How to sell Millennials on a 15th-century Scottish game – and your product or service

In August 2014 I wrote an article titled, Can Millennial Golf Participation Get Out Of the Rough?

It looks like I and many other observers were guilty of exaggerating the death of golf, to paraphrase the great Mark Twain.

However, the statistics and trend didn’t look good. Participation was down and it was having a ripple effect through a wide swath of the economy. Not only golf courses were suffering, sporting goods stores were feeling the pinch.

However, I recently heard PGA officials discussing a turnaround. Golf participation boomed when Tiger Woods made the scene many years ago, but today, Tiger is essentially out of the game. I suspect that when a lot of these new golfers think about Tiger’s driving, it’s not his success on the first tee at Augusta National that comes to mind, it’s his failure on Indian Creek Parkway, near his home in Jupiter, Florida that resulted in a DUI arrest.

Getting up to par

When I wrote the piece in 2014 I noted efforts the PGA and golf industry in general were making to position the sport to increase its appeal to Millennials. For example, they were starting to promote playing nine holes rather than a full round of 18 holes. If you watched the recent U.S. Open, you would have seen several ads for this campaign.

It makes a lot of sense and is probably beginning to pay dividends. Another major development has been the growth of Topgolf – a golf-entertainment hybrid that was conceived by the Jolliffe brother back in 2000. They found themselves a bit bored by the typical driving range experience, so they started to brainstorm ways to make it more exciting. They eventually came up with an idea that combined the idea behind darts with microchip technology. Players hit these high tech balls toward targets to score points and compete against one another.

That innovation allows players of all skill levels to compete and it gives players control over how long they want to play. But, those may not ultimately have been the most important innovations.

What games are popular with Millennials? Answer: video games. And, video games are often played in living rooms where gamers can enjoy one another’s company while snacking and downing a few of their favorite beverages.

Popup golf

Topgolf has established venues that pull all of these elements together. They have created an experience around golf, and we know that young adults are experience buyers. Further, they are working hard to expose the entire country to the idea. Topgolf has conducted a “stadium tour” where they set up their system in ball parks – it’s the Topgolf version of a popup shop!

When they pull into town the local media makes a big deal about it and millions of people are introduced to the idea. John Lombardo wrote a great article that details the benefits to both Topgolf and the local ball park when Topgolf setup shop at Seattle’s Safeco field.

Above I mentioned the “ripple effect” that disinterest was having on the golf industry a few years ago. It seems that the growing popularity of Topgolf is having a positive ripple effect. In 2016, the number first time golfers on golf courses rose to an all-time high, beating out the previous record set in 2000 when that guy named Tiger was enjoying superstar status.

Indoor golf has been around for decades without making a big splash. The concept, timing, and marketing behind Topgolf, seems to have it poised for far greater and lasting success. However, time will tell.

Improving your score

In any case, there’s a great lesson here. Golf has more staid tradition baked into its DNA than probably any other popular sport on the planet. Heck, its rules are governed by an organization called The Royal and Ancient! If golf can find ways to evolve and appeal to Millennials, any industry can do it.

You have to understand what appeals to your new target user and find ways to adapt your product or service. You have to advertise and market where they are. And, you need to be willing to listen to their suggestions, experiment, and find what works best.

Play the game right and you might score a hole in one.