Golf Courses Target Those Who Think 18 Holes Is Just Too Many
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Golf Courses Target Those Who Think 18 Holes Is Just Too Many

In particular, they hope millennials will be more interested in courses with only nine holes. Or even fewer.

By Ed Sherman
Fri, Apr 9, 2021 11:40amGrey Clock 5 min

Golf has been a game of 18 holes ever since the ruling bodies of the sport decreed it so at the end of the 19th century. But now, some course operators—and even the U.S. Golf Association—are challenging the idea.

The idea is that less could be more, in terms of breathing much-needed new life into the game. When would-be golfers don’t play, the main reason given is the length of an 18-hole round—typically four hours or longer.

While pros and many serious players will continue to play 18 holes, the industry is looking at ways to shorten the game for others. Lots of courses are marketing nine-hole options, and some tout even fewer holes than that.

“The most common complaint we hear is that the game takes too long,” says Steve Skinner, chief executive of KemperSports, a Chicago-based owner and manager of more than 100 courses across the country. “We need to let them know golf does not have to be a four- or five-hour experience.”

The USGA has lent its stamp of approval to shorter games, beginning with its “Play 9” initiative, launched in 2014, consisting of TV ads, especially during the heavily watched U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open telecasts, and an effort to give owners marketing ideas to promote the nine-hole option at their courses. The association also permits scores from nine-hole games to be posted on its USGA Handicap Index.

“The nine-hole round, the two-hour experience, is much closer to the type of entertainment people usually have,” says Rand Jerris, senior managing director of public services for the USGA. “Going to a movie. Two hours. Going to dinner. Two hours. Two-hour windows seem to fit comfortably in the American lifestyle. For people like that, nine holes works.”

According to the National Golf Foundation, there are 3,777 nine-hole golf facilities in the U.S., or about 26% of the total number of courses.

For the millennial

The shorter game is particularly targeted at millennials, who currently are playing a lot less than their parents or grandparents did at a similar age, mainly due to the game’s length, says Mr. Skinner.

To Kevin Berliner, at 32 a millennial himself, the problem is the mercurial nature of his generation.

“It’s about perception. Millennials will wait 3½ hours for the best burger in town, but will say 3½ hours for golf is too long,” says Mr. Berliner, who is a medical-device salesman and participates in the Young Executives Program at Cantigny Golf, a public course in Wheaton, Ill.

Cantigny and other courses market nine holes as an option for all golfers. But, as Mr. Berliner says, the shorter round is particularly attractive for people in his age group, especially at the end of a working day.

“It’s not just the golf course that matters,” Mr. Berliner says. “If we can go to a place where you can play nine holes and then get a burger and a beer, that is very enticing to the younger generation.”

Indeed, many facilities are looking to pair shortened rounds of golf with food and drink. Various versions of “Nine-and-Dine” promotions are being marketed to couples and families, and some locations are cutting even more holes. A six-hole round of golf with an on-course happy hour after play is offered at Chambers Bay, a course managed by KemperSports just outside of Seattle and the site of the 2015 U.S. Open.

Urban setting

Skyway Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J., offers another possible alternative—a shortened game, and beautiful greens, in a more urban setting. Built in 2015, this upscale, public, nine-hole course features challenging holes with dunes and a view of the Manhattan skyline. TJ Wydner, who oversees the facility, says Skyway did more than 40,000 rounds last year despite being closed for six weeks because of Covid. He says the course is more accessible and popular with time-compressed serious golfers who want to squeeze in a quality two-hour round.

Golf-course owners, especially in expensive urban areas, may find another benefit of fewer holes: cost. “We know that land is expensive and that it is expensive to maintain 18 holes,” Mr. Jerris says. “We know for the game to be sustained, it has to be on a smaller footprint.”

Covid surprise

The timing for a shift to shorter games and courses seems favourable. The big story in the early 2000s had been the closing of many golf courses as a result of overbuilding for a big boon that never came. When Covid hit, operators prepared for the worst last summer.

Instead, the opposite occurred. With many entertainment options closed, people flocked to golf courses seeking to be outdoors, and to find a sense of normalcy. According to the National Golf Foundation, golf in the U.S. last year experienced a 14% increase in rounds from 2019, and that figure would have been much higher if virtually every course hadn’t been shut in the spring. More telling was the volume from June through year’s end: Packed courses had approximately 75 million more rounds nationally than in the same stretch in 2019.

Another dynamic also came into play. With people working more at home, thus eliminating their commutes in many cases, many found time to play golf, perhaps by sneaking out for an early-morning nine or shutting down the computer for a late afternoon round. In previous years, typical tee sheets often had plenty of vacancies from 2 to 5 p.m., Mr. Skinner says. Not last year.

“Those times were full every day,” Mr. Skinner says. The pandemic “completely flipped the tee sheet.”

Mr. Skinner does not think it was a one-year trend either. With expectations that many people will continue to work remotely once things return to normal, that means they will again have more time to play golf.

Mr. Jerris believes it is incumbent for operators to be creative, giving golfers more alternatives than just playing 18 holes. He notes that some courses are experimenting with fees based on the numbers of holes played or by the hour.

“Golf operators have to understand they have a lot of unused inventory on their tee sheets,” Mr. Jerris says. “Perhaps they can send players off the back nine when it is empty in the early morning. They can look at sending people out to play a few holes when there isn’t much daylight left. Those kinds of things are found revenue at no additional expense.”

Ultimately, it is about getting and keeping people engaged in the game, Mr. Skinner says. He speaks from personal experience. Even though he is a leading golf-industry executive, his children never got into the game before last year. During the pandemic, he often played late afternoon, nine-hole family rounds. Those outings led to his 23-year old son, Jack, getting the bug, as he played more than 30 rounds last year. Mr. Skinner now describes his son as “being addicted” to golf.

