Features

Features

“Plan for Many Pleasures Ahead”

What does retirement hold for golfers in Gen X and younger? Travel, adventure, variety—and lots of golf

BY PETER FINCH

“I’m not one of those guys who wants to work until he’s 67 or 68,” says John Fridner. The Chicago-based health-insurance sales executive, 55, plans to stop working within the next four to six years. Then he’s going to split his time between homes in Illinois and Florida, travel the world with his wife, Laura, and play a lot of golf.

Last year he took a big step toward that goal, buying a winter getaway home and joining the Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs, Fla. A lot of family members and friends have retired and stayed in Chicago or, if they’re nearing retirement, they haven’t decided where they’re heading. “I didn’t want to wait,” Fridner says. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to make a different decision today and start enjoying some of it while I’m still working.”

Fridner’s attitude isn’t unusual among well-off Gen Xers. Many Americans in their 50s and early 60s plan to work fewer years than their parents and grandparents did, and it’s not just the timing that’s different. They’re looking at their “golden years” through a wider lens. Healthier and more active than their parents were at retirement, they view it as the beginning of an adventure—not the end of the line.

Even the coronavirus hasn’t slowed the trend, financial advisers agree. In fact, it might have accelerated it for some. As virus fears surged in this year’s second quarter, Golf Life Navigators, a company that helps match golfers with Sun Belt clubs, saw a 20-percent increase in website traffic, says CEO Jason Becker.

For avid golfers, the game is at the core of any retirement plan. In a recent survey of Golf Digest readers, 82 percent of future retirees told us they hope to play more than 50 rounds a year when they’ve stopped working. Their No. 1 retirement ideal: having access to a course they love playing.

 

READERS SPEAK . . .

“I WANT A PLACE THAT THE KIDS AND GRANDKIDS WANT TO COME TO BECAUSE THERE IS A LOT TO DO WITH GRANDPA AND NOT JUST BE BORED SITTING AT MY HOUSE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOOD.”

SOURCE: GOLF DIGEST READER SURVEY 08 / 20

But golf is only part of what they’re seeking. The next generation of retirees also wants to hit the gym, bike, swim, eat well, make new friends, learn new skills and travel. “Whatever community somebody’s going to, there has to be so much more than just golf,” says Robert Gerstemeier, a 49-year-old Cincinnati financial adviser. “There needs to be a book club, a community social aspect, a health club. All the well-run clubs are continually adding amenities and options to make it your social hub.”

This is a shift, and many believe it could have a profound effect on golf clubs and communities in the years ahead. Becker, who spends his days analyzing what prospective club members want most, says it can be eye-opening to a club to learn what people are really looking for. “Golf amenities aren’t the No. 1 motivation. It’s not the ‘signature hole’ anymore. It’s about socialization, wellness, fitness, lifestyle. Those are the things that are driving people to buy.”

 

Getting in Gear

Some easy equipment fixes that’ll add distance as you age

BY E. MICHAEL JOHNSON

Just how much distance do golfers lose as they age? We looked at data from Arccos, a leader in performance analytics.

Collecting data from male golfers over a three-year period (2017-’19), Arccos says driving distance for those age 30 to 39 is about 234 yards. For those 40 to 49, it falls to 226—an eight-yard loss. For those 50 to 59, it declines another nine yards to 217, for a total loss of 17 yards. Those in their 60s? Don’t ask.

Luckily, advances in equipment can help. If you’re experiencing a noticeable loss in distance off the tee—10 yards or more—there’s a good chance a change in your driver setup can help. The easiest way to know for sure: a launch monitor. Don’t assume because you got fitted for clubs a few years ago that those specs will stay the same forever. Returning to the launch monitor can show how your swing has changed and offer insight into equipment changes that could result in more yards. When older players notice decreasing distance, they often add more loft. That’s a smart move in most cases. Drivers built the past few years deliver significantly less spin than they used to. Problem is, some golfers, especially those with slower swing speeds, need spin to keep the ball in the air. Going to a higher loft will naturally add launch angle and provide more spin, so it’s a win-win for many.

Don’t assume you automatically need a lighter, more flexible shaft. Shaft flex is often dictated more by how you swing than how fast. For example, a player whose swing has slowed but still has a lot of lag might want to continue using a stiffer shaft. “Changing the shaft changes the feel of the club, and the first thing the brain wants to do when it’s not comfortable is to automatically slow down,” says Tom Olsavsky, vice president of R&D for Cobra Golf. “That’s not to say a lighter, more flexible shaft won’t work, but fitting really comes into play when you’re changing shafts.”

