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Golf decline opens door for outreach


Kent Harville/BP

Ed Gilman, director of missions for the Suncoast Baptist Association in Largo, Fla., makes a long drive at the Pueblo De Cochiti Golf Course during a golf retreat sponsored by LifeWay Conference Centers. More churches are using golf to reach out to men.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — A nationwide drop in the number of people playing golf raises serious issues for the game – and creates opportunities for churches to minister, according to Southern Baptists deeply invested in both.

A new report from the National Golf Foundation reveals the total number of people who play the game has dropped 13.3 percent since 2000 and the number of golfers who play at least 25 times a year fell by one-third between 2000 and 2005.

About 3 million golfers quit playing each year, and the number of new players isn’t making up the difference.

While many factors are involved in the decline – from an aging player demographic to an overall decline in outdoor sports – the two most significant factors are the time and expense involved in playing golf, said Scott Flynn, a Southern Baptist who has worked in golf course development and management for 25 years.

“I see time as the No. 1 issue. It is really tough to justify taking five or six hours away from your kids on a Saturday,” said Flynn, one of two golf coaches at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and a member of The People’s Church in nearby Franklin. “But another thing that’s happened is that there was this big boom in developers trying to build the next course bigger, harder, and fancier than the last one.

“Not only did that make it difficult for beginners to have an appropriate place to play and be comfortable doing it, but it drove the cost up. There are an awful lot of places where it costs $80 or $90 to play,” Flynn said. “The busiest places in golf today are the $20 or $15 municipal golf courses.”

The emergence of exciting young players like Tiger Woods led a lot of course developers and equipment manufacturers to anticipate a boom, Flynn said. During a 13-year period beginning in 1990, developers in the United States built more than 3,000 new golf courses.

The boom never materialized, however, and hundreds of those courses have since closed.

“Since Tiger Woods came on the scene, viewership and spectatorship of golf has gone way up. It’s thriving, but that hasn’t really translated into more people playing,” Flynn said. “A lot of people watch the NFL on Sunday but that doesn’t mean they go out on Monday and strap on a helmet and tackle someone.”

The downturn in golfing, however, creates opportunities for churches to help both the game and the men who play it – or would like to.

One answer is for churches to hold clinics for beginners and sponsor tournaments, said Scott Walsh, who has worked in public relations roles for Calloway Golf, Nike, and Wilson Sporting Goods.

“Tournaments hosted by churches or evangelical organizations usually don’t have the intimidation factor in them,” he said. “Whether you are accepted isn’t based on how well you hit the golf ball.”

Greenridge Baptist Church in Gaithersburg, Md., has developed an effective outreach to men through its annual golf tournament at nearby Laytonsville Golf Course, church member Rich Huffer said. Participation has grown from 42 in the first tournament to more than 100 just five years later. The tournament they have scheduled for April 25 will be preceded by a clinic for men who want to learn how to play.

The ministry not only has created opportunities to share the gospel with unchurched men, but it also has given Christian men in the church an avenue for greater involvement, Huffer said.

“We mix and match,” he said. “There are some guys who come in and by all appearances aren’t saved, and we put them with some guys we know are saved. In four and half hours on a golf course, we have a lot of opportunities to talk about life and guy things and plant seeds of the gospel.”