Can Millennial Golf Participation Get Out Of the Rough?

Golf_ball_grassA colleague was at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville watching the final two rounds of the PGA Championship. One thing that impressed him was seeing how multiple generations of a family were watching the tournament together.

He said he saw many families where the grandparents and grandchildren were golfers. However, despite his positive impression, overall participation rates tell a different story: Golf just hasn’t really caught on with millennials.

Among adults ages 18 to 34 in 2013, golfing was down 13 percent from its 2009 level. At the same time, this group’s participation in “active sports,” such as running, was up 29 percent. According to one analyst, millennials see golf as expensive and time consuming. Further, it doesn’t reflect the values of diversity and inclusion, which are important to many millennials.

Retail shrinkage

This lack of interest is having a ripple effect through the economy. Dick’s Sporting Goods has laid off more than 400 golf professionals and is shrinking the footprint of its golf departments. Sales are down at equipment manufacturers as well and some 160 courses closed down in 2013.

These problems aren’t going unaddressed and I really like one approach that the PGA is taking: crowdsourcing the problem.

The PGA established to collect ideas how the sport can be improved. Visitors can input their ideas in 10 different categories, including “getting introduced to the game,” “playing your round,” and “golfing socially.” Crowdsourcing has proven its value in a wide range of other venues, perhaps it can do the same for golf.

Golf participation peaked at 30 million in 2003. It’s probably worth noting that 2003 was about the same time Tiger Woods was reaching his apex in star power across popular culture. Today’s phenom, Rory McIlroy, who’s from Northern Ireland, probably doesn’t have the clout in the US to draw millions of new players into the game – especially after breaking off his engagement with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

Half a round better than none

The USGA is trying some marketing strategies that you and I would be likely to attempt when we see sales falling off: it’s discounting. To beat the high cost of a round of golf, as well as decrease the time commitment, the USGA has founded its Play 9 campaign that encourages golfers to play nine holes. This brings the typical cost – including cart – down to around $23, compared to $52 for 18 holes.

While this is a traditional approach to revving up sales, the PGA isn’t adverse to pushing the envelope. It has even experimented with a 15-inch-hole to make putting much easier. The regulation 4.25-inch hole is rather famous for giving players – even pros – terminal cases of the yips.

We’ll see if any of these ideas work. Sometimes lost business never returns. However, as millennials blow out their knees running and eventually get bored with yoga, perhaps they will naturally come back to golf – especially if it remains a great place to deepen relationships with business associates.

Sponsored by AT&T

Image: By Emi Yañez from Barcelona, Spain (| golf |) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons