At the end of the day, golf’s values don’t align with those of millennials, according to NPD Group sports industry analyst Matt Powell, and declining interest in the sport is a big reason golf retailers are struggling.
Golf participation has steadily declined since its peak in the mid-2000s, according to the National Golf Foundation. The sport lost 200,000 millennial golfers in 2013, and total participation fell from 24.7 million to 24.1 million in 2015.
Millennials value frugality, ease of play, environmental friendliness and diversity, Powell said, which is at odds with golf’s high cost of entry, complicated set of rules, inefficient course water management and history of inclusiveness.
Even if the sport were to make sweeping changes to appeal to the younger generation, Powell doesn’t see the sport winning millennials over.
“My gut is that it would take a complete overall of the game for them to really attract millennials, and golf has not been a sport that does thing in bold moves,” Powell said. “It really tends to be incremental in terms of its changes. I really don’t see the game turning around.”
But others, like David Carter, professor of sports business at the University of Southern California, believe there’s hope for golf.
The two biggest factors barring more millennials from participating, Carter said, are cost and time. Unlike a generation ago, young people today are less likely to use vacation days, according to a survey from Project: Time Off. That means less time is available for weekend, or even mid-afternoon, golf outings.
Golf also has a number of emerging young stars, such as Jordan Speith and Rory McIIroy, who can help build interest in the sport and fill the void left by Tiger Woods, Carter said. If they can successfully market themselves, it could help bridge the gap to millennials the sport currently lacks.
“I think you have some emerging personalities, some young guys, that I think are captivating from a marketing and a branding standpoint,” Carter said. “I think they have a strong chance to build interest in the sport, and I think the way that has to begin is really tying it to these main events like the Masters. … So-called ordinary golf tournaments probably don’t carry that wow factor for them.”
The golf industry has started taking strides to become more appealing to young people. Last fall, Callaway Golf Company premiered a 10-minute documentary with Vice Sports featuring rapper Scarface — a lifelong golfer — being fitted with Callaway golf clubs and gear. Callaway has also partnered with Red Bull and Snapchat.
In 2015, Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America, admitted that golf needs to become more diverse to attract more fans and continue to thrive.
“Their ability to effect change with millennials, that’s a process,” Carter told The Associated Press. “So they’ve identified and they’ve been working on it. They may not have made the ultimate strides that they want to make, but I would say compared to some of these other sports, at least they are on top of it. And once they’ve identified the challenges, they have a chance to remedy it.”
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