In April, Forbes published an article on the current state of the golf industry. The author quoted professional golf elitists such as foundation CEOs, executive directors and tour commissioners.
These older, white gentlemen espoused the virtues of the game with long-winded marketing speak and unsubstantiated statistics that usually began with “(we) remain bullish about the future of the game,” or “I believe golf is on a positive turn…especially among youth,” and “we have entered an exciting time in the industry…where attracting/accepting more people (age, gender, race, etc.). is no longer just a talking point.”
What they really need to do is pull their collective heads out of the sand trap.
Three months later, in June, Forbes published another article, this time entitled “How Golf Lost the Millennials.” This time the author spoke with business leaders. Ed Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, told Forbes that its golf business was down by the high single-digits in the first quarter of 2015, while ESPN reported that Dick’s had laid-off 500 PGA golf pros who worked in the company’s golf shops because of declining sales.
Many so-called experts blame it on the recession, over- growth in the golf equipment market, and consolidation of golf retailers. But the real reason is the golf industry has failed miserably to attract millennials to the game, the author concluded. And he’s absolutely correct.
The National Golf Foundation reported that there were 400,000 fewer golfers in 2013, with half of the decline coming from millennials. With millennials representing about 25 percent of the population, the decline is significant.
Millennials, or those who became young adults starting in 2000, are described as being racially diverse, economically stressed and politically independent. They generally are confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change. They also don’t like being called “millennials” and apparently they don’t play golf either. But why?
- Golf is too slow. Millennials have been raised on the Internet so they expect instant gratification, not 4+ hour games that basically consist of doing the same thing over and over 18 times—drive, pitch, putt. They crave ease, speed and efficiency.
- Golf is not diverse and millennials are the most diverse generation ever. The lack of minority diversity at Augusta National is the biggest example, and Mark King, former President of Taylor Made/Adidas Golf, was quoted in Forbes as the lack of “minorities playing, women coming into the game” as reasons for golf’s decline.
- Golf is expensive, and millennials remember when mom and dad lost 40 percent of their 401K savings when the stock market crashed in 2008. They are less likely to throw money around on rounds of golf and golf equipment because the outcome is perceived as not having value
- Golf is exclusive, and millennials want to share their experience through social media and selfies. Playing four to a group is too confining, and it usually requires a dress code.
- Golf is boring. Millennials don’t see the value of using a stick to hit a sphere into a round cup when they can do the same thing on video games. It usually takes hundreds of hours of practice walking up and down the golf course under a hot sun just to be acceptable.
If those who operate and make millions of dollars off the golf industry want to stay in business over the next decade or two, they had better be prepared to make some major changes to golf for the millennials or risk seeing golf go the way of lawn bowling.