by Ken Tabacsko
As a group, no golfers have more fun -- or play more rounds than seniors.
Senior golfers, usually defined as 50 years of age and up, are the bread-and-butter of the industry. Their play carries many courses while baby-boomers, often busy raising their children and nurturing their careers, struggle to find time to play.
That's especially true in Michigan, where courses are being completed at a record pace and the competition for the golfing dollar in many regions is fierce.
"Courses simply have to be senior friendly in order to compete," said Brad Dean, director of golf at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. "Many seniors, especially couples, play solely for social reasons. They enjoy the game and playing with each other and friends. We in the golf industry have to reach out to them."
According to statistics from the National Golf Foundation, 6.3 million of the 24.3 million golfers in the country are over the age of 50. About 3 million seniors call themselves "avid" players.
What does this mean? The average golfer plays about 20 rounds per year, the average senior plays 37 but "avid" golfers average 72, according to the foundation.
The most amazing statistic: In 1995, the latest year numbers are available, 466 million rounds were played nationally. Incredibly, 49 percent were played by seniors.
In addition, the average senior golfer has a household income of $96,000, almost all own their own home and spend an average of $2,000 per year on equipment and greens fees.
"Senior golfers are great," said Rodger Jabara, golf pro at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire. "They're just happy to be out there playing. The social aspects are just as important as the golf.
"You have to appeal to seniors because in many places around the state, certainly it is true in northern Michigan, they have a lot of choices where they can play.
"They enjoy the entire experience. They're not too proud to play within themselves. They know what they can and can not do."
Dean said while seniors might not be able to hit the long ball, many play a much smarter game.
"They use their experience and course knowledge to help them score," he said.
The Crystal Mountain pro added that some seniors should use front tee positions to help them enjoy the game even more.
"Because they lose some distance, you want to give them an opportunity to reach the green and have a shot at reaching par," Dean added. "You want them to be able to clear ponds or bunkers."
Senior golfers should also realize that the game, because of the swing's twisting and turning motion, can put a lot of stress on the spine, hips and shoulders. Many players don't stay active during the winter, making injuries like muscle strains and disc injuries in the spring more common.
Physical therapists say the golf swing is inherently a bad movement as players must bend forward and rotate -- one of the worst things people can do. The key to protecting the spine is to keep the knees flexed. If the knees are bent and the back pretty straight the pressure is kept off the discs.
A good way to picture the correct stance is to think of a shortstop in a ready position crouch, set to catch a line drive. Getting the legs primed to work is the key. Too many folks bend forward and use the arms too much, putting pressure on the back. Another suggestion by physical therapists is to tighten stomach muscles when swinging as they help support the back.
Dean recommends seniors give themselves enough time to warm up before teeing off.
"Senior players lose flexibility and you have to work with them to improve that aspect of their game," he said. "For example, they need to concentrate on getting a bigger hip rotation."
The key thing to remember, Dean said, is it's never too late to learn the game.
"It's important to get a solid base, so take some lessons and get good fundamentals you can work from. Even better senior players can benefit from a lesson or two to get some of their distance back."
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