Finally, it might also be time to ditch those longer irons. As speed drops, it gets harder to get the ball in the air. “You see on tour a number of players using utility irons or hybrids for that reason,” Olsavsky says. “If the best players in the world are trying to get more air under the ball on those shots, everyday players need it even more. The slower the swing, the more launch tends to be important, whether it’s off the tee or into the green.”

 

Older Baby Boomers and their parents were often drawn to all-inclusive golf communities, where club membership is tied to your home ownership. But younger Boomers and Gen Xers are less interested in these arrangements, Becker says. “I would say 75 to 80 percent of people bought in gated golf communities in the early 2000s. Now we have data that shows 40 percent don’t want to, and it can be even more dramatic in certain markets.”

Why? Part of it is financial. Many of today’s soon-to-be retirees saw their parents’ golf-home values take a big hit in the 2008-’10 financial crisis, says Steve Graves, president of Creative Golf Marketing, which helps clubs find new members. The “refundable” initiation fees pitched by some of these communities turned out to be not exactly refundable. On top of that, younger retirees often chafe at their lack of control in a golf community, where the club typically sets the rules on paint colors, landscaping and more.

 

READERS SPEAK . . .

“I’M MUCH HEALTHIER AND WEALTHIER THAN MY PARENTS. I PLAN ON CONTINUING TO EXERCISE, TRAVEL, READ MORE, WATCH MORE MOVIES, ETC.”

SOURCE: GOLF DIGEST READER SURVEY 08 / 20

If one of Gerstemeier’s clients wanted to buy a home in a private golf community, “the first thing I’d say is, ‘Explain to me who you’re going to sell this to in 15 years,’ ” he says. “Look at the demographics. The population of golfers 15 years younger than me is lot smaller than when I was that age. So if you’re going into a community that’s 100 percent focused on golf, and the only reason you’d buy a place is that it’s tied to the golf course, I’d be concerned with the viability of the community and the golf course 15 to 20 years into the future.”

Recognizing this, more clubs are letting members live outside their gates. Gerstemeier and his wife, Laura, recently became members at Imperial Golf Club in Naples, Fla., for example. They have a condo in a nearby neighborhood, separate from the golf club. Their neighborhood association offers access to the beach, tennis, restaurants, swimming and a fitness center. In addition to permitting nonresident members, the club offers multiple pricing plans, including a lower-cost associate membership that Gerstemeier chose. He can play 35 days in the winter and anytime from April to November. Because he’s still working and doesn’t live in Naples year-round, “it’s the perfect option for me.”

 

READERS SPEAK . . .

“I’D LIKE TO SEMI-RETIRE AT A MUCH EARLIER AGE, WITH LOTS OF TRAVEL, PLAYING MORE GOLF AND VOLUNTEERING.”

SOURCE: GOLF DIGEST READER SURVEY 08 / 20

 

Clearly the one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for clubs anymore. Younger retirees and soon-to-be retirees are demanding flexibility, and they’re getting it. They want reciprocal privileges at other clubs so they can easily travel and play, says Jorie Johnson, a New Jersey-based financial adviser. And they’re taking advantage of “preview” memberships, which some clubs have begun offering to attract prospective members. These are not just weekend passes—in many cases, they’ll let you stay for weeks or even months, renting a member’s home.

Last year, Joe and Jacquie Harris, who live in Boca Raton, Fla., were seeking a summer getaway in a cooler spot. They’d heard the mountains of North Carolina are nice, so they rented a house and signed up for trial memberships at a pair of clubs in the Cashiers-Highlands area: Old Edwards and Cullasaja.

 

READERS SPEAK . . .

“I PLAN TO ‘RETIRE’ YOUNG, BUT WILL KEEP WORKING
FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE WITH A MUCH LIGHTER SCHEDULE.”

SOURCE: GOLF DIGEST READER SURVEY 08 / 20

 

“We’ve been offering these preview memberships since 2015, and we’ve found they’re our No. 1 way of prospecting for new members,” says Cullasaja general manager Chris Conner. “You can come in for a minimum of two weeks and pay the normal club dues for that time, and you can use all our facilities.”

The Harrises fell in love with Cullasaja. Besides the golf course, there’s kayaking, fishing, croquet, mountain hiking trails, a gleaming fitness center and more. Most of all, they were blown away by the friendliness of their fellow club members. The Harrises bought a home there in 2019 and spent the last year renovating it. “We’ve all noticed that when our parents sat around and did nothing in retirement, their quality of life was . . . different,” says Joe, who is 68 and semi-retired from the consulting business he founded. “Here the quality of life is just so great. The people are so friendly that you want to go out and do stuff with them every night.”

