have been built since 2006, while 15 have closed in recent years, including at least two at the end of last season, and more are expected to do the same.

“Really, 25 percent of all the golf courses in Minnesota have been built since 1990. Certainly the number of golfers hasn’t gone up by that number,” Ryan told WCCO. “There’s an oversupply of golf courses. We overbuilt.”

The Fred Richards Golf Course in Edina is just one golf course planning to close at the end of the year.

"As our golf courses are aging, we have investments that need to be made in the courses," Ann Kattreh, Edina's parks and recreation director, told WCCO. "And we just didn't have enough money to make the investments."

The Star Tribune notes six-figure operating losses in 2011 for many city-operated courses in the metro, which has many of them considering consolidation or to getting rid of them altogether. The City of Minneapolis reported a 46 percent drop in the number of rounds played since 2000, according to Streets.mn, which wrote a post titled "Minneapolis should get out of the golf game."

Private clubs are also seeing losses – joining fees for many clubs are fractions of what the used to be, the Star Tribune says.

"The core group who loves golf will stick with it, but we're worried about those people who have not taken to it totally," Trillium Sellers, a pro golfer who is a member of the PGA and is working on the golf association's task force for player development, told CBS News. "They are in that make-or-break state, where they might try it, but if they don't like it, they won't come back again."

National trend

Minnesota mirrors a national trend. Business Week says the number of U.S. golfers had dropped 24 percent from its peak in 2002, to about 23 million players in 2013 – and last year alone, golf lost 1.1 million players.

FastHorse, a Minneapolis-based company that dubs itself a non-traditional, integrated marketing agency, looked at the decline of golf in a recent post on its website, noting how the game – and its most well-known players – are adapting to survive and attract new players.

FastHorse not only looked at the decline in the number of players and courses, but also how it has affected the sporting goods industry.

In July, Dick's Sporting Goods fired all its more than 500 PGA professions that it employed in the golf sections of more than 560 stores, ESPN reported. And during its second quarter, Adidas had an 18 percent decline in its golf business, including sales of TaylorMade clubs and balls, according to a news release.

Soccer-golf hybrid gains popularity

Earlier this year, PGA of America President Ted Bishop announced the formation of a PGA task force to grow the game of golf through non-traditional means – one of those is through a new phenomenon known as footgolf, which combines soccer and golf, PGA America says.

Footgolf is played with a soccer ball on a shorted golf hole with a cup that's about 21-inches wide, and the rules largely correspond to those of golf, but are slightly relaxed, according to the Federation for International Footgolf.

This new sport has some Minnesota golf courses adding footgolf holes, hoping it lures more people to the course.

“With the amount of kids that love to play soccer, and 30-somethings who still like kicking around a ball, it’s a natural,” Bloomington's golf manager, Rick Sitek, told the Star Tribune earlier this year. “If we can get more kids out there doing it, and get revenue up for us, that’s what it’s all about.”

Footgolf's popularity is exploding. Sitek told the newspaper Hyland Greens golf course had 540 rounds of footgolf played in June, and in the first two weeks of July there were 600 rounds.

According to the American Footgolf League (AFGL), there are eight certified footgolf courses in Minnesota, including Hyland Greens golf course, Angushire golf club, Cragun's Legacy golf club,Baker National golf club, Majestic Oaks golf course, Columbia Golf CourseHiawatha Golf Club and Brooklyn Golf Park.

The AFGL organized the first 18-hole footgolf tournament in the Midwest on July 22, 2012, KSTP says. And since then it's grown in popularity, being played at more than 214 golf courses in 38 states, according to Footgolf Minnesota.

Footgolf proponents say the sport is far less formal than golf – and its faster, which attracts new people to the course.

Other initiatives to make the game faster and easier have been detailed by the New York Times, including 15-inch holes and urging players to play fewer holes in a round.

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