Tiger Woods’ Accident & Absence – What’s it Mean for Golf?

Last week, the world (golf and beyond) stopped when news of Tiger Woods’ horrific auto accident broke. An icon that transcends golf and sport, Tiger Woods’ relevance in our society is exactly as his father predicted prior to his historic 1997 Masters victory. For 2 days, until we learned he would survive, every cable station was covering the event 24/7. Even as the Washington political wars, a military strike in the Middle East and the Coronavirus pandemic raged on, the biggest story was about a golfer who had a car accident.

We were and are relieved that Woods’ injuries are non life-threatening and praying for a full and speedy recovery, if not to competitive golf certainly to an otherwise full, active and productive life with his family and friends. The lingering question to those of us in the golf world is what impact a prolonged temporary or even permanent absence of Woods from the fairways will have on the sport.

Woods spurred a meteoric rise in the popularity of the game in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. While that subsided, the Coronavirus pandemic has helped to increase golf rounds in the United States by 14% (according to the National Golf Foundation) in 2020 over 2019. How sustainable that spike can be is what everyone in golf wants to know. While certainly existing golfers played more golf, there seems to be industry-wide confidence that not only will some continue to play more frequently but that there are new golfers in the mix taking advantage of golf’s social distancing characteristics.

It’s no secret that when Tiger Woods plays a PGA Tour event, or any other event there’s increased interest. Even with a limited schedule in recent years due to injuries, Woods “moved the needle” like nobody else can. Will this impact golf’s ability to take advantage of COVID and spur sustainable growth? His impact is real.

I was recently asked what the COVID impact on golf property values is. Among others, I’ve observed:

  • Private clubs are surviving. Membership is up and (like elsewhere) play is up. The club is seen as a safe space for the family. Despite most private clubs heavy reliance on Food & Beverage Revenues, many have implemented takeout, used outdoor dining when able and other programs which have generated revenues with limited staffing costs. Overall revenues may not have increased, but the COVID impact has been somewhat mitigated on the bottom line.
  • Daily-Fee courses have experienced increases in play, some as much as 30% or more.
  • More golfers are walking. One of the most difficult items to purchase is a push cart.

My ultimate answer to the question of impact was that if, as I believe, some of the spike is sustainable that golf property values will grow. However, this needs qualification:

  • Some courses/clubs will be saved from closure, if in some cases only temporarily;
  • Those courses with disproportionately large F & B revenues compared to golf revenues will be hurt more than those with a high percentage of golf revenue, especially if social distancing habits persist;
  • Golf investors appeared to pay lower multiples of revenue in 2020 than in past years. If investors develop renewed confidence in economic conditions this could reverse itself.

Does Tiger Woods have a role in all this?

Woods creates increased interest in the game. He appeals to those groups (especially minorities and millennials) that golf needs to grow. While I don’t think Tiger Woods is bigger than the game, I do feel that his prolonged absence (without another like him) will be felt. Time will tell.

For numerous reasons, we wish him all the best.