If Nobody Plays Golf, What Happens To Golf Courses?

Don’t tell granddad, but golf appears to be dying.

Golf was never the most popular sport in the United States. Compared to giants such as baseball and football, the leisurely sport is a blip on the pastime radar. But it’s definitely had it’s moments, particularly in the recent heyday of global golf star Tiger Woods. Yet with Woods’ game and popularity (thanks in part to his much-publicized affairs) declining, golf has reached a critical point.

According to The Washington Post, the sale of golf merchandise fell by 28 percent in 2014. Even more troubling for the sport’s future, golf courses have begun to close and lose money. In fact, the 462 million rounds of golf played at courses nationwide is the lowest total since 1995, when 441 million rounds were played. And it’s certainly lower than the sport’s peak years of 492 million from 2000-01.

The reasons for this decline are many, including the expense of playing the sport (buying your own clubs, shoes, etc.) and the length of time it takes to play the game. Even Jack Nicklaus, one of the sport’s legendary figures, admitted to The Post that Americans are not flocking to the sport because of how long it takes to play. 

Courses that are closing or struggling have found other uses besides golf. For example, locations in Colorado and Minnesota are promoting cross country skiing as a way to stave off closure. Others are reforming for other sports, such as the newly popular FootGolf, essentially golf with a soccer ball instead of clubs. 

The decline of golf might not mean much to the average American but the fact is it could have a big impact on older Americans. There are currently 29 million active golfers in the country, and they have an average age of 54. The sport provides a lot of enjoyment and, most importantly, exercise to this aging demographic. If golf courses were to suddenly shut down for good, what kind of sports would older Americans play? We have some suggestions if you are forced to replace golf as your sport of choice:


It might not fulfill your outdoor fix, but bowling is definitely a sport that older Americans can use as a replacement for golf. Besides being a fun and competitive activity, bowling offers a number of health benefits for Americans. For example, the Mayo Clinic found that the average person weighing 200 pounds can burn up to 275 calories per hour. And if weight loss and staying in shape was not your main goal when playing golf, the sport has a social aspect that can rival golf. There are approximately 2 million bowlers in the United States, meaning that you won’t have any trouble finding a new friend at your local bowling alley.


Not ready to say goodbye to golfing? You can try a relatively new sport that combines golf and soccer: footgolf. Though you might not have heard of it before, it’s actually one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S., generating $22 million last year, according to Roberto Valestrini, president of the American Footgolf League. There are more than 30 courses in the state of Florida alone, making it a great fit for the many golf lovers in the state. 

Much like golf, the object is to get the ball into the hole in as few tries as possible. Instead of using a club, you use your legs and instead of using a golf ball you use a soccer ball. (And yes, the hole is bigger.) Blue Cypress, a golf course in Jacksonville, Fla., tried its hand at Footgolf and found the number of people interested in the sport helped keep them in business. “Golf courses close every day in the U.S. because of lack of membership, so we’re telling courses to put a footgolf course in to generate new traffic, and it’s working,” Glenn Connelly, president of the Jacksonville Footgolf Association, told The Florida Times Union.

Cross Country Skiing 

Some struggling courses have taken to allowing cross-country skiing. While this is only an activity that you can do during the winter, it’s one way to take advantage of closed golf courses near you. Don’t have a lot of experience with cross country skiing? No problem. The Donovan Golf Course in Peoria, Ill., attracts both new and experienced skiers.

Why are golf courses such a good place to ski? “Cross country skiers in the Midwest always know that golf courses are a prime place to (ski)…because of the low grass, the well kept lawn,” Ken Beckler, a long time skier at the course, told The Journal Star. Unlike regular skiing, as long as you are well enough to walk you can never be too old to try cross-country skiing.

We think it’s worth taking a crack at these activities in the event that golf courses start closing near you. What do you think? Could you see yourself playing footgolf or bowling rather than golf?

-Zach Halper

Zach Halper is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from Goucher College in Baltimore, Md., in 2009 with a BA in English. He previously worked for The NonProfit Times and Noodle Education.



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