In his view, the hype surrounding the build-out of golf courses in the 1990s through the mid-2000s, coupled with Tiger Woods's ascendance, spurred false hope. "I've always been skeptical that the number of golfers people talked about was real," he told me after the forum. Golf's failure to become a mass-market sport and the huge oversupply of courses have spun a pessimistic aura around the game. In 2013, for the eighth consecutive year, more 18-hole equivalent courses closed in the U.S. (157.5) than opened (14), according to the National Golf Foundation. Between 1986 and 2005, 4,500 net new courses were added.
Other explanations for golf's dwindling supply of players include increasing time pressure, two-earner families and the poor economy. Whatever the cause, golf in the last five years has lost 25% of its core players, defined as those who chalk up eight or more rounds annually, and 30% of those in the treasured 18- to 34-year-old demographic.