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Can golf’s demise inspire business leaders?

golf and business challenges
Golf Club Against Ball” by Wojciech Kulicki is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When we think about the need to embrace change in business to keep pace with competitors and consumer tastes we don’t always have the chance to see how this type of change might apply to the world of sports.

On HBO’s Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel examined the future of golf. The story began by showing overgrown, abandoned golf courses in foreclosure across the country. In addition, there seemed to be a general consensus that golf is simply too expensive, too elitist and too hard to sustain popularity in today’s world. It’s stuffy, formal and its old-fashioned traditions no longer seem relevant.

Real Sports shared that during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the golf industry saw its popularity soar and business boom. Thanks in part to superstar Tiger Woods, young and old alike were drawn to the sport like never before, as evidenced by strong television ratings, raucous crowds, a retail explosion, and most of all, a massive building boom that saw roughly 5,000 golf courses built over two decades.

“Golf has been a crummy business for a long time,” said Paul Swinand, an analyst at Morningstar, Inc. in Chicago.

Most observers and industry executives agree that the bubble has officially burst, and the golf business is slowly dying. Over the last eight years, participation is down 20% nationwide and more courses have closed than opened in the U.S. annually.

Smart industry leaders are taking this all very seriously and believe drastic measures are needed to ensure the future of the sport. Among the proposals are a 15-inch cup versus the traditional four and one-quarter inch hole, an entertaining driving range game called Top Golf, and Foot Golf, which is golf played on a regular course but with a soccer ball. Disc golf has also gained tremendous popularity in recent years.

For traditionalists, these changes seem irreverent. For agile and forward-thinking industry leaders and entrepreneurs these changes represent opportunity. What will the future of golf be? It is hard to say at this point, but clearly, looking at the game differently and making it more appealing to the masses is a clear mandate. Re-invention is the opportunity.

How might this be similar to your business challenges?  Are there sacred cows, antiquated policies and procedures or stale practices that need fresh eyes and clear minds to review and re-invent?