With the first Major of the season just around the corner and British Summer Time about to kick-start the golfing Spring in England, now is the time for me to lay my cards on the table and make my predictions for the golfing world in 2019.
So this blog will detail my top half-dozen bets across the industry this year. Will they come true? Who knows – but I look forward to finding out.
An average of at least 2 courses will close per month in the UK.
It sounds as if I am starting off with a hugely negative view of the state of the industry. Whilst any closure obviously has a serious effect on those directly involved, in the big picture it is a necessary re-balancing of demand and supply.
The condemned facilities will likely be a mixture of member and propriety owned Clubs but they will share the common theme that they are from the middle of the market. These pleasant but not outstanding venues have been losing members for many years now as they face a squeeze from either end of the market.
Entry level facilities are starting to become more attractive their, with TopGolf and Adventure Golf brands particularly upping the quality available for the beginner golfer. The premium clubs in each area have seen the benefit from a significant VAT refund and continue to invest and improve.
All this leaves the middle of the market stuck in a vicious circle of having to maintain expensive course and clubhouse areas, but unable to demand the fees that will allow quality to be maintained and improved.
Short Courses will raise their profile
The length of time taken to play a round has long been cited as a reason for falling participation in the sport. With an increasing number of leisure choices and a struggling economy placing greater work and financial pressures on families, fewer people can justify spending 5 hours at a course.
There are areas of the market that can benefit. 9-Hole courses have long been seen as the ugly sister of their 18 hole cousins but if marketed properly they have an opportunity to attract a younger, more time conscious customer.
Putting courses have been re-invented and are great to attract the whole family to play for about an hour. Previously bleak looking Driving Ranges are being transformed to welcoming environments, with music, technology and food playing key roles.
At some point, a business model will emerge to create a sustainable short course facility. This course will contain 6 or 9 holes with outstanding course architecture to thrill players of all standards. I expect it will be a community facility close to city centres, available and welcoming to all communities.
Justin Thomas will win a Major
As the 2019 PGA Tour season starts to unfold, it is clear that there is no dominant force at the very top a la Tiger Woods in the early 2000’s. Dustin Johnson is probably the best player when he can raise the enthusiasm. Justin Rose is almost certainly the most rounded player all round but his body is fragile and he can struggle on the greens.
Unless the distance the ball travels is curtailed in a similar way that the tennis ball was slowed down to avoid the serve becoming too dominant, then the top of the sport will be taken over by 6 foot something super-athletes in the mould of Johnson or Cameron Champ. These players already exist in college, but they are a few years from dominating the PGA Tour.
In the meantime, there is a small bunch of top players that are serious contenders for the Majors. This year I have been most impressed by Justin Thomas. Not only is his game a mixture of controlled aggression and silky touch, but he seems very focused and calm. I expect him to win big this year.
Anne Van Dam will become European Number 1
I fully expect the Dutch woman to be the break-out star of 2019.
Already a four-time winner in Europe, my confidence stems from an observation of her form. For me, she exhibits the most pure, powerful and graceful technique in the womens side of the game.
Already a lock for the Solheim Cup, she looks ready to usurp Georgia Hall and Charley Hull at the top of the European rankings. Her swing reminds me of a young Michelle Wie and combined with a steady European temperament she looks destined for great things on the world stage.
An American will win an epic Open Championship
There are some mouth-watering venues for this years men’s Majors. Augusta, Bethpage, Pebble Beach and Portrush provide fitting canvas’s for the worlds best artists in the sport.
For British fans, the return of Royal Portrush to the Open circuit provides a great deal of excitement. Not only is the Irish venue a superb and spectacular course, there is something exceptional and unique about the atmosphere in this country.
The passion and craic of the Irish hospitality will create a wild and unpredictable backdrop to the tournament. Already sold-out, expect a raucous cauldron of excitement more akin to the Ryder Cup. It would be a fairytale if Rory McIlroy could emerge victorious in his homeland. He has already labelled it the most important competition of his career.
I just do not see it happening for Rory or the other European’s however. I sense the potential for Home Field disadvantage and fancy a visitor from across the Atlantic to be holding the Claret Jug at the end of quite a week.
Moliwood will continue towards world domination
The emergence of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood onto the very top of the world stage was a narrative of 2018.
Their confidence seems emboldened by their close friendship and exceptional Ryder Cup performances and I expect them to continue up the world rankings in 2019.
Molinari in particular has a shot at becoming World Number 1. Always possessing a technically exceptional golf swing, I am flabbergasted by the improvement in his previously fragile putting and mental focus. Seemingly without any weaknesses, if he can get his schedule spot on and peak at the right times he could add to his Major victories this year.
Fleetwood is one of the very best ball-strikers in the game. His game is ideally suited to the very toughest courses. Look out for him to contend at Bethpage Black in the PGA Championship. Occasionally suffering from the ‘big miss’ from the tee, and sometimes seeming to lack confidence to close out victories, Fleetwood is still perhaps a year or two from the very peak of his career. I still predict an upward trajectory in the World Rankings for him in 2019 though.