An old friend who I used to play golf with in school sent me a newsletter item from the National Golf Foundation (NGF) that questioned whether or not baby boomers would go bust in retirement — and, as one result, not be able to afford to play golf as much as retirees usually do.
According to the NGF, about 10 percent of boomers (aged 49 to 67) play golf, about one-third of all golfers in the U.S.
Typically, the NGF notes, retirees play more and more golf the older they get, until they’re too elderly to swing a club anymore. And the fact that boomer retirees 65+ will almost double the number of current retirees — there being 76 million of us, after all — means that golf should be looking at a, well, green future for the next 15 or 20 years.
But does future trouble loom like a sandtrap on the 18th hole?
“Golf courses and golf businesses should curb their expectations,” the newsletter reads, “because this generation of retirees may not be golfing as much as their predecessors.”
The reason, according to the NGF: “Boomers lack confidence in their ability to live comfortably through their retirement years.” The newsletter cites a paucity of pensions for boomers to rely on (compared to their parents’ generation), as well as housing values and stock portfolios that took a hit during the Great Recession.
As a result, the NGF estimates, boomer retirees “will at most contribute to a 5 to 15 percent increase in rounds” — falling far short of expectations for such a big age group.
Since golf is a major driver in the travel industry, this could be cause for concern for golf-connected hotels, resorts, cruise lines and destinations.
Many golfers, and certainly many boomers, base their vacations around golf — whether staying at resorts that are centered around golf courses or, perhaps, journeying to Scotland to test their skill at some of the world’s most venerable fairways, as some friends of ours recently did. Golf theme cruises are also popular.
So a fall-off in an expected coming “boom” in golf travel would be significant. But the image of golfers who can’t afford to pony up for greens fees anymore doesn’t quite ring true to me.
Yes, a lot of boomers are hurting after the recession, but I have a wild hunch that golfers — as a whole — aren’t among the destitute. And even if they did take a big hit at the time, stock portfolios have rebounded since 2008 and housing values are making a comeback as well.
As for pensions, a recent post at The Motley Fool financial website shows that previous generations weren’t exactly swimming in them, either: during the early 1990s, when both public and private pensions were at their peak, fewer than two-fifths of Americans age 65 and over were covered. And back in 1965, only one in four Americans was covered by a pension.
Today, according to The Motley Fool, about one-third of Americans are covered. The percentage of retirement income attributable to pensions (now about 20 percent) has actually increased since 1975.
Many Americans, The Motley Fool post concludes, used to solve the retirement income problem by…not retiring: “They worked until they died.” So the halcyon views of those “golden ages” of retirement are mostly a myth.
Finally, I would note that surveys have shown that boomers are currently the wealthiest segment of our society, by far, controlling trillions of dollars of disposable income.
And surveys have also shown that baby boomers’ top priority in retirement is to travel more.
For many, that includes traveling to play golf — so that sandtrap looming on the 18th green of golfdom doesn’t look so ominous after all.
Be sure to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen.
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