As action-packed as the competitive golf world was in 2022, there was at least as much drama and excitement in the business segment of the sport.
The big story in that realm, of course, was LIV Golf and the assault that Saudi-backed enterprise made on the PGA and DP World tours, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars from the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund into the professional game in an effort to lure players to join a league organized around no-cut, 54-hole tournaments. CEO Greg Norman led that campaign on behalf of the sheiks, and he enticed a number of notables – Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Patrick Reed and Sergio García among them – to come on board.
Not surprisingly, members of golf’s status quo were none too happy with those defections and the criticisms many of the new LIV golfers leveled against the established tours as they also boasted about the freedom and financial security provided by the new endeavor. The animus that arose gave the game the rather unattractive aura of a prime-time soap opera.
The hostility also made the royal and ancient game suddenly seem like a contact sport – and made some observers wonder whether organizers of tournaments featuring golfers from both factions would have to call in security guards from the “Maury Show” to keep the peace among players before, during and after rounds.
Norman did neither himself nor his bosses any favors by acting as if his primary goal in this initiative was to settle an old score with the PGA Tour for having squashed his attempts to start his own world tour some three decades ago.
The general golf public often appeared as split about LIV as the tour professionals themselves. But there was no arguing that the conflict, which showed no signs of abating as 2022 drew to a close, highlighted some of the tenets that define capitalism and make it great. That included the ability of upstart entrepreneurs to start new businesses (LIV Golf) and then take on those who are deeply rooted in the same industries. And competition does have a way of forcing companies to adapt in order to survive (witness the many changes in operations initiated by the PGA and DP World tours in 2022).
Still, it was hard for even the most tolerant souls to countenance the front-and-center position money has taken in professional golf this past year and the incessant whining of players who left for LIV and then complained about the consequences of those moves, even though they had been warned of what would happen if they departed.
And Norman did neither himself nor his bosses any favors by acting as if his primary goal in this initiative was to settle an old score with the PGA Tour for having squashed his attempts to start his own world tour some three decades ago.
As all-consuming as the LIV Golf situation was in 2022, however, there was much more to the golf industry this past year. One involved the ways that supply chain snafus continued to create problems when it came to transporting, say, club components from Asia to the States in timely and reliable fashions. High rates of inflation were front-and-center concerns, too, and they put enormous financial pressures on golf facilities as the cost of everything from diesel fuel and fertilizer soared to new heights, to say nothing of those places that found prices for the ribeyes and red wines they served their golfers rising.
But the game had plenty of good moments. Golf travel soared post-COVID, as people looked to hit the road with their clubs once again after staying home for a couple of years. And tee sheets at resorts and clubs all over the world quickly filled up.
Off-course golf entertainment took off, as well, especially Topgolf, which added so much to the top- and bottom-lines of Callaway Golf that the equipment maker changed its corporate appellation in 2022 to Topgolf Callaway Brands. The performance at Topgolf has also induced a slew of other businesses in recent years to enter that realm, attracting along the way some prominent investors, such as Tiger Woods (PopStroke) and Rory McIlroy (the Puttery). And many of the thousands of golfers who either returned to the sport or took it up during the pandemic seemed to stay with it long after mask mandates and other COVID-era restrictions were lifted. Courses throughout the United States were packed as a result.
Some areas, Southern California chief among them, also showed a surge in so-called affiliate clubs, which operate without courses of their own and give golfers another way to enjoy the game and the company of fellow players.
Trends like those and increases in new and returning golfers as well as rounds played benefitted equipment makers in big ways, with companies such as Acushnet and Topgolf Callaway Brands posting record revenues and earnings.
Deep-pocketed sponsors such as ShopRite, Travelers, World Wide Technology and Genesis continued to invest in traditional tours and their events. And the PGA of America opened a new headquarters in Frisco, Texas, as Omni Hotels & Resorts put the finishing touches on a pair of courses on that same campus that will eventually host major championships as they also serve as centerpieces for a first-rate golf destination that will also feature a 500-room hotel, four pools, a spa and salon, 13 restaurants and a Lounge by Topgolf.
At the same time, women demonstrated once again that the golf business is anything but a men’s-only game. Annika Sörenstam, for example, launched a successful beverage company called Fizzy Beez in 2022 and became a brand ambassador for Lohla Sport apparel company, even creating a bespoke signature collection for the new apparel line. Then came word that she now has her own golf tournament, with the LPGA Tour event long known as the Pelican Women’s Championship being renamed The Annika.
The World Golf Hall of Famer’s stature keeps growing years after she was a competitive force, with Annika proving as formidable a brand and talent off the golf course as she once was on it. Much like Arnold Palmer.
It was also a year in which Mollie Marcoux Samaan received high praise for her work in her first full season as commissioner to the LPGA Tour. The USGA’s Mary Lopuszynski was lauded, as well, heading up the massive merchandising operations of a U.S. Open for the 27th year in a row and once again filling the Association’s coffers with proceeds from the sales of everything from hats and posters to golf shirts and sweaters.
Alas, the golf industry had its moments of unhappiness in 2022, perhaps most significantly with the passing in September of Herb Kohler. The scion of a wildly successful concern best known for its plumbing products, he came late to the game but embraced it with great vigor when he finally did. The singular Golf Kohler properties in Wisconsin he started creating in the late 1990s became top-notch major championship venues and among the finest golf destinations in the world. And by revamping two of the most iconic structures in St. Andrews, Scotland – the Old Course Hotel and the Hamilton Grand, the red sandstone building rising behind the 18th hole of the Old Course – he spruced up the Home of Golf and helped to make it an even more popular place to visit.
It was a rich and full year, indeed.
Top photo: Brandon Tucker, Dreamstime
© 2022 Global Golf Post LLC
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