SHERIDAN — Over the last 15 years, the number of individuals playing the game of golf has significantly decreased. According to Pellucid Corporation, nearly 30 million people in the United States played golf in 2002, an all-time high. In 2017, however, only about 20 million teed it up.
Many different entities, such as the Untied States Golf Association, National Golf Course Owners Association and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, among others, have identified a few key attributes as to why the game is hurting.
“The game is difficult; time is used differently than it was in the ‘60s — four hours is too long for their day — and it’s expensive to play,” said Brian James, club professional at Kendrick Municipal Golf Course.
Golf’s core demographic is men ages 18-30, and participation numbers in that range have fallen about 30 percent. In an effort to improve those numbers, the golf industry will look to its younger generation to help the game’s popularity bounce back.
Kendrick GC and The Powder Horn have put an emphasis on junior golf and making the game more appealing to younger kids, and the response has been positive.
“I feel like junior golf in Sheridan is pretty strong,” said Todd Bleidner, club pro at The Powder Horn. “We are hoping to continue that for years to come.”
The Powder Horn created the Sheridan Junior Golf Association four years ago, and each year the golf camps have sold out.
“Having 120 kids in a town this small every year for golf clinics is pretty good,” Bleidner said.
The golf program encompasses lessons aimed at success on and off the course. With a goal of increasing its already impressive numbers, Bleidner has started up a PGA Junior League. The league is match-play format with three-man teams playing a scramble.
More experienced golfers are paired with less-experienced players — one who plays and one who spectates.
The goal is, rather than having one inexperienced golfer hack away numerous times each and every hole, the experienced player can hit a decent shot and keep the team moving forward to reduce pressure and stress on the less-experienced player, thus improving an individual’s attitude toward the game of golf.
Forty thousand kids nationwide played in a junior league last year, and Sheridan will debut its league in July. Due to the small number of golf clubs in Sheridan, The Powder Horn is doing an in-house league with four 12-man teams.
“It’s a newer program and it has really exploded,” Bleidner said. “The benefits are it’s very inclusive, no one is riding the bench, everyone is going to play. While there is competition, it isn’t staunch competition to the point where you have a lot of meltdowns because again in a scramble format you’ve got someone backing you up. I really feel like that will be a good bridge for us to get kids from beginning and learning to on the golf course and hopefully liking and loving the game and continuing it further on.”
Kendrick GC has experienced a similar excitement from the younger generation.
Kendrick Kids Unplugged and group lessons have filled up quickly once again this year. James is excited about where junior golf is in Sheridan but is primarily looking to that core demographic that has turned away from golf for the past few years and finding ways to get them back on the course.
“Building junior golf for the next 10-20 years, that’s a component of it, but what we are trying to increase is the frequency of rounds played of our existing players,” James said. “So we are moving players from seven to ten rounds a year to 15-20 rounds a year through our marketing efforts and programs we offer.”
James thinks golf will rebound in popularity both locally and nationwide, and that starts with the young ones who are out teeing it up more frequently in Sheridan.