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In a 2003 Business Report survey, it was estimated that there were about 50 to 61 million golfers worldwide. The most number of golfers can be found in the United States, where there are an estimated 26 to 37 million golfers. At around the same time, it was also estimated that there were 16,944 golf courses in the United States, comprising public, resort, private, semi-private and military courses. In 2005, Golf Digest calculated that there were 32,000 golf courses in the world, and approximately half of them were in the United States. That’s a lot of golf courses.

While some estimates say that the number of golfers has increased 5% year-on-year, the National Golf Foundation in the United States reported that the number of people who play golf 25 times or more per year fell from 6.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2005. Now that’s quite a drastic drop for a country with about 16,000 golf courses.

Malaysia does not keep official records of the number of golfers in the country, active or otherwise. Actually, the reason why we don’t have such records is because no golfing authority or organization over here has the interest nor the know-how to keep such records. So all we have are the figures bandied about by the local golf magazines, mostly to serve their own interests. They say we have about 300,000 to 400,000 golfers in the country, not all of them active of course. And we have about 204 golf courses, or is it 203 (one or two may have gone into liquidation)? 400,000 golfers? They must be dreaming. Lets do some simple math. If every golf club in Malaysia had 1000 active golfers, we would have a total of 204,000 golfers (multiplied by 204 golf clubs). And 204,000 is about half of 400,000. Even this projection is not realistic because other than the clubs in the Klang Valley, the majority of the 204 clubs would be very happy to have even 200-300 active members. Conclusion? As far as golf in Malaysia is concerned, we do not have the numbers.

I once wrote an article on the state of the local golf industry. I concluded that things are not as rosy as some of the golf retailers here would like you to believe. One particular golf retailer, who are in the business of selling overpriced Japanese golf equipment, was not happy. People like them want you, the golfer, to believe that everything is fine so that you can buy more from them. To these people, I have one question. If business is so good, why are there so many sales? Answer: Because if they didn’t hold a sale, nobody would buy. And if nobody bought, they cannot service their bank loans. And if they cannot service their bank loans, they will have to close shop. How can business be good when Malaysia only has a few thousand active golfers, compared to say, 30 million golfers in the United States? And for the uninformed, the golf industry (number of rounds per year, equipment sales) in the United States had an up-and-down last few years. Despite the large number of golfers and golf courses, they too experienced bad business. As for our golf retailers over here, expect more sales.

Things are not looking that good either on the publication side. Golf magazines over here do not reveal their true monthly subscription or over-the-counter sales figures. If they were to do so, people may laugh at the small numbers. Nowadays, who really goes to the bookshop to buy a golf magazine? Most rather stand there at the news stand and glance through the magazine for free. And the reason for this? Its the same boring content being pushed down your throat month after month. Would you be rushing to the bookshop to buy a magazine for a story of a major tournament that has long concluded, the same one that had you glued to your television set a few weeks ago? Not really.

And how are the golf clubs faring? Even worse. Many do not have the funds to properly maintain their tracts or their club premises. Most golf clubs are running at a loss. The status of owning a golf club membership has long lost its allure and today, nobody is so foolish to dish out RM20,000 to RM40,000 for such a membership. Memberships purchased a few years ago cannot even fetch half of their original value today. You would have done better in the stock market. Because of this, the so-called “golf packages” are not only getting cheaper, but seems to be the only way some golf clubs can attract golfers to their courses. So why hasn’t more golf courses closed down? Because many are owned by big corporations and listed companies, who can stomach the pain of seeing their golf club operating costs in the red, month after month. The reality is that most of these corporations would be really happy if someone would suddenly appear and offer them a break-even price for their ill-conceived “investment.”

There is a however a happy side to this rather sad state of affairs. And the magic word is cheap. Cheap green fees, cheap golf equipment, cheap access to golf. While the industry gasps for air, golfers can celebrate. While the price of everything else shoots up, playing golf in Malaysia can only get cheaper in the near future.

And that’s good news for hackers like us.

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