Australian Golf Industry Shows Data to Leaders of Game's Importance

Golf and government go way back. According to the book "How Did Sports Begin?," the earliest reference to the game was in 1457, when the Scottish parliament moaned it was keeping people from worthy pursuits such as archery and ordered that golf be "utterly cryit doun, and nocht usit."

Now the Australian golf industry claims no other sport contributes more to the economy and, for the first time recently, held a formal gathering in Canberra with politicians.

While showing Australia's Sport Minister Kate Ellis how to swing a golf club, industry officials got in politicians' ears about everything from the public health benefits of golf to the impact of climate change on courses. Ms. Ellis was told golf was a $2.7 billion industry which provided work to 23,000 people, based on 2004 data. That year alone, Australians spent $48.5 million just on golf balls.

Australia boasts 1,530 courses, and about a million people play some 30 million rounds every year. But club memberships are declining and the biggest group of golfers is aged between 55 and 64. Like statistics from around the world, many people no longer have enough time to play 18 holes.

The chairman of the Australian Golf Industry Council, Max Garske, said golf had to become "more time attractive" through innovations such as nine-hole competitions and handicaps.

Another big issue was that golf courses use large amounts of water - a resource set to become scarcer in many areas as the climate becomes hotter and drier. To ensure clubs get the water they need, the industry points out golf courses are important environmental refuges and that the average course sequesters 80 tons of carbon annually.

The Victorian MP Richard Marles is a keen golfer who helped organize the get-together. "I think we have got more golf courses per head of population than any other country in the world," the 41-year-old said.

Marles loves the game because of the values it teaches his 12-year-old son ("you can't play golf if you are angry") and keeps his father healthy ("Dad is 81 and walks 30 kilometers a week without really knowing it because he plays three rounds of golf a week").

"The most special moments for me are when I play with my dad and my son," he said. "What other sport allows that kind of interaction across a 70-year age difference?"

But when it comes to golf and politicians, the great U.S. journalist Henry L. Mencken once wrote: "If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust."

Australian golf-industry leaders are awaiting the response from officials, hoping they can refute Mencken's words and gain the nation's trust.

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