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Report: Golf in the U.S. is very, very good, thank you

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

A new economic study commissioned by the World Golf Foundation says golf is a "very significant segment of the U.S. economy."

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Here's a scary question for the millions of people who make their living from golf.

What if Tiger Woods had decided to take up bowling when he was a cub?

I won't say there would be no PGA Tour if Tiger Woods wasn't around breaking every record in the books and chasing Jack Nicklaus' legendary majors title. But, I don't see Jim Furyk or Vijay Singh commanding the world stage. If not for Woods, golf might now be the equivalent of tennis, or worse.

When's the last time you cared about tennis? When John McEnroe was calling yet another chair umpire a piece of slime?

Golf is having a hard enough time even with Woods.

The best thing about the PGA Merchandise Show this year was more elbow room, at least for reporters covering the show. The show has definitely dwindled in recent years, and the media room had far fewer reporters scrapping over the only two computers not charging $25 a day for Internet access.

And you know somebody's in trouble when they start charging the media for food. Not sure if it's the media or show organizers.

Some might point to the impending recession as the culprit for the moderately waning interest, but the fact is, some of the biggest players in the industry have conspicuously stayed away for years. Ping didn't show up the last five years and only made an appearance this year as part of a PGA of America project on club fitting, which everyone seems to be hawking these days to generate revenue.

TaylorMade showed up this year with clothes, but not clubs; the company's Adidas clothing partner was here. Titleist has found better things to do since 2002.

Part of these absences can be explained by the changing nature of the industry. Pro shops and golf stores rarely come to these shows to load up on a year's worth of inventory any more. Still, that's a pretty ominous missing trio.

Maybe that's what propelled golf to commission a study that argues how financially healthy it is. It's kind of like the current presidential race: State primary winners get boosts and fill their campaign wallets while losers are reduced to begging and explaining.

Golf needs to be seen as financially viable in order to attract fans, sponsors and tournaments. Remember, these are businesspeople running these organizations: the PGA Tour, the PGA of America and the like. Image is everything.

The World Golf Foundation commissioned an economic impact study by the research firm SRI International, the second since 2000, and used the PGA Merchandise Show to release the results.

The conclusion: "Golf remains a very significant segment of the U.S. economy."

They're throwing around some very impressive numbers. For example, the report said golf in the U.S. generated $76 billion in direct economic impact in 2005, well above the $62 billion five years ago.

This second report also measured direct, indirect, "induced" and total impact and said that golf generated a total impact of $195 billion in 2005 and created about two million jobs with an income of $61 billion.

I know a lot of assistant pros who might laugh at that number, but SRI is a respected research company and who's to argue?

In any case, the average annual growth rate is 4.1 percent, according to these figures, well ahead of the 2.5 percent annual inflation rate. That's bigger than the motion picture and video industries.

Again, I know some former Myrtle Beach golf course owners who might object to that, but then again, the ones who have survived are charging higher green fees now.

Most of that growth happened in the areas of golf facility revenues, real estate and golf-related tourism.

Golf's powers are anxious to get this new study out to the public.

"Golf is a meaningful contributor to this nation's economic engine, and it's important to everyone in this building, important that everybody in the industry and everyone who plays golf is aware of these statistics," WGF Chairman David Fay said at the press conference announcing the study's findings. "But, I would say it's equally important, if not more so, that this information about the economic impact has been circulated to those 270 million Americans who don't play golf, because we all know they are people who will definitely be in a position to affect and influence golf's future well-being."

Now if Tim Finchem and the fellas can just make the game easier, cheaper and shorter.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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