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Over the past few years, much has been written and said about how golf clubs are struggling to attract and retain players, and how golf in general is facing an uphill battle against other sports that are quicker, cheaper and easier.

Golf clubs are closing/amalgamating, waiting lists are disappearing, joining fees are dwindling and membership numbers are stagnant or shrinking. Indeed, the common sentiment among golfers and the wider industry is that golf is fighting for its life.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: it may actually be doing a lot better than we all assume.

Case in point is Melbourne’s Yarra Bend Golf Course. If you haven’t been there lately, do yourself a favour and check it out. It will open your eyes. It is a shining example of just how strong and popular our game still is. And it also stands as a benchmark for how a course/facility can succeed by adapting and changing in an attempt to better cater to a target market.

For those of you who weren’t aware, Yarra Bend has undergone a bit of a transformation over the last few years. It was already one of Melbourne’s most popular Public Access courses, but in order to keep with the times, they embarked on an ambitious plan to upgrade the facility; installing a massive state-of-the-art driving range, 36-hole mini-golf course, revamped pro-shop and an upgrade/re-routing of the main golf course itself.

I hadn’t been to the facility in a while, so on a recent Saturday morning, I did my “civic duty” to the game and took my two 13-year-old boys to Yarra Bend for a hit at the range and a round of mini-golf. Upon arrival at the new facility, I was astounded at just how busy the place was. Every bay at the practice range was full, with many players queuing for a bay. On the nearby practice green, there was a clinic in progress with a huge group of juniors enjoying the fun and frivolity of the game, and both of the mini-golf courses were buzzing with excitement.

The atmosphere around the place was unlike anything I’d experienced at a golf course in recent times. It had the excitement, energy and buzz of a theme park. And it made me quite energized and optimistic about the future of golf.

Indeed, Yarra Bend absolutely “nailed it” in terms of making the facility into a family-friendly (or even just golfer-friendly) environment.

And this isn’t just an isolated example. At many public access courses around the country, the game appears to be as popular as ever.  And this sentiment is echoed in the U.S. where the innovative Topgolf driving ranges are all the rage. Topgolf take driving ranges to the extreme; giving players a sort of high-tech dartboard-type game for golf, combined with the atmosphere of your local pub.

So golf isn’t dying. It’s just that today’s golfers (let’s call them “consumers”) are simply choosing to “consume” the game differently than before (i.e. via public facilities instead of private clubs).  And for all the private clubs out there (as well as the various golf-related businesses), it is thus critical to find a way to give these consumers what they are “craving”.

See you on the fairways

About Richard Fellner

A four-time winner of the Australian Golf Media Awards, including Best Photojournalism, Best Opinion, Best Column and Best Photographic Presentation, Inside Golf Group Editor Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic, having played the game for over 50 years (but has never gotten any better!) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Media Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and has been a featured guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others. Follow Richard Fellner on Quora


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