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Probably the greatest challenge faced by the golf industry in the 2020’s is the need for generational change. New blood is urgently required, especially in club land. Golf clubs around the world want to attract new members and young golfers are an essential part of this. In Australia, according to a national survey conducted by Golf Australia, the average age of male golf club members is 58 and for women it is 64. These are the golfers who are most committed to the sport and make the most substantial regular investment in the game of golf via their annual subscription and weekly competition fees. Many of these golfers play multiple times per week and spend money in their pro shops and clubhouse facilities. What are some strategies for attracting younger golfers to the game?

man in green and white stripes long sleeve shirt holding black golf club
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Golf: The Current State Of Play

The game of golf at club level and more generally is patronised by an older age demographic. Retirees, quite simply, have more time on their hands to play golf. Golf is not an inexpensive game to play in terms of money outlaid and time invested. Clubs often struggle to attract and maintain younger members who have families because of the costs involved. Therefore, the national bodies and industry have recognised the urgent need to attract more women and children into playing golf.

Selling Golf Dominates Public Perception

Golf is to a large extent dominated by those who are involved in selling stuff to golfers. The manufacturers and the retailers have a much more visible presence in the public’s perception of golf. The world’s best players are sponsored by these major golf brands and wear their logos emblazoned upon hats, shirts, and bags. There is no other sport that requires its players to carry 14 different clubs to play the game. Tennis has just the one racquet. Hockey a single stick. Footballers share a ball between scores of players. In golf, there is so much accessorising that the new devotee to the game can be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff required to play the game. 14 clubs, plenty of golf balls, tees, glove, special golf shoes, umbrella, trolley or cart, ball marker, pitch mark repairer, ball retriever, GPS, range finder, scoring app, hat, golf apparel, and training devices. The purchase of all this palaver and its upkeep and maintenance can set you back a bit. You can see that becoming a golf afficionado is a major commitment. The old Visa and Mastercard’s get solid and frequent workouts.

Viktor Hovland: Viktorious at Tour Championship

Star Power Strategy For Attracting Younger Golfers To The Game

In many ways, it is all this shiny new equipment, which often attracts younger golfers to the game. Obviously, the association of a golf brand like Titleist or Ping with an Adam Scott or Viktor Hovland rubs star power upon their stuff. Club and social golfers wear the branded hats proudly on their heads to keep the sun off. New golfers to the game will be influenced by the equipment used by their golfing heroes. Thus, right there we see the importance of the sport at its elite tournament level maintaining prominence in that competitive market place. This relies on organisations like the USPGA and the European Tour, the USGA and the R&A, ensuring their products are seen on screens globally and making the news all the time. The recent financial battle for men’s professional tournament golf between the existing stake holders and the Saudi investment fund, which has created LIV Golf by buying some of the world’s best players, has put golf in the news. Some say there is no such thing as bad publicity, as all publicity is good publicity.

young man practicing golf - what are some strategies for attracting younger golfers
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Buying Golf The Saudi Approach

Personally, I have misgivings about the Saudi’s taking over golf’s flagship events and buying the cream of the crop. I worry about the soul of golf. Perhaps, I am somewhat sentimental in my concern for how the game is perceived by the world and potential new golfers. Commercialisation for many is what golf is all about. The business of golf rules the roost for plenty of people who work in the industry. Indeed, I have written that in my opinion the weight of all those using golf as a vehicle for their livelihood and commercial aspiration unbalances how the game is perceived by the world. When in fact 99% of those who engage with golf do so because they enjoy playing the game. Sometimes this gets lost in all this talk of elite players earning tens of millions of dollars.

The Young Are Impressed By The Trappings Of Success

However, most young folk are impressed with lifestyles replete with mansions, fast cars, and good looking spouses. The association between athletic looking golfers competing for million dollar prize money and the game of golf is the most obvious strategy for attracting more youngsters to the game. Technology is playing its part in this too. Golf has embraced technology like few other sports, which is further evidence of the dominance of the manufacturers in golf’s power structure. The one wood, which is now better known as the driver, has morphed into Thor, the god of thunder’s hammer – Mjolnir. The driver has this giant head made of super lightweight strong materials. Its shaft is similarly blessed with shape shifting high tensile properties. Every year, new drivers are launched onto the market with high tech fanfare and evocative names like Stealth and Paradym. These expensive golf clubs are the most sexy of all the 14 clubs in the golfer’s bag. Young golfers drool over them because they equate with smashing golf balls prodigious distances. To the young size does matter and how far you can hit the golf ball really matters.

Machismo has entered the game of golf through this door. There are long drive competitions and champions enjoying celebrity on golf’s periphery.

Ping Max G430 driver head

High Tech Golf An Appealing Strategy For Younger Golfers

High tech golf, also, attracts younger golfers via the many devices now available to measure distances and flight properties. Range finders were allowed for amateur players some 17 years ago by the USGA and R&A. This started an avalanche of different GPS devices measuring distances and communicating it to golfers by sight or voice hitting the market and showing up in golfer’s bags. Since then, the technology has evolved into launch monitors, big and small, measuring everything under the sun related to the golf swing and the movement of the struck golf ball. These are leading the way in the training aid category. Many younger golfers are enamoured of this technology and have never know anything else. Shiny new things that promise to save labour have always appealed to Homo sapiens.