That is exactly the aim of the Play 9 campaign and other initiatives to get people out to the course. The idea is for them to become returning golfers, no matter how many holes they play.

“Golf is an addictive game,” Mr. Skinner says. “But first we’ve got to get people out to experience it. Once they do, hopefully they keep coming back for more.”

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 7, 2021.



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Appliance technicians blame a push toward computerisation and an increase in the quantity of components inside a machine

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Our refrigerators, washing machines and ovens can do more than ever, from producing symmetrical ice cubes to remotely preheating on your commute home. The downside to all these snazzy features is that the appliances are more prone to breaking.

Appliance technicians and others in the industry say there has been an increase in items in need of repair. Yelp users, for example, requested 58% more quotes from thousands of appliance repair businesses last month than they did in January 2022.

Those in the industry blame a push toward computerisation, an increase in the quantity of individual components and flimsier materials for undercutting reliability. They say even higher-end items aren’t as durable.

American households spent 43% more on home appliances in 2023 than they did in 2013, rising from an inflation-adjusted average of $390 to $558, according to Euromonitor International. Prices for the category declined 12% from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2023, according to the Labor Department.

One reason for the discrepancy between spending and prices is a higher rate of replacement, say consumers, repair technicians and others. That’s left some people wishing they had held on to their clunky ’90s-era appliances and others bargaining with repair workers over intractable ice makers and dryers that run cold.

“We’re making things more complicated, they’re harder to fix and more expensive to fix,” says Aaron Gianni, the founder of do-it-yourself home-repair app Plunjr.

Horror stories

Sharon J. Swan spent nearly $7,000 on a Bosch gas range and smart refrigerator. She thought the appliances would last at least through whenever she decided to sell her Alexandria, Va., home and impress would-be buyers.

That was before the oven caught fire the first time she tried the broiler, leading to a 911 call and hasty return. The ice-maker in the refrigerator, meanwhile, is now broken for the third time in under two years. Bosch covered the first two fridge fixes, but she says she’s on her own for the latest repair, totalling $250, plus parts.

“I feel like I wasted my money,” says the 65-year-old consultant for trade associations.

A Bosch spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company has been responsive to Swan’s concerns and will continue to work with her to resolve ongoing issues. “Bosch appliances are designed and manufactured to meet the highest quality standards, and they are built to last,” she said.

Kevin and Kellene Dinino wish they had held on to their white dishwasher from the ’90s that was still working great.

The sleeker $800 GE stainless steel interior dishwasher they purchased sprang a hidden leak within three years, causing more than $35,000 worth of damage to their San Diego kitchen.

Home insurance covered the claim, which included replacing the hardwood down to the subfloor and all their bottom cabinetry, but kicked the Dininos off their policy. The family also went without access to their kitchen for months.

“This was a $60 pump that was broken. What the hell happened?” says Kevin, 45, who runs a financial public-relations firm.

A GE Appliances spokeswoman said the company takes appliance issues seriously and works quickly to resolve them with consumers.

Increased complexity

Peel back the plastic on a modern refrigerator or washing machine and you’ll see a smattering of sensors and switches that its 10-year-old counterpart lacks. These extra components help ensure the appliance is using only the energy and water it needs for the job at hand, technicians say. With more parts, however, more tends to go wrong more quickly, they say.

Mansoor Soomro, a professor at Teesside University, a technical college in Middlesbrough, England, says home appliances are breaking down more often. He says that manufacturers used to rely mostly on straightforward mechanical parts (think an on/off switch that triggers a single lever). In the past decade or so, they’ve transitioned to relying more on sophisticated electrical and computerised parts (say, a touch screen that displays a dozen different sensor-controlled wash options).

When a complicated machine fails, technicians say they have a much harder time figuring out what went wrong. Even if the technician does diagnose the problem, consumers are often left with repairs that exceed half the cost of replacement, rendering the machine totalled.

“In the majority of cases, I would say buying a new one makes more economic sense than repairing it,” says Soomro, who spent seven years working at Siemens , including in the home-appliances division.

These machines are also now more likely to be made with plastic and aluminium rather than steel, Soomro says. High-efficiency motors and compressors, too, are likely to be lighter-duty, since they’re tasked with drawing less energy .

A spokeswoman for the Association for Home Appliance Manufacturers says the industry has “enhanced the safety, energy efficiency, capacity and performance of appliances while adding features and maintaining affordability and durability for purchasers.” She says data last updated in 2019 shows that the average life of an appliance has “not substantially shifted over the past two decades.”

When simpler is better

Kathryn Ryan and Kevin Sullivan needed a new sensor to fix their recently purchased $1,566 GE Unitized Spacemaker washer-dryer. GE wasn’t able to fix the sensor for months, so the couple paid a local technician $300 to get the machine working.

The repairman also offered them a suggestion: Avoid the sensor option and stick to timed dries.

“You should be able to use whatever function you please on a brand new appliance, ideally,” says Sullivan, a 32-year-old musician in Burbank, Calif.

More features might seem glamorous, Frontdoor virtual appliance tech Jim Zaccone says, but fewer is usually better.

“Consumers are wising up to the failures that are happening and going, ‘Do I really need my oven to preheat while I’m at the grocery store?’” jokes Zaccone, who has been in the appliance-repair business for 21 years.

He just replaced his own dishwasher and says he bought one with “the least bells and whistles.” He also opted for a mass-market brand with cheap and readily available parts. Most surprisingly, he chose a bottom-of-the-line model.

“Spending a lot of money on something doesn’t guarantee you more reliability,” says Zaccone.

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