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Golf is big business in America, with a total economy estimated at nearly 70 billion dollars.
The U.S. is also the world’s biggest market for golf equipment, according to a report from Golf Datatech. The other top countries are Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom, Canada and China.
But the industry is working on ways to make golf more appealing, especially to young Americans.
The CEO of the U.S.-based World Golf Foundation, Steve Mona, told VOA he believes the current state of golf is healthy and stable. His group says about 20 million Americans regularly play the game.
But Mona also sees the need for change, to get more people to discover and play golf. He said the industry has focused on ways to make the game faster, more playable and fun.
Some golf courses have expanded fairways so golfers have less chance of losing balls in water or trees. Others move up the starting point for young or new players, so they are closer to the hole.
Some new courses also have fewer obstacles than in the past, such as water ponds or sand traps. And the area near the hole is sometimes designed flatter, to keep the ball from rolling too much.
These changes could also attract adult golfers who want to play a faster, less difficult game. But with young people, Mona said it is important to get them interested at an early age.
One program to do this is the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, for girls and boys ages 7-15.
The name of the competition refers to golf’s three main skills. Driving is when a golfer hits the ball far at the start of the game. A chip is a much shorter shot, usually taken close to the hole. Putting refers to hitting the ball softly in the area near the hole, called the green.
Girls and boys from all 50 U.S. states compete in the championship. Organizers say the program has been one of the best ways to bring young people to golf.
But Mona said it is not enough just to get people interested. “The challenge for us in the golf industry is we have to convert interest into trial,” he said. “And then convert trial into actual participation in the game.”
Sam Schmitz is studying professional golf management at Eastern Kentucky University. He also believes speeding up the game will get more people to try golf.
“For the younger generation, the biggest complaint about golf is how long it takes,” he said. A full game can last four hours.
Golf is a very traditional game and has not changed much over the years. But Schmitz said many young people may become golfers for life if they see how fun and challenging it is.
His favorite parts of golf are being with others and enjoying the nature and beauty of different courses.
“It’s something different every time,” he said. “You have that one course you play a lot, but you can always go somewhere else and find a new challenge and new people.”
When it comes to course design, Schmitz said there are no big changes happening across the industry. But one design trend is to combine golf courses with other business and housing developments.
Mona sees this trend getting bigger as golf expands into new areas. He also said some old courses are now being repurposed for commercial use or as part of large economic projects.
One way to convert old courses in the United States is to turn them into parks or recreation areas for the whole community to enjoy.
One of these projects is in Grafton, Ohio, where the former Royal Oaks Golf Club was turned into a nature area.
About 39 hectares of the old golf course were converted into walking trails, hiking areas and fish ponds. The area will also protect the habitat of certain plants and animals threatened in Ohio.
Jerry Jewell lives in the area but is not a golfer. He said he likes that he can now use the green space.
“I lived there before when it was a golf course but I never came back and played golf on it. So I really never got a chance to see what it looked like, as far as the landscape and stuff.”
The non-profit Western Reserve Land Conservancy partnered with local park officials to buy the land. Joe Leslie of Western Reserve said the project is a great addition because everybody can now use it for recreation.
“There’s a select number of people that would use a golf course. Where in the case of a passive or active recreation area for that matter, it gives the opportunity for many more people to use it.”
About 10 of these projects exist in Ohio. Officials in other states are also looking at ways to repurpose former golf courses to create community green space.