Technology is a major factor in the appeal of golf for young golfers and older golfers in the 21C.

The Game Improving Strategy Via Technological Materials & Devices

Golf is a very frustrating game and is not an easy sport to play. There is no denying that swinging a club head on the end of a long pole at a small dimpled ball at speed and expecting it to travel where you want it to go is often a recipe for disaster. Laughing at yourself is a skill you soon learn to divine on your golfing journey. Technology has marketed itself most strongly as a game improver via the transforming nature of the materials utilised. Heads of golf clubs have got bigger thanks to the lighter weights of the materials employed in their construction. Shafts have become less twisty at impact due to the carbon fibres utilised in their development. Shiny, highly polished surfaces promise great things to golfers and there is a substantial amount of smoke and mirrors in the marketing of golf equipment to them. In the end, no matter how good the golf club in the hands, it is down to the swing of the golfer, whether the thing works as well it could or should. Hard work has never had great sales appeal, as a marketing carrot to dangle before prospective buyers. The intimation, ever present, in the sales pitch for these expensive high tech golf clubs is that they will take a player’s striking ability to a whole new level. However, without proper guidance via professional instruction and plenty of practice the true potential of these amazing clubs is often left in the bag.

Price Points The Economical Strategy To Attract Younger Golfers

Golf clubs around me have slashed the price of junior membership in a bid to attract new life blood into their clubs. In addition to this they have ramped up junior golf programmes making sure that they offer weekend clinics on a regular basis for these youngsters just starting out. It is important to have frequent competitions for juniors at all levels and age groups to fire that competitive spirit within a nurturing framework. The attitudes of existing older members have changed over the last decade or so, as they have come to recognise individually the need for generational change if their clubs are going to survive. Similarly, female members have been achieving better parity with the men at golf clubs in terms of equal playing rights. Golf is coming into the 21C after many decades in a time machine stuck in the 1950’s. Watching the elite professional women’s game on TV these girls swing the club better than the men in many instances. The better TV ratings being achieved by women’s tournament golf is giving greater prominence to what a great game golf can be for women to enjoy.

This is the future of golf – more women and kids playing the game.

Expanding Golf’s Appeal Beyond Wealthy White Kids

Tiger Woods was important for golf for so many reasons, but his status in the game broke through that white bread exclusive country club image that golf had for too long. Golfers like Sahith Theegala and Hideki Matsuyama are attracting new legions of young golf fans to the sport from new demographic spectrums. Multi-cultural golf is a new beast in the jungle and the growth factor potential here is enormous. I think keeping the cost of golf down will, also, be important to the long term survival of golf’s popularity. Most stuff in golf is overpriced, in my view, and too many people are trying to make a buck out of the game. Let us remember that the essential nature of golf is hitting a stone with a stick whilst outside. This is where the game originated from in Holland, Belgium, and Scotland.

Golf court photo
The Housing Crisis Impacting Upon Municipal Golf Courses

Land for golf courses in cities facing housing shortages is a growing ever present danger at the moment. Greater public and government scrutiny is falling upon existing golf courses, especially those located on what we call crown land in Australia. There are pushes in cities like Sydney ad Melbourne to close these golf courses and turn them into open green land for all to enjoy. Greater density in housing, with more folk living in high rise apartments, means that more people want access to parks to be able to balance their lifestyles with fresh air and open spaces. Less golf courses, especially public golf courses like municipal courses, will reduce opportunities for younger golfers to access affordable golfing experiences. It may well pay for clubs and organising bodies to get together to strategise about what they can do to address these new challenges. This greater scrutiny, due to land scarcity around our cities, means that the image of golf and golfers comes into sharper focus. The high profile of a score of golfers earning tens and hundreds of millions of dollars for knocking a small white ball around a park may backfire on the game of golf, especially during economic downturns like recessions and high inflationary cost of living times.

Everything around the public good within our communities is always on a tipping scale and if something is perceived as grossly greedy and out of whack with everything else then troubles may emerge. Governments and councils will not be so amenable to a sport/recreation publicly perceived as elitist in the extreme.

The Stoic Golfer: Finding Inner Peace & Focus on the Fairway
Conclusion

Of course, the unperceived reality is that this is not what golf actually is. I write about this quite a bit because I think that it is important to remind people that golf is not these few high profile rich tournament pros. Golf is the many millions of ordinary golfers who play the game at their local course every week. Golf is the golf clubs, where member interact with each other in good spirit and look out for each other as they age and their lives draw to a close. Golf is the care for strips of land co-opted by clubs to maintain them as golf courses for the many millions of rounds of golf played upon them. Golf is the adherence to its etiquette and many rules by all those who deign to play the greatest game. Golf is all about integrity and not about material rewards for the vast majority who play the game. Golf is, I think, an almost ancient pastime in that it asks human beings to physically swing a club at a small ball amid the great outdoors. The health benefits of walking the course for nearly 5 hours, whilst swinging vigorously with a variety of clubs is manifestly positive. To play golf well demands a great deal of concentration and a Stoic sensibility, in my view. That probably suits older people in that it may coincide with the age old getting of wisdom.

However, young people benefit from learning to play golf and regular exposure to the mental challenges of the game. Thus, it can be recommended as a life coaching kind of exercise for the greater good of those who surrender to what the game of golf truly demands.

Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of The Stoic Golfer: Finding Inner Peace & Focus On The Fairway

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