Does Golf Need To Change To Grow?

millenials

Every industry is trying to court those millennial dollars, and golf is no different. The question is will millennials want to change their increasingly casual lifestyles to play this traditional sport or will golf have to change for them?

Some answers may come from Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, who was in San Diego last week for U.S. Golf Association’s annual meeting. Though there are 25 million golfers in American (and that number’s been the same for the last 4 years), Mona indicated his desire to shift the industry’s focus to drawing in millennials.

Tod Leonard reports for the San Diego Union Tribune on the plan Steve Mona has for the state of the game.

They key segments to all of golf are youth and the millennials, which the NGF deems as those between 18 and 34 years old. The NGF did a comprehensive study of millennials and found that six million are currently playing and contributing about $5 billion annually to the golf industry. Another 12 million millennials expressed interest in taking up the game at some point.

“This kind of sky-is-falling talk that millennials aren’t playing the game, the facts belie that,” Mona said. “It would be disingenuous of me to say, though, that there aren’t issues to address.”

The NGF study reported that millennials value the tenets of the game as much as their older peers, but are turned off by perceptions of stodginess or lack of acceptance. Among the areas that need to be addressed, Mona said, are dress codes, use of technology on the course and even the use of music while playing.

“There are courses that already are reshaping their whole experience to be extremely millennial-friendly,” Mona said. “There are others who haven’t so much. But if you talk to any operator who is paying attention to the business, most of them will tell you they are making adjustments to appeal to the millennial audience.

“They’re the next group coming along, and they’re going to be the core.”

 

In my humble caveman opinion, Mona seems to want to change the traditional trappings of golf to draw in more players and “grow the game.” He points to the $5 billion that millennials contribute to the industry as proof of their interest. However, the industry is worth around $70 billion; millennials contribute less than 15% of that! Should the whole game change to suit that 14-15% in hope that that number increases? I would hope not.

 

I’m also skeptical about the idea that millennials will always want those changes. If a golfer isn’t raised with the game, he usually starts playing later in life. In 20 years, will those millennials still want to wear t-shirts on the course or will they want the game look and feel like the one their parents’ played? People tend to grow more conservative and traditional as they age; by the time millennials are in their 40’s, and at their peak purchasing power, I truly believe that they won’t want the changes that Mona speaks of.

 

I understand that Mona is looking out for the longevity of the industry and the game. In order for there to be golf in this country, there needs to be golfers. I must assume that Mona is looking at the popularity of Topgolf (the one golf brand that is growing with millennials) and wants to find a way to bring that growth to the traditional golf industry. However, I think that he misses the reasons why Topgolf is so popular with that demographic. It’s not the lack of dress code or use of music, it’s the novelty of playing a game with your friends without any time or financial commitment to improving your skills in that game. You don’t have to buy expensive golf clubs or pay for a country club fee to play Topgolf. It’s financially accessible to millennials. If Steve Mona really wants to grow the game of golf, maybe he should focus less on changing the traditions of the game and more on changing the cost.

 

 

 
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3 thoughts on “Does Golf Need To Change To Grow?

  • February 12, 2016 at 10:48 am
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    Golf is a sport with traditions. That is one of the fascinating things about the game. Change dress codes etc. for 15% of the golfing population? I don’t see any reason to do that.
    I teach golf at a 9 hole course that allows tee shirts, tank tops, shorts, etc. It’s a blue collar crowd and for that course, it’s fine. When I play someplace else, I wear a collared shirt and a decent pair of shorts or pants. I don’t have a problem with that.
    If some of the millenials want to wear tee shirts, denim shorts, etc, they can find a course that will allow it. Otherwise, respect the traditions, dress codes, etc of the rest of the courses.
    I sincerely hope that golf will not change to meet the wishes of a few. As stated in the article above, they will change as they grow older and will more appreciate the history and traditions of golf.
    (They should be glad men don’t have to wear coat and tie and the ladies wear long dresses on the golf course).

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    • February 12, 2016 at 11:06 am
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      I totally agree Ron. Changing the traditions of golf would do more to hurt the game rather than help it.

      Reply
  • February 13, 2016 at 1:30 pm
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    To me, a man in my late 30’s I’ve always enjoyed looking as smooth as possible in the proper golf attire. There are plenty of millenials that wear tight pants and collars. I don’t think relaxed dress codes are a necessity. I definitely agree with the above comments about the financial aspect keeping people away. There aren’t as many dads playing golf due to the price and having to spend money elsewhere.
    Everytime i play with my friends in their mid 20’s to early 40’s we listen to music on our phones in the cart. I think most young to middle aged golfers do. Golf is meant to be fun. So you make it that. Maybe more stores will accept trade ins on new stuff for people who want to pay for the high priced new items? I wait for the next new expensive items to come out and buy the previous years model when i want a change.
    Maybe golf courses could set up more league nights to attract these millenials, using decent prices and craft beer carts? Or have a band or dj in the clubhouse after? There are options, maybe pay an employee to repair the divots and ballmarks? There are options, but you have to make it attractive, not just change a dress code, or put speakers in your carts. Although i would support the speakers, you don’t have to use them, and they don’t need to be loud.
    Don’t give up on what makes the game beautiful.

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