Dear Golf Industry,
It is a well known fact to anyone with their ear to Golf Industry publications that you have been bleeding players. People 50 and under just aren’t falling for you like they have in generations past. I’ve read about the tweaks to the game that some believe will make it ‘more fun for younger people,’ like footballgolf, with a mix of amusement and bewilderment.
I’ve spent the past year researching golf and there’s something I need to tell you, directly:
Your game doesn’t suck. Your image, messaging and marketing does. You have been bleeding young people for decades because you don’t know where they are or how to talk to them.
Apart from my research, there’s another reason I’m so sure of myself on this issue: my partner Hessie Jones and I founded ArCompany’s Millennial Think Tank. I talk to Millennials weekly about a variety of business and societal issues. My company lives at the intersection of quantitative and qualitative social data. We believe that if you’re not gathering and implementing meaningful insights, all else will fail.
We LISTEN to people in a way that Golf has flat out failed to do.
I’ve read endlessly about what is ‘wrong with golf;’ about your attempts to alter the game for a generation you THINK has a shorter attention span. Let me tell you something, these young people play World of Warcraft for 10 hours straight. Attention span is NOT the problem.
Again: there is NOTHING wrong with the game of golf. It is fabulous, challenging, and beautiful.
YOU have failed it. Failed it by not recognizing that your elitist image doesn’t fly with the most racially diverse generation America has ever seen; nor does it fly with their GenX elders. The GAME of golf is not what they don’t like.
On our Think Tank a few months ago we focused on The Future of Sports. I’ll give you verbatim what our Millennials had to say about golf:
Because we know that Golf has not been attracting Millennials, or even GenXers for that matter, I had a lot of questions about golf. But first I wanted to get our panel’s overall opinion about golf in 60 seconds or less; here’s how they answered.
Albert: I think it’s a sport where you make a lot of business deals. I think it’s a misunderstood sport; I paid attention to it because of Tiger Woods. Now there is no one I’m rooting for.
Joe: I watch a few tournaments a year; I typically watch the Masters. I only play golf a couple of times a year – partly because it’s expensive and inaccessible.
I also don’t like that golf courses consume so much water (Joe lives in NM). Great sport, kind of fun to play – totally out of touch with the modern world.
I like watching major tournaments – there’s drama, there’s passion and tension… but all of the other stuff that makes up golf is what turns people off.
Kelly: Golf is game, not a sport, it’s like darts. It’s actually a great tool to bring people together – it’s fun, kind of like happy hour. Most people aren’t going to be great at it.. so it’s low pressure.
My perception of it is based on who I see playing it regularly. It’s played by people who are out of touch. It’s a place where the 1950’s mindset still lives. There is racism, sexism, classism… it’s huge.
Working on the golf course gave me this whole new perspective – I didn’t realize that this attitude was this prevalent. Half of the people who play here (at the course he works at) think like that.
Salina: It’s an expensive sport. We do use it to bring people together – we get drunk and have fun. You can’t even celebrate after a success in the field – you have to stay calm. There is definitely a gender bias there.
Satnam: It is the rich people’s game – usually rich people don’t give a crap about anything.
Hessie: The aura of golf, how you’re supposed to present yourself.. it’s so pretentious.
Of course that’s just a snippet from an hour long episode of our Think Tank, but coupled with the statistics that we can verify:
Pellucid, a research company that has its finger on the pulse of exactly what is happening in golf, and isn’t afraid to tell you clearly:
The number of U.S. golfers has dropped 24 percent from its peak in 2002, to about 23 million players last year, according to Pellucid, a consulting company that specializes in the business of golf. It found that in 2013 alone, the game lost 1.1 million players.
We took that quote from this Bloomberg piece; but this article, like so many others, doesn’t understand that golfs primary problem is NOT about the attention span of digital natives. Contrary to the author’s opinion that:
Given the sport’s costs and inherent difficulty—while a video game on a smartphone can be mastered in as little as a few hours, golf can require years of practice to play well—that slide is unlikely to end anytime soon.
The author does not understand the booming Gaming culture. The largest number of gamers are not Millennials, but GenXers, and most of them have played video games for decades. The most popular games are multi player MMOGs where a large part of the reward is helping your teammates. These games are notoriously difficult on newbies, and people work years to build up expertise.
The question hungry marketers and lovers of golf have been trying to answer for years is:
How do we fix Golf?
And THAT right there is the problem – everyone is asking the wrong question. Golf doesn’t need to be fixed – its image and message does, and it needs to LISTEN and understand WHERE its target market is living, which is NOT in print ads and on television. Young people, those 50 and under, are on social. They’re on blogs. They’re in private and open online communities. If you were listening you could not only hear, but you could TALK with them.. not at them. You could get to know them, and they could get to know you as something other than a whitebread, stuffy game.
But none of this comes with what so many marketers are trying to sell you: a hard ROI. There is no easy fix to this image/message/communication issue. You need to start a conversation humbly, and listen, a lot. You need to hear what younger people are saying within their own communities – becaue they are NOT going to come and tell you anything honestly in a focus group. They EXPECT you to be listenting to them – they will not seek you out.
And after you listen, and understand the insights, you need to let them talk to you openly. You need to create a place, or participate in a place where they are comfortable. And, after all of that hard work, you need to work even harder on your message.
This is all very possible and something we do here at ArCompany on a daily basis. There is technology available as we speak that allows us to listen to the very people you want playing golf, understand the real reasons they aren’t, and determine an actionable plan to change Golf’s perception and messaging by engaging with that very desired audience.
We’re here. We can help. Get in touch.
VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.