Monday, the seventh Hawaii Golf Industry Conference tees off at Ko Olina. Ideally, the conference will be an energetic conglomeration of all those affiliated with golf, from players and pros to those working in tourism, transportation and real estate and everything in between.
The biannual event began in 1998 to discuss opportunities and brainstorm ideas and action plans to grow the game. Its initial goals were to improve marketing of Hawaii as a golf destination, establish the economic impact of the game here and form a statewide junior golf association.
The Hawaii State Junior Golf Association came soon after. The Hawaii State Golf Association, which oversees most amateurs and USGA handicapping, nearly doubled its membership after the 2005 conference.
The Hawaii Golf Alliance and an economic impact study came out of the last conference and a coordinated golf calendar showed up this year.
Monday’s speakers include members of the military, financial, hotel, manufacturing and environmental aspects of the game, along with PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka. His 28,000-member organization includes the Aloha Section PGA and is a major cog in a $76 billion U.S. industry.
Steranka’s topics will include the current state of the golf industry, including its performance during the recession, its future, how it fits into trends like health and wellness, globalization and sustainability and how to best get across its proven ability to positively impact communities.
But, as the devastating events of the past week have shown, conference discussions will always be fluid. Plans to increase awareness of grassroots growth programs and the importance of the Chinese market will still be a priority.
Now, though, the impact of the disaster in Japan will also be addressed, in terms of how golf can help and what will change here. Steranka believes it will be similar to what the U.S. went through after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
The market in China is entirely different. The world’s most populous country is only beginning to feel golf’s addictive pull. Steranka believes its inclusion as an Olympic sport will have a huge impact on government and sports officials in China and says the country is just discovering that “the resort business can be a nice business.”
“China has the biggest population and most rapidly evolving economy in the world,” Steranka says. “And we know as it grows it will be attracted to the greatest golf nation of all, which is the United States. And Hawaii is the gateway. I could foresee China surpassing the Japanese in investment in Hawaii commercial and consumers and leisure time.”
Steranka’s figures show Hawaii is responsible for 7 percent of golf’s impact on tourism in the U.S., which he said “is pretty extraordinary for a small state with just 83 courses.”
The game has shown the ability to convince travelers to extend their stay, but his figures also show that rounds here were down “two to three times the national average” last year, a national slump that started with the economic tumble.
“Time compression has led to changes in how companies and consumers allocate time,” he saids. “A Hawaiian vacation is an ‘aspirational’ life experience … a dream. It takes a long time to travel to Hawaii and it is perceived to be a luxury, expensive experience. Golf faces similar challenges. American households have been forced to reset their goals. There is uncertainty as to whether this is cyclical consumer attitude or the ‘new normal.’ ”
In the same breath, Steranka has good news as his organization heads toward its 100th year.
“We’ve found that golf has a very strong attraction among people that play it,” Steranka says. “As many as 90 million people have played 18 holes sometime in their life and that gives us in golf an opportunity to welcome them back.”