When it comes to winning over Millennials, the golf industry is scoring a triple bogey. In non-golf terms, not well. According to the National Golf Foundation, over the past 20 years there has been a 30% decrease in participation among 18 to 34 year-old Millennials, so the traditional sport will have to carefully “tee-up” it’s next shot to entice the Millennial generation.
The number of U.S. golfers has dropped 24% from its peak in 2002 and only 14 new courses were built in the U.S. in 2013, while almost 160 shut down. The retail side of the sport is also in dire need of a mulligan. Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. laid off more than 400 specialists as it reduced store space for golf in favor of women’s and youth apparel. Edwin Watts Golf Shops, a chain founded 46 years ago, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
It’s clear that without the support from a new generation of players, the next chapter for golf will be bleak.
Why Millennials aren’t super-psyched about playing golf
- It’s time-intensive. In a fast world, a six hour door-to-door 18-hole round is an eternity.
- It’s costly. According to data from the National Golf Foundation in 2013, the average fee for 18 holes with a golf cart was $52. Millennials could join an Ultimate Frisbee league for the same price where the reversible tank shirt is included.
- It’s difficult to master. Golf is one of the few sports that doesn’t offer a beginner option. There’s no bunny hill for those that don’t know how to play. Perhaps Top Golf (mentioned later) could change that.
- It’s elitist. In many ways golf doesn’t fulfill the Millennial values of inclusion and diversity. The dress codes and country clubs appear “stuffy” in the minds of Millennials.
Some ways the industry is trying to win over Millennials…
Decrease the time
Faster game play with 6, 8, and 12-hole designs, which have been supported by PGA Tour superstars, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.
Add extra perks to the course
Other golf clubs are considering unique perks like yoga, hovercraft rides, and GolfBoards (a cross between a skateboard and golf cart).
Poll the players
Relaxed dress codes, transparent tee sheets to see when friends are playing, smartphone apps to reserve tee times, pay for services, and communicate with the pro shop are a few of the 1,470+ practical ideas that have been elicited by Hack Golf, an open-innovation initiative aimed at crowdsourcing the future of the game.
FootGolf, a combination of golf and soccer, has been offered by clubs in more than 30 states, including the PGA Country Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. FootGolf is capitalizing on the growing popularity of soccer (in 2012, ESPN revealed soccer as the second-most popular sport for those aged 12-24), and offers a lower price point and difficulty level. It also didn’t hurt that MTV’s Rob Dyrdek kicked off his final season playing FootGolf.
Make it easier
TaylorMade, a leading manufacturer of golf clubs, bags and accessories, recently sponsored a 15-inch cup tournament. They quadrupled the size of the hole from 4.25 inches to a 15 inch diameter with the goal of making the game faster and easier. In some cases the new holes have reduced the length of an 18-hole round from 4:30 to 3:45, and improved scores by 10 strokes.
Enhance the thrill
Extreme alternatives include the All Sports Golf Battle, created by the popular sports and comedy entertainment group, Dude Perfect. And Golf Channel recently announced a new reality competition series, Altered Course, where teams navigate re-imagined and extreme golf holes in excess of 700 yards.
Add smart technology
TopGolf offers point-scoring golf games for all skill levels. It’s become a mega success and Millennial-friendly thanks to it’s innovation, ultra-connectedness, social, and gamified approach to golf. Players can chose from 7 different games and compete with smart golf balls that can be tracked for distance and location.
When all else fails…
Amidst all of these plays, perhaps golf could benefit the most from not changing at all. As the world grows nosier and more demanding, places where we can unplug and physically recharge will become more sought after. The open space and slow pace of golf could be exactly what the tech dependent and fast pace Millennials needs.