Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Bradley S. Klein and the Fallibility of Experts


In April of 2020 Bradley Klein wrote an article (SI, Morning Read, April 29, 2020) predicting the long-term effects of the Covid outbreak on the golf industry.  This post examines the accuracy of Klein's predications.  It turns out that he was wrong on just about everything.  At the time, I wrote that his predictions were overly pessimistic, but I would evaluate the evidence after two years to see who was right.  Here is some of what he wrote so you can be the judge:

Based upon extensive conversations with industry professionals during the past few weeks, I found that these long-term trends are likely to emerge.

For Golfers

* Establishment of stringent measures for preserving social distancing, to be communicated clearly throughout the course.

* Provision of casual health-care stations, including hand washing and hand sanitizing.

* Removal of multiple touchable points on the course, including ball washers and towels, drinking fountains, benches, scorecards and pencils.

* Wider spacing of tee times– to 10-15-minute intervals or more – to allow for greater separation among groups.

* Significant reduction in aggregation of golfers before and after rounds, with attention paid toward less socializing in parking lots, patios and 19th holes.

* Restricted use of motorized carts, including limitations on shared use by non-family members.

* Increased tolerance of push/pull carts and widespread adoption of lighter carry bags, all designed to encourage walking.

* Gradual and limited return of caddie programs, emphasizing forecaddies and single-bag carriers, with players handling the clubs and caddies masked, gloved and expected to limit duties to yardage, ball hawking and conversation from a safe distance throughout the round.

* Limited availability of on-course bathrooms, subject to stringent measures of multiple cleanings per day.

For Private Clubs

* Private clubs positioned to enhance their non-golf services, including gym, health club, swimming, tennis, spa and child care, will be able to offer the kind of comprehensive experience of safety, nesting and family comfort that is likely to prove highly attractive in a post-pandemic culture.

* Private clubs that position themselves carefully can provide a wide range of comprehensive services that, individually, are struggling to survive in the marketplace. Movie and stage theaters will continue to struggle with reopening, as will gyms, hair and nail salons, and many restaurants. A great number of those businesses will disappear, thus creating a market niche for carefully planned club offerings.

* Likewise for private real estate golf communities, residents will come to value the onsite provision of functions formerly dispersed, from post office and shipping to medical and pharmacy, grocery shopping, hair and nail salons, massage and personal health training. Facilities that can provide these services will have a tremendous market advantage in the years to come.

In anticipation of that gradual return, the industry has aligned with an effort that entails a series of carefully specified steps designed to provide an environment at the golf facility that is safe for players, employees and the non-golfing public at large. Golf is uniquely positioned to make a comeback. It’s also a great opportunity to sell the game as fun, good for the environment and conducive to public health.

At the time, I thought Mr. Kelin was wrong about the long-term effects of Covid and wrote (5/1/2020):

Every item in your description of the future (Golf positions...Morning Read, April 29, 2020) implies less profitability for courses and less enjoyment for players.  Taken together, you are predicting a death spiral for the industry.  But you conclude "Golf is uniquely positioned to make a comeback.  It's also a great opportunity to sell the game as fun, good for the environment, and conducive to public health."  If I were your English teacher, I would red flag your ending as a non-sequitur and give you a courtesy C+.

Mr. Klein responded (5/1/20200: 

Thanks for writing. I appreciate the note. 
I'm not predicting anything other than that things will need to change for courses to thrive.
That's long been the fault of an overcrowded market; now add to that completely altered conditions of public health. Some will lose out, but all have a chance to be creative in adapting. You seem to want to attribute that to sensible changes to longstanding practice. Not changing is a sure fire way to go bankrupt.
Good luck in managing golf as we move forward.
I still disagreed and wrote (5/4/2020)
I see you take criticism as well as I do.  In your next article, write about how you sell the game as "fun" when:
  1. Stringent social distancing is enforced that reminds a player his partners pose a death threat.
  2. Flagsticks and other objects should be treated the same as toilet seats if not a third rail.
  3. Motor cart use is restricted. 
  4. There is limited availability of bathrooms.
  5. There is a mandated reduction in aggregation of golfers before and after rounds.
  6. My caddy is dressed like a long-term care nurse

I hope your model of the future will not come to pass.  Various levels of government are certainly pushing for it.   The history of pandemics, however, demonstrates that in the long-run business reverts to the mean.  I'll check back within couple of years (hopefully) to compare notes.  

Your fan and mid-tier club member (for now),
Mr. Klein responded (5/1/2020)

So what would you suggest for golf, then?

Here was my response (5/4/20200)

We seem to differ most on our level of optimism about the future.  You argue a new business model is needed.  I am not so sure.  In the short-run a club has no choice but to follow government mandates to assuage the fears of its customer base. The new motto for America is "We are all in this together but keep the f... away from me."   In the long-run (two years away), there will be either herd immunity or a vaccine.  Golf courses need to act prudently to see themselves through this period.  It would be presumptuous of me to prescribe how this can be accomplished. I would think, however, any survival strategy would not include hiring sales staff for membership and banquets that "will be less relied upon," creating an on-site mini-market, or adding additional staff for nail care.  Those actions would not be "simplifying the employee flow chart."  An important objective should be to convince the customer base to remain loyal.  "Hang with us and we will get back to the golf we all love" should be the daily mantra. It goes without saying keeping the restrooms' open should be an important part of any loyalty program.
Thanks for the interesting article.  You may be right on all accounts.  If in two years I find myself playing pickle ball, it will be an admission of your omniscience.

So, in the end who was right.?   Here is a test.  Go to any club and try to find any evidence a pandemic occurred.  Maintenance practices, food service, and playing procedures are back to what they were in 2019 contrary to Mr. Klein's predictions.  It does look like the pandemic increased the demand for golf resulting in higher daily fees and membership costs.  But that is the one thing Mr. Klein failed to predict.