Golf is a $23.5 billion industry in the US. And some lawyers are using the links for developing their own, stagnant business.

Golf lawyers generally don’t deal with equipment companies, but handle areas ranging from negotiating course purchases to ensuring that tournament fans can buy a cold beer.

“We’re not targeting golf manufacturers per se but the golf industry and what all that means,” said Fred Ripley, a partner in the Tampa office of Foley & Lardner, the nation’s 24th-biggest firm with revenue of $452.5 million last year and 907 lawyers, according to American Lawyer magazine.

The magazine said that Foley & Lardner’s income was down 2.9 percent from 2001, and that average revenue for law firms overall grew just 2 percent after a 30 percent increase since 1997.

Among Foley & Lardner’s clients is Meadowbrook Golf Inc., the nation’s fourth-largest golf management company with 41 courses and operating or maintenance contracts for another 100. Because the growth in his own industry has slowed, Meadowbrook Chief Executive Ron E. Jackson said, it’s important to get advice from a law firm that knows as much as possible about the whole business.

“People get into the golf business for non-economic reasons,” he said. “Everybody thinks they can make a living swinging a club, and they find out the truth is different.”

The National Golf Foundation, a nonprofit group that charts the game in the U.S., said 25.8 million golfers in the U.S. spent $23.5 billion on equipment and fees last year. They played on 15,827 courses, with 220 of those opening in 2002, the foundation said. That and this report from Bloomberg News

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