Is golf a dying sport? - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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Is golf a dying sport?

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Something rare took place in the Valley this past weekend. A golf course that shut down five years ago reopened. Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas is back in business as of Saturday.

It's significant because golf is a billion-dollar-a-year-business in Las Vegas and employs thousands of people. However, millions of people nationwide have given the game up.

From occasional golfers to PGA officials, there is growing consensus that changes need to be made to the game to ensure its long-term survival. Some of the changes on the table might stun golf traditionalists.

Young women in bikinis. Guys sporting Ray-Ban sunglasses. A DJ spins while bartenders keep the drinks flowing. It might sound like a beer commercial, but that was the scene at a recent Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. It's part of a push to appeal to a younger demographic.

“If we don't pay attention to the younger generation and their demands and their needs, then this game might go away,” said Chris Cain, director of the UNLV PGA golf management program.

It's estimated roughly 5 million Americans have quit golf since the year 2000, many during the Great Recession. Those who are still in the game don't play it as often as they once did.

The PGA said golf courses are scrambling to compete for a smaller pool of golfers and not taking the time to foster the next generation of golfers. About 640 courses have closed nationwide since 2006. Many of them are being reclaimed by Mother Nature.

“We need to recognize the demographics of the U.S. have changed. For many years, golf was viewed as an elitist, Caucasian sport, and we have to realize by 2050 the Caucasian person's going to be a minority. Golf needs to be proactive,” Cain said.

The PGA is reaching out to people by way of crowd-sourcing website called Hackgolf.org, asking how it can make golf appealing to everyone.

“We're kind of opening ourselves up. Public, you tell us, what would you like to see from your local golf facilities so we can better attract more people?” said Greg Brockelman, president of the Southern Nevada chapter of the PGA.

The feedback so far indicates people want the game to be easier, faster and more affordable. Changes are already being made.

Angel Park Golf Club in Summerlin is one of hundreds of golf courses across the nation to experiment with wider cups to speed play up. That doesn't sit well with traditionalists.

“I think the game as invented is still the way to play it,” said Brian Hawthorne, director of golf for Wynn Resorts.

Hawthorne said the industry has already made the game easier by producing more forgiving golf clubs. He said the challenge of the course is what makes the sport special.

“The game of golf is about the highs and lows of the sport. And if you try to eliminate some of that, it takes away from some of the core of what the game is about,” Hawthorne said.

Some people have reinvented the game to their tastes to generate interest. Paul Scaringe opened the Go Low Indoor Driving Range in Las Vegas to create an experience not available at a traditional, public golf course.

“They're losing a lot of golfers. They're losing their base because of things like pace of play, cost, snootiness of a lot of the courses. We have no dress code. If you're comfortable in a T-shirt, come in a T-shirt,” Scaringe said.

Players can get through an 18-hole round of golf at Go Low in about 90 minutes. Computer software gives players immediate feedback on everything from ball trajectory to clubhead speed.

“It's realistic. It's climate-controlled. It's indoors. It's close to my office,” player Ken Young said.

On any given day, you might find a league of younger golfers at Go Low, the elusive millennials the golf industry so desperately needs.

To make up lost revenue, several golf courses across the country have opened their fairways up to a sport other than golf. Every other Thursday, the Sin City FootGolf league takes to the fairways at Sienna Golf Club.

“It brings a different type of clientele that we're looking for. More family and friends,” Sienna Golf Club's Doug Chalmers said.

The PGA, meanwhile, has been putting more emphasis on junior leagues in order to attract younger golfers, and it has worked. There has been an uptick in younger players in recent years.

Something else that has hurt golf is referred to as the Tiger Woods Effect. When he was hot, the sport was hot. As he dropped in the standings, interest in golf dwindled.

The PGA hopes rising stars such as Rickie Fowler and Rory Mcllroy will reignite interest in the game. They're racking up wins, and they're both just 25 years old.

Golf needs younger players, but there's no guarantee they'll stick with the sport. The PGA has a formula. If a young golfer has six or fewer course experiences in a year, the odds are slim that he or she will return to the course the following year. Seven or more experiences a year predicts an 80 percent chance for return.

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