SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's golf industry now has a very big stick to carry when battling political challenges in the state. The game, it turns out, is one of Utah’s most lucrative ventures.
The boost has come in the form of a study that has opened a lot of eyes and inspired professionals and patrons who love and depend on the game for their quality of life and, in some cases, their livelihood.
One of those people is T.A. Barker.
He couldn't help it Monday. His eyes leaked tears when talking about grass, fertilizer, water-conservation strategies, and several generations of his family being linked to his beloved profession.
The emotion came out in front of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, the high brass of every golf administrative body in the state, television cameras, and a crowd gathered at the Utah State Capitol on Monday.
Barker, you see, is president of the Intermountain Golf Course Superintendent Association of America, and son of Todd Barker, a longtime greenskeeper and one of Utah’s most respected amateur players.
The occasion was an official proclamation, signed by Herbert, making May 2014 the official month of golf in Utah.
Barker was simply explaining the life his father had taught him and how his own sons have been attracted to the trade of guardian of courses.
“I appreciate T.A.’s emotion for the game,” said Herbert, who said his wife claims it is his addiction. “Many times I tear up when it comes time to add up my scorecard. Seriously, golf is a game of a lifetime.“
The governor credited the findings of a study on the economic and environmental impact of golf in Utah for painting a clear picture of just how huge the golf industry is in the state.
Even lifetime golf professionals in Utah were a little stunned by the numbers.
- The golf industry produces $805.6 million for Utah’s economy, almost as much as skiing.
- Golf supported 9,625 jobs in Utah in 2012.
“Those numbers are huge, just huge,” said Utah Rep. Rich Cunningham, from District 50. “And this study is going to blow the socks of people.
“The study makes golf easily one of the top industries in Utah, right behind the ski industry, bigger than Lake Powell, bigger than more than half of the economic entities we deal with in this state.”
“Golf brings in more than all the professional sports in Utah combined,” said the governor.
“You give voice to an industry that produces $860 million a year and employs 10,000 people, and you have something that we must take serious in this state,” said Cunningham
The study, conducted by Stanford Research International, will prove critical as a tool to the golf industry as issues appear on the agenda of city councils across the state, when economic impact information is needed and environmental concerns are debated.
In short, information is power, and golf just gleaned critical facts.
During Monday’s meeting, a new voice for golf took center stage called the Golf Alliance for Utah. It’s a group designed to protect the industry and golfers. It is comprised of presidents and directors of the Utah Golf Association, the Utah Section PGA, Utah State Parks GCSAA, and Fairways Media.
If somebody wants to argue about golf or threaten it, this group says it’s ready to race to the rescue.
So, what’s it all mean?
One could break it down to politics and studies, but what we got out of Monday is a stronger sport in Utah, and folks who are bent on defending it come gavel or nine-iron.
Rest a little easier, Mr. Barker, the tears are not in vain.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.