If you work in golf, you are not a stranger to the industry’s doomsayers. Between declining rounds, closing courses and golf companies dialing down or completely exiting the equipment business, the outlook is not bright. But I would argue that naysayers are turning a blind eye to some obvious signs that show our sport is healthier than we may think:
Impressive Latent Demand: Just this week we had a conversation on this topic with National Golf Foundation’s Chief Business Officer Greg Nathan. When asked, “Do you have any interest in playing golf,” more than 37 million millennials said they are either “very interested” or “somewhat interested.” There is a huge opening to convince this demographic to get out of the office or their home and onto the course just a few times a year. Get Golf Ready is one potential hook, but how do those interested learn about it if they’re not already at a course? There is opportunity for those willing to get creative.
Looking Beyond Rounds Played: As LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan acknowledges, industry experts measure the state of the game primarily through rounds played and number of golfers. But when you look at golf fan engagement through the same lens as other sports, we have a positive story to tell. All eyes were on golf this summer with its return to the Olympic stage after an absence of more than a century. Even with the sport’s top players dropping out of the event weeks before the Opening Ceremony, the final round of the men’s competition garnered a 5.6 household rating and approximately 8.8 million average viewers. To put that in perspective, the final round of the men’s competition in Rio attracted more fans than the the final round of the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.
Non-Traditional Golf Experiences: In golf, we have a tendency to resist change and anything that challenges our perception of the authentic golf experience. But what if we redefine how we measure rounds played each year? PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem noted that in 2015 it was estimated that more than 18 million people (7 million of whom considered themselves to be non-golfers) visited non-golf course venues, including driving ranges, simulators and TopGolf facilities. TopGolf was first introduced to the golf landscape in the United Kingdom in 2000 and didn’t make its debut in the United States until 2005. Since then they have expanded to more than 30 different locations in the U.S. and U.K. And while industry experts estimate that millennials comprise only 25 percent of golfers, they make up 64 percent of TopGolf visitors. That’s a game changer. If facilities like TopGolf are successful in engaging a younger audience and introducing new fans to the game, why would we discard them?
Correcting Golf’s Oversupply Problem: Some would argue that iconic brands like Nike removing themselves from the golf equipment business is another nail in the coffin. But I tend to share Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein’s optimistic perspective. In an interview with Forbes, Uihlein recognizes the equipment industry’s challenge as an oversupply problem, not a demand problem. With some of the heavy hitting athletic companies removing themselves from the golf equipment business, it allows brands like Acushnet to better serve golf fans. And as Tom Stine, co-founder of Golf Datatech, points out, “If there is one less competitor [in the golf equipment space], then there are more dollars to go to the other companies.”
Finding and Identifying with New Golfers: One of the areas our company excels in is developing and executing strategies to create relationships with golfers. We recently partnered with a popular golf trick shot artist, Joshua Kelley, to draw attention to Global Golf Post (view it on Instagram). We also have a team dedicated to creating and promoting content and advertising across various social platforms to help brands move product (see this Instagram store), increase followers (check out the caddie name generator) and improve brand loyalty.
There’s no question that the golf industry, like many industries, is rapidly evolving. But instead of sticking our feet in the mud and refusing to pay attention to consumer trends, we should challenge ourselves to stay ahead of the curve and be open to redefining how we measure the health of our industry.