GOLF DOWN UNDER
Richard Fellner is the Group Editor of Inside Golf Magazine
ustralian golfers are a lucky bunch. With the third highest number of golf courses per capita in the world (behind only Scotland and New Zealand), we are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing which course to play on any given day – especially in and around the golf-rich region around Melbourne. When I first moved to Australia many years ago, I was thrilled to discover just how many courses were available in both public and private forms. What’s more, there were plenty of new, worldclass championship public courses popping up on a regular basis. Courses like St Andrews Beach in Victoria (now one of the top courses in Australia), Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania (now one of the top courses in the world!), and a variety of soon-to-berenowned courses like Eynesbury, Kalgoorlie GC, Hamilton Island began staking their claim for the almighty Golfing Dollar. On the surface, the golf scene in Australia appeared mouth-wateringly good. However, unbelievably, you CAN have too much of a good thing. Around the same time as these new public courses began emerging, many private/member clubs began seeing their numbers slowly dwindle, as their members began to migrate to the “Green Fee” ranks. With such a great selection of courses on offer, not to mention a dwindling household budget, golfers began to feel that the “stuck to one course” membership model was outdated, unaffordable and unattractive. A study last year showed that social golfers outnumbered member golfers for the first time in Australia’s history, representing a troubling trend for clubs that had become dependent upon sizeable joining fees and member subscriptions. Worse, after severe droughts, a crippling Global Financial Crisis, horrible winter weather and a few floods/disasters across the country, the Australian golf industry as a whole has endured difficult times. Courses are being sold/bought/closed every month, while new projects have all but dried up. In the wake of all this, many clubs today are scrambling to stay out of the rough. While some private clubs are taking a “wait-and-see” approach (which I believe may be a massive mistake), others are aggressively promoting to the social golf market via special events, lower joining fees, unique membership models (like mid-week, seasonal, or
– Australia’s most regularly read New, excellent public courses such as Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and Kalgoorlie Golf Course in Western Australia are forcing a major rethink by private courses across Australia.
golf publication. Hailing from the United States but now a proud resident of Melbourne, Fellner is a true golf tragic having played the game for over 35 years but never getting any better at it.
credits-based systems), or participating in the “Daily Deals” fiasco like Scoopon/Groupon. Even with all that, the results are not that exciting. The fact of the matter is that there are simply too many golf courses to go around, and consolidation is the key. Many in the industry echo this sentiment, and it means that some courses will be forced to close their doors permanently or amalgamate with neighbouring clubs. Middle or lower-tier clubs simply cannot survive in the current economy, so they need to act before it is too late. “Survival of the fittest” may well and truly apply here. I love my golf. Each time a golf course closes, I feel empty inside. Even if I have never seen the course, I think about the members, the good times and the rich history that the club represented. Moreover, I lament on the fact that would be one more course that I will never have the opportunity to play. Nevertheless, I also understand mergers and acquisitions (and insolvencies and closures) are part of business, and we would be foolish to think it would not happen to golf. As a result, we must do whatever is necessary to ensure the golf industry stays strong and healthy. Part of that, unfortunately, requires some closures and/or mergers. However, that is not necessarily bad. Some of history’s greatest companies/inventions/creations came about through mergers and collaboration. The same will happen, I hope, with Australian golf. With fewer courses available, albeit high quality ones, the law of “Supply and Demand” will ring true, and the Australian Golf industry may end up healthier as a result.
Does Australia have too many golf courses?