 

STAY STRONG

How to maintain your swing speed in retirement

BY MATTHEW RUDY

 

Monte Scheinblum knows firsthand what happens to big hitters as they age. A former long-drive champ, he watched in slow-motion horror as his clubhead speed shrank from 130 miles per hour into the 110s during a two-year period. “Getting old hurts a strong player more,” says Scheinblum, 53, who teaches his power techniques at RebellionGolf.com. “My lesson book is filled with players who used to hit it 280 and play to a 1-handicap and now hit it 210 and want to quit.”

It doesn’t have to come to that. Scheinblum has his clubhead speed back up to 130 mph and can still smash it 330 yards when he chooses. Last year he made it through qualifying and into the U.S. Senior Open.

Whether you’re a long-drive champ or just someone wanting to find 10 more yards, the answer is the same: “It feels powerful to make this aggressive body move at the ball, but it’s wasted motion,” he says. “You have to learn how to do the opposite—which is move the center of mass of the club away from the target at the start of the downswing.”

What does that look like? “All I want you to do is get your lead wrist in some amount of flex in transition,” Scheinblum says. By that he means bowing the wrist joint outward, like you’re showing somebody your wristwatch instead of letting your wrist bend like a V. “It doesn’t matter how much as long as it’s moving in that direction. It’ll take time to assimilate, but just go practice it at two-thirds speed with your 7-iron. You’ll be amazed at what happens when you finally get the mechanical advantage of the club working for you.”

It’s natural to assume the path to more yards has to travel through the gym. Working out has its benefits, but muscle power has little to do with hitting the ball farther, says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Liam Mucklow, an athletic-movement specialist who works with professionals in golf and baseball.

Think of your swing as a power-generating chain, Mucklow says. Adding “links” to this chain by letting your joints move is the key to dialing back your swing’s age. “If you narrow your stance, it’s easier to turn your hips. If you flare your trail foot, you get the same benefit— more pelvis rotation without doing a single thing to work on your inherent hip flexibility,” Mucklow says. “Sam Snead was super flexible. How did he get more hip turn? Bending his knee.”

These lessons are ones old-school players have known forever. Mucklow recalls a practice round with Vijay Singh in 2017. “After every shot, he took out this five-pound rod and swung it while he walked. He said he wanted to keep his swing long because the longer he could keep his swing long, the longer he could keep cashing checks.”

No matter who you are and how well you’re aging, you need a golf swing that fits your body’s biomechanics, says E.A. Tischler, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher who works with tour pro Scott McCarron.

The things Tischler and McCarron work on read like an improvement blueprint for the middle-age golfer.

“Dynamic posture at address is a big deal,” Tischler says. “If you have bad posture, you can’t use the ground—and it makes it hard to link up the kinetic chain. Once you have the chain linked up, it’s easier to transfer speed from link to link. I like to see thighs, glutes and core engaged at address, and the balance in your feet over the arch. Once you’re there, you have to come up with your way of loading pressure and trigger it properly.”

Part of McCarron’s homework is one basic drill that makes sure he’s using the ground to stay explosive. “I use an impact bag where the ball would be and start the swing from halfway down—doing it first right-handed and then left-handed,” says McCarron, who won the season-long Charles Schwab Cup in 2019. “I’ll use everything from a sand wedge to a 7-iron. The only way you can put a hit on that bag is to use the ground to push off.”

The net? McCarron hits his irons the same distance at 55 as he did when he was 35, and he has consistently been in the top five in driving distance on the PGA Tour Champions.

The caveat with any of this is staying healthy. Nobody knows this better than Tiger Woods, who has had more than a dozen surgeries on his knees and back. “Now, kids are starting out in their early 20s with the understanding that you have to use the ground [to get distance], and they’re so much bigger and stronger,” Woods says. “Their nutritional program is better, their recovery tactics are better. But there’s going to be added wear and tear on different parts of the body that traditionally there hasn’t been. We’ll see how that goes.”

Thanks to technology, even a notorious ball-beater like Woods has been able to cut back on his practice routines and reduce stress on his body because of the ability to dial in technique and equipment adjustments much more quickly and precisely. “Just get on a machine now and you can see what you need to do to make the adjustments,” he says. “A couple tweaks here and there, and all of a sudden you’ve gained another 15 yards.”