By Steve Habel
SAN ANTONIO – More than 13,000 professionals, insiders and decision-makers from all 50 states and 75 countries converged on San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center Feb. 21-26 for the annual Golf Industry Show, the largest trade show and demonstration forum the industry.
We spent two days browsing through the more than 500 exhibitors’ booths, displays and sales pitches and bumped into several Oklahoma-based industry leaders. We asked them one question: what’s the state of golf as a whole and in the Sooner State?
Tripp Davis, ASGCA
Golf Course Architect and amateur player
I would suggest that we are finding ways to be efficient where we weren’t in the past. I, as a player, find it harder and harder to make the time to get to the course. We have done a better job of recruiting players for nine-hole rounds and that’s really a key to reach those that aren’t already playing the game.
I have a short course under development in Ocala, Fla. with Tom Lehman that’s an 18-hole par-3 layout that can also be played as a six-hole short course in an hour and 15 minutes. Those options may be our future.
When I started in the business I had never worked for another architect so I had to scrape my way around with renovations of existing courses and smaller restorations. When the stuff hit the fan in 2008, I had plenty of renovation and restoration work and that’s where all the work is now because very few courses are being built.
Eight months ago I had seven people on our staff and I felt like I had to constantly find work to keep everyone going. We had to ask a couple of our people to look elsewhere (for work). I’ve always been very hands-on with my design work but one of the things I really like about being in this business is going back and playing the courses I’ve designed, renovated or restored and couldn’t do that for the past six or seven years.
Playing competitive golf is important to me and my game suffered because I couldn’t practice to play at the level I want to. My kids are only going to be at home for a few more years and I want to spend more time with them. We are fortunate to have a lot of work but it’s not as overwhelming as it was.
The health of some courses and clubs in Oklahoma is so tied to revenue from oil pricing, so that will always be in flux. Overall, I think the state of golf in Oklahoma is very good because the quality and depth of the courses in the state is excellent and people care about golf.
Founder and President of SNAG Golf
More people are aware of what we do and the significance of what we do. We are getting more traction from golf organizations and that will bode well for us and the golf industry as well.
The industry is still in decline and we haven’t hit the bottom. We still have courses closing and we need that to stop. In order to have real reversal, you have to have a period of stabilization to occur before moving forward. We haven’t gone through that transition yet. We are looking to have conversations to expedite those transitions and develop a cogent plan that allows us to regrow the game in a lot smarter way than we have in the past. SNAG Golf hopes to be a big part of that.
What people don’t realize is that there are more kids in America that have a SNAG club in their hands learning golf than those that actually play golf. SNAG is in 8,000 schools in America with an average of 600 students per school – that’s almost 5 million children learning with SNAG. None of those kids are counted in the population of golf and I find that unacceptable. Golf organizations should look at and welcome those kids with open arms into our environment – they are learning the skill sets properly but no one even talks to us about it. We can’t get an audience with the powers that be and that’s just unbelievable.
The challenge is for us all to come together and look at any option and at what anybody out there is using and find a way to bring us all together. Golf is a game of affluence but in every other sport, success comes from an empty stomach, not a full one. We will find long term that our future golfers will come from our public schools. We have a plan to put into every school in Oklahoma – it’s just getting the right people involved to commit to the work and see the vision.
Founder and Owner of Pinhigh Lapping Compound
Oklahoma has had its difficulties like everyone else but we’ve had a very steady business and that’s probably a combination of hard work and a little luck.
Our lapping compound helps sharpen mower blades and we’ve been doing this for 27 years. We are not setting the world on fire but people have to sharp mowers because that’s the way to get the best out of their equipment. The new grasses like Zoysia can dull mowers because it’s a thicker blade and we have the solution for that.
Given the need to watch the bottom line on maintenance as much as possible, our products are vital to superintendents.
Associate Professor for Turfgrass Management and Irrigation
Oklahoma State University, Stillwater
I have more jobs available that I have students to fill those jobs. It’s a great career if someone wants to get into the business and make a good starting wage. Some of the assistant superintendents make $30,000-50,000 a year.
I would like to have some help from the industry to help sell the profession and tell the story of what this career can offer. It’s a great job for people who like to work outside or like to study agronomy, which got me into the business.
We are playing around with GPS technology to better refine mowing and spraying lines so the industry is at the front of everything that’s going on. And that’s always holds a bit of appeal to our young people.