The tax code and the golf industry at National Golf Day

How a 1970s economic incentive caused ongoing issues for golf courses and the people who make them work.


Hurricane Ian damage
Hurricane damage at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel Island, Fla. in 2022. Attendees at National Golf Day will be speaking to their representatives to encourage a change to tax code that would help ensure disaster recovery funding for golf courses. Photo courtesy of Roy Jones

Editor's note: National Golf Day is May 7-10. GCM is covering GCSAA's involvement in the event with stories all week long. To keep up with our complete coverage, click here.

Economic inflation is a familiar post-pandemic topic of concern for most Americans. However, the current rate of 3.48% is nothing compared to the 1970s, the decade in which two separate years — 1974 and 1979 — had inflation rates around 11%. They still rank among the top 10 highest annual inflation rates in the country’s history.

That decade’s economic instability, and the government’s attempt to alleviate its impacts on American businesses, inadvertently created a problem for the golf industry that’s still an issue today, according to Andrew Yeast, the senior director of industry engagement at the American Golf Industry Coalition (AGIC).

“A measure was written in to create a government bond program for businesses to apply for. What happened was that the government created a list of businesses that weren’t eligible,” Yeast says. “Golf clubs and country clubs were included on that list, along with racetracks and casinos.”

The reasoning at the time for placing golf on the exclusionary list isn’t clear. It may have been that most golf courses and country clubs at that time were member-exclusive and not widely accessible. Golf’s inclusion on the list may have been bargaining chip to help get the legislation passed. Whatever the reason, that 5-decade-old tax code language can still cause trouble now for courses seeking government funding in situations such as recovery from a natural disaster or paying for course improvements as part of an economic opportunity zone.

“Any time there’s an opportunity for people to pick and choose who’s eligible to get certain kinds of grants, legislators will write bills that refer back to precedent, and they may copy and paste that part of the tax code into new legislation,” Yeast says.

Revising the dated tax code language to remove golf courses from the existing exclusionary list is one of the topics golf course industry professionals will bring to their representatives at this year’s National Golf Day in Washington, D.C. Currently, there is a bill under development, with Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) acting as lead co-sponsors.

Jay Perron, a partner at lobbying firm Prism Group, which is helping AGIC and GCSAA members advocate for this issue, says this is an opportunity to show legislators how accessible golf is and its value to communities. “Some offices still see golf as an exclusive industry, one that’s not accessible to every American,” Perron says. “The truth is, 75% of courses are open to the public. This updated legislation would fix something that’s had unintended consequences that have kept golf courses from continuing to provide economic benefits to these congressional districts.”

Perron says the goal is to make sure that the next time disaster (or economic opportunity) strikes, golf courses and the people who work on them can be confident they’ll have the financial support they need. “When the next natural disaster comes, we want to make sure that golf courses that are impacted can come back economically, just like any other business,” Perron says. “If your congressional district is on the coast and you have a hurricane, you probably have some economic value to having golf in your district. You want to help return them to their original state as soon as possible.”

Yeast says this advocacy effort, as with most advocacy discussions around National Golf Day, is primarily about raising awareness. “There’s a lot that Congress has on their agenda, and sometimes golf, for them, might not be looked at as a top priority,” Yeast says. “It’s important for us to get in front of them and continue to educate them on everything we’re doing as an industry.”

Perron agrees, noting that this is another prime example of why it matters for industry professionals to get to know their legislators at the state and national levels. “Policymakers are always looking for suggestions on how to draft legislation, and if you’re not the ones constantly communicating with our members of Congress, your governor’s office, you’re likely to be left behind,” Perron says. “Make sure you’re communicating the value of your industry and what it brings to your district. Otherwise, you could be fighting for 40 years, like the golf industry has been on this tax issue.”

Abby Olcese is GCM's online editor.