Judith She, the editor of Bowden's Market Barometer, is a fine industry publication chock full of information and observations about the golf industry, circulated a recent Washington Post article to a group of friends in golf-related businesses, including yours truly. The piece by Drew Harwell (click here to view) greatly exaggerated the imminent death of the game most of us love, and for all the typical reasons –- the sport is elite, it takes too long to play, it's too expensive, blah blah blah.
We've heard it all before. Although the golf industry does have its problems, most of them are a consequence of a lack of creativity. When times get tough, most golf directors and golf professionals rush to lower prices because, heck, that's easier than brainstorming. Just an hour before Judith sent me a copy of the article, one of my readers in Arizona wrote me about a conversation he had with a concerned pro who was smart enough to get people around a table and think about how to attract and retain customers. Two ideas he dediced to implement: Cart girls drive ice cold towels out to golfers in sweltering heat, totally complimentary; and the pro himself makes an appearance at the practice range before a foursome heads to the first tee to offer customized tips on how to play the course. I can't tell you how many pros I have met who spend all day in their offices, except for the trip to the snack bar or clubhouse dining room. (These are mostly public golf course professionals; most private club members wouldn't stand for such behavior.)
I also wonder why the nattering nabobs of golf's doom never compare golf with skiing. An estimated 20 million people made an appearance at a ski, snowboard or cross country venue last year. An estimated 24 million people played a round of golf. Skiing is more expensive than golf, is difficult to access because slopes are typically far from home, which means you have to pay for lodging, and you spend more "waiting" time prior to action than you do in golf.
And yet no one ever seems to write the end of days articles about skiing. Golf gets especially beat up because those who don't play the game perceive it as elitist when, in reality, more Joe Lunchbuckets play golf than do hedge fund managers. How often do we read articles about "elite" demographics of the skiing crowd?
We do have too many golf courses in the U.S. for the number of players, and that has been the case since before the recession of 2008 and before young people allegedly traded in their golf clubs for iPads. The explosive building of golf communities in the 1980s and 1990s contributed to the over-production of golf courses, but there is no reason to assume that the huge baby boomer cohort will turn away from golf as a retirement pastime. That group has another 20 years or so to play out. Overall, we do need to lose a few more golf courses the way J.C. Penney needed to lose a few stores, the way Kirstie Alley needed to lose a few pounds, and the way a forest occasionally needs to burn down -– all in order to promote health and stability.
The game of golf itself is in great shape. Call me a chicken but, given a choice, Pete Dye's fairway moguls seem a lot more appealing -– and safer –- than the snow covered ones.
The Healthy Way to Choose a Golf Community
by Mike Tower
The choice of a second home or permanent one in retirement is a daunting and complex decision. Location is a very personal choice, of course. I've learned the hard way, both as someone who has now gone through the process three times (I think the third time is the charm for my wife and me...at least I hope so) and from the many friends I have met along the way who have also gone through the community exploration process, that this is no game for amateurs to play alone.
Golf communities' interested parties -- its residents
I always prided myself on being a savvy consumer, and as a former successful executive, I was confident in my ability to make good decisions. However, I learned that it wasn't a question of making a good decision, but it was instead that I didn't know what I didn't know. I often didn't ask the right questions, and even when I did, I was mostly relying on answers from people who lived in the community we were investigating or from the community's real estate agents; both groups, of course, have a vested interest in selling homes in their community. Of course, caveat emptor applies to any situation in which one is a consumer, and we all know real estate agents have a monetary incentive to sell you a home. However, in most communities that attract retirees, the residents also have a personal financial interest in supporting home sales to assure their own homes are in high demand and values are being sustained or increased.
When we looked for our first golf community home, we didn't know there was anyone like your editor, Larry Gavrich, to counsel us on the search. We knew pretty much what was important to us. We wanted to live in a golf course community with a well-regarded course, but not on the course. We knew the price range and home size we needed. We also wanted to be reasonably close to shopping, restaurants, and air transportation. We even knew having reasonable access to healthcare was important.
Choices of communities blow hot and cold
The first community we moved to in Florida had much to offer, but we lived there year round and hadn't counted on the brutal heat and humidity during the summer months. After a few years, we chose to escape to a more moderate climate in the beautiful mountains of the Carolinas. I won't name the community because, although it is truly wonderful, it was not for us. After we lived in that second community for a few years, we realized that, whereas we had a wonderful golf course, great neighbors and the necessary amenities were "reasonably" nearby, we didn't have enough restaurant choices. For example, we like to dine out often, and to maximize our enjoyment, we prefer a wide variety of food styles and chef-driven options. Frankly, after a couple of years, we had burned out on many of the local places and found ourselves having to drive an hour or so each way to a larger city to dine. It grew quite tiresome. To top it off, the winters, although relatively mild, reduced the number of golf days available...unless you didn't mind playing with multiple layers of clothing.
The heart drives the ultimate choice of where to live
However, the tipping point for us came when I asked our family physician what would happen if I ever had a heart attack. I knew from my career in healthcare-related fields that, for both men and women, the number one health risk as we age is heart disease. He thought about my question for a minute and then told me we lived quite far from the only hospital in the area with a cardio-vascular surgery department. This meant that none of the local hospitals could effectively treat a heart attack victim with either stents or surgical interventions. He also told me the protocol for the local EMT service was to transport a suspected heart attack victim first to the local hospital for evaluation, and then that hospital would send the patient on to the larger hospital if they deemed further treatment necessary. He said time is of the essence when someone has a heart attack or stroke. Usually, he said, it is referred to as the "magic hour" during which treatment has the best chances of success. As time passes, any delays result in much lower odds of success. I rephrased his words to me: "You're really saying the answer to what would happen to me because of where we live is that I might very well die." He said he was afraid the odds were higher because it would take an hour or more to get to the proper hospital if everything went perfectly.
Finding peace and happiness...and plenty of restaurants
Since that conversation, and because both my father and my only brother suffered heart attacks in their early 60s, we decided to relocate to Phoenix. The winter weather is as wonderful as advertised, we now have more restaurants than we can ever realistically try, an airport is within six miles of the Biltmore section where we bought a home, and we have over 200 golf courses to choose among. To answer our healthcare concerns, we have joined the Mayo Clinic's concierge primary care program. Their service has been absolutely as good as it gets, and we are only 15 minutes maximum from a variety of full-service hospitals in case either of us ever has a serious healthcare emergency. It was an expensive lesson, but for us we felt it was worth it. I only wish somebody would have talked to us about this aspect of where to buy and live when we were selecting our retirement location.
As a reader of his newsletter and blog site for the past few years, I wrote Larry an email suggesting he add an article about choosing a retirement home based on healthcare and other considerations. In short order, he asked me to write it and, therefore, here it is, for better or worse. If you are searching for a retirement community, I wish you only success in your search, and I hope you won't have to repeat the process three times like we did. I hope that chapter three in Phoenix will to be the final one in our own retirement community book. After 16 months here, we do not have a single regret. Even the summer heat, while also as hot as advertised, wasn't that bad. I played golf a few times when the temperature was above 110 and didn't break a sweat:-)
Mike Tower is a former pharmaceutical industry executive who, in his retirement, has written opinion pieces for newspapers in North Carolina and Arizona. He has been a valued contributor to this newsletter and my blog site, GolfCommunityReviews.com, since we became acquainted more than a half dozen years ago. Mike and Sandy, his wife of 52 years, live outside of Phoenix, AZ, where Mike is trying to whittle a few more strokes off his handicap. If you would like to contact him with any questions, Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.