Staying current in the evolving landscape of the golf industry

Mark Gurnow

Plans for a bunker. (Graphic special to Independent Newsmedia)

Change. In an industry as steeped in tradition as golf this can be a difficult and dreaded word, but one that is necessary and should be embraced for the continued success of the game.

As we look forward to a new year and I contemplate what the future holds for private golf clubs, change is what comes to mind.
The way consumers are engaging with the game has been shifting. At first glance, the National Golf Foundation’s 2017 annual report on participation doesn’t paint a pretty picture with the ever-familiar, no-growth refrain … but only upon first glance.

This year the report included off-course participation -– driving range and golf simulator type of activities – and there we see a whole new picture.

From hitting the driving range to hitting the target

Statistics have been showing us for years that the new generation of golfer isn’t as interested in spending an entire day on the course or in the more formal, pardon my frankness, stuffy aspects of private club membership.

Take a look at the recent partnership between the PGA of America and Topgolf. This is a great example of how the game needs to adapt to new trends and new generations of consumers. The partnership is a great opportunity to introduce golf to a wider demographic than ever before.

If private clubs want to stay relevant, we must also look for ways to cater to the Gen X and Millennial golfer.

New ideas for golf

Time is a precious commodity and one of our biggest competitors. We need to welcome new ideas for golf that will allow members to enjoy the game without a major time commitment. Clubs should consider offering rounds of less than 18 holes, new formats and easier rules … we need to put more fun into the game and not focus solely on challenging the expert golfer.

At Superstition Mountain we have added a course-within-a-course on each of our signature golf courses – on Prospector we offer a par-3 course and on Lost Gold an executive course with a par-62. In addition to a shorter play time, this allows the new and novice player to have a great experience on a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course.

As new courses are built, designers should consider how the space can be used for other activities such as Foot Golf, Disc or Frisbee golf and Arrow Golf. These options are more appealing to families and can be accommodated on traditional golf courses without damaging the greens, the game of golf or the integrity of the private club.

New functions at the club

Private clubs are evolving and should become a hub for family activities – both traditional and more unconventional. We need to be your personal concierge, your limo service, dry cleaner, travel agent, kids’ activity zone and business center.

Amped up spa, wellness and health areas and outstanding services that go above and beyond a country club are a key to maintaining families’ attention. And the more social, family focus is the future of our industry.

You can see clubs already beginning to react to a shift in member priorities. A lot of recent club remodels have focused on adding work space with increased technology offerings, casual dining options and less formal event space and more family-focused programming.

Exciting change

I believe the reverence and tradition around the great game of golf and private club membership should never change, but think the next five-10 years will bring a lot more flexibility into the way clubs are run. This is an exciting time for our industry.

I tell everyone that if I could read and write, I would get a real job. But in truth, there is nothing I would rather do than be in the golf business.

The game has brought me a lot of joy and friends since I started playing when I was 9 years old and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

Editor’s Note: Mark Gurnow is a 37-year PGA member and general manager of Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club and can be reached via e-mail at

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