I recently read an article from AdWeek about the decline of golf and subsequently the strategies the PGA and other organizations are imploring to reverse that trend. The article went on to cite ways the golf industry is trying to market to millennials which simply aren’t playing the game like past generations. From using young, relatable celebrities on golf magazine covers (Jimmy Fallon) to G/Fore putting a sexy, stylish design on golf apparel, the golf industry is trying adapt to millennial desires.
AdWeek’s article touches on the opportunities through digital and social media marketing which is the industry I’m most passionate about, yet I don’t see this as the answer to golf’s problems. No advertiser or marketer worth their salt is going to tell you that they can’t improve your numbers through some sort of marketing strategy. With that being said, this is an industry that has seen Dick’s Sporting Goods get rid of their golf professionals this year and has seen TV numbers falter considerably since Tiger Woods’ fall from grace several years ago. Golf courses are closing their doors at alarming rates compared to new courses opening each year. The decline of golf is real and it’s here to stay if drastic changes aren’t made.
Golf has long been a game of those with money: exclusive country club memberships, fancy clothes, and older generations that have had time to save some money. Between a respectable set of irons, woods, putter, balls, and a golf bag, the start up price to get into golf is roughly $1,000. How many people (millennials, especially) are willing to put down $1,000 before they even step foot on a course? Now imagine paying $40 four Saturdays a month at your local public course (while there are cheaper options of playing during the week after work, not many have the time or opportunity to do so). That’s $160 a month to play FOUR times. For your first summer playing golf (4 months), you’re in $1,600 roughly for 16 rounds of golf. That doesn’t include any costs for time spent at the driving range, golf lessons, or any other extra clothing/apparel (which is very expensive in itself, just check out the G/Fore link above) or miscellaneous items. This is to be a casual golfer nonetheless. To take the game seriously, there is a much larger cost for better equipment, more practice, and more rounds of golf.
In addition to older millennials being hit by the high prices, other generations suffer as well as they try to introduce their young millennials to the game. As a commenter on the AdWeek article said, “My son is 11. I took him to play 9 holes at a nice public course. It cost me $60 for the two of us! Here is the future of the game, the kids who want to play with their dad, and you’re charging full rate for an 11 year-old?!!?” Simply preposterous to continuously pay $60 for 9 holes for a child just being introduced to the game.
Fresh attempts at digital marketing may bring a boost to some TV ratings (which is what organizations like the PGA are concerned with for the most part), but I don’t see anything short of reducing prices as a viable option to grow the sport on the course. The barrier to entry is simply too high for young men and women. There are great programs being run like The First Tee to get children more involved in golf, but they can only go so far. They can help mold younger players, but when they grow up there is a good chance they simply won’t be able to afford the game they’ve come to love. As someone who loves the sport of golf and has been playing for over 15 years now, I hope we see a change in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.