When Park Hill Golf Club announced this past September that it would potentially close in 2018, the CEO and president of Clayton Early Learning, the lessor of the course’s land, offered a simple explanation: “Golf isn’t everyone’s game,” Charlotte Brantley said. Recently, though, Colorado courses have been working to change the sport’s image by appealing to a demographic it’s formerly neglected—young people.
Over the past decade, at least eight golf courses have shuttered in Colorado. Most industry experts attributed the shutdowns to Great Recession aftershocks; now they point to the sport’s aging audience as a course killer. “Quite frankly, [golf] won’t survive with the current clientele we have right now,” says Eddie Ainsworth, CEO of the Colorado Professional Golfers’ Association.
That’s why organizations like the Junior Golf Alliance have been partnering with youth development programs at more courses throughout the state. For example, nonprofit First Tee of Denver offers discounted playing rates—no more than $3 per round—and loans golf clubs to kids ages four to 18 from lower-income families. Those programs are introducing the sport to more rookies, but Gary Baines, a writer for the Colorado Golf Association website, says he’ll only remain “cautiously hopeful” about golf’s future in Colorado until those teens prove they’ll play as adults.
Other signs of hope: The growing interest in golf-related entertainment like Topgolf, a chain of complexes where players—more than half of whom fall between 18 and 34—hit microchip-equipped golf balls onto a high-tech driving range (when they’re not sipping cocktails from the bar). Colorado’s first course in Centennial proved so popular that Topgolf plans to open another in Thornton in the coming years.
If the golf industry can translate these fans into actual golfers, it might avoid endangered-sport status. In the meantime, local courses are pursuing other avenues too. For example, in September, Overland Park Golf Course will close for a few weeks to host the Grandoozy music festival. That might not get more young people golfing, but it will bring in around $200,000 for improvements to the course and the surrounding neighborhood. For a sport eager to appeal to everyone, that’s a smart place to tee off.