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With PGA Championship underway, golf sales are in a sand trap

Tiger WoodsTiger Woods
Tiger WoodsPhoto: Fred Vuich/Sports Illustrated

The PGA Championship, the year’s final golfing major, kicked off on Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club with an ailing Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the recently anointed U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy. Sales of golf clubs, balls and clothing have been suffering recently, however.

Statistics from the National Golf Foundation, as cited by Bloomberg, don’t paint an optimistic picture. About 200,000 players younger than 35 years-old left the game last year. While 14 new courses opened in the U.S. last year, a whopping 160 were reportedly shuttered.

Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at San Francisco’s Baker Street Advertising, said the sport’s slump is a result of its elite image and less interest from today’s youth. “Compared to just about every other recreational sport, golf is more expensive, more time-consuming and more difficult to learn,” he said. “With cheaper, hipper, more convenient and accessible alternatives like running, biking, hoops and board sports, golf simply can’t compete.”

But all may not be lost. The PGA Junior League Golf has ramped up its efforts by growing to 4,900 participants in 2013, up from just 1,500 in 2012. There also a number ideas to make the game more enjoyable that are gaining converts including a push for 12-hole courses, larger holes that measure up to 15 inches (from their current four-and-a-quarter inch width) and smart clubs that can track shots and give players instant information every time they take a swing or attempt a putt.

But for now, here’s a round-up of some of the biggest businesses struggling with their golf divisions recently.

Adidas:

When the German sporting goods company reported its earnings recently, golf was stuck in the rough. CEO Herbet Hainer was forced to admit that his company failed to execute “to our high standards.” Golf specifically featured prominently in the blame game. Sales in its golf division, TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, dipped 18%. Adidas plans to restructure the division as a result of “lower expectations for the golf industry’s development.” That’s a scathing call for the sport, which was once flying high with Tiger Woods as its poster boy. Now, of course, his image is tarnished after a sex scandal and his game and health is struggling.

Nike:

For Nike, golf sales haven’t dipped quite as much as with rival Adidas. But they’re certainly not sailing through the fairway. Nike, which sells clubs and clothing, said golf was the only division in which sales declined during its most recent quarter – from $792 million a year ago to $789 million. To put those figures in perspective, basketball revenue soared 19% year over year to $3.1 billion.Overall revenue at the company grew 9%.

Golf Galaxy:

The golf store, which is owned by Dick’s Sporting Goods, isn’t exactly hitting birdies. While sales increased 2.3% at Dick’s, they slumped 10.4% at Golf Galaxy. In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that the retailer laid off 400 employees employed as golf instructors, a tell-tale sign that the sport is struggling and unlikely to ramp up interest any time soon.