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Millenials & the Future of Golf

16 April

Golf is changing for a variety of reasons from culture to climate change. Younger golfers are bringing a new mindset to the game and drought conditions, especially in California suggest that brown may be the new green.

Though the overall number of players has decreased year over year, PGA of America president Ted Bishop says bad press about golf’s decline is not accurate, adding that “golf is not in a hole or in a rut.” Golf is still big business, CNBC reports. “According to a report by SRI International for trade organization Golf 20/20, the total size of the U.S. golf economy is more than $75 billion.The National Sporting Goods Association said that in 2011, consumers spent $3.56 billion on golf equipment, while wholesale sales of golf equipment had a value of about $2.5 billion.”

In the context of demographic and cultural shifts within the golf industry, Golf Digest partnered with SayWhat to conduct qualitative research to identify ways to effectively connect with younger audiences, and to generate insights on how to bring youthful energy to their content, while still appealing to their older readers. Our “golf buddy groups” brought us to the homes of avid golf players, as well as to the Austin, Texas TopGolf franchise. A relatively new phenomenon, TopGolf is as much of a social nightlife venue as a place to improve your swing, with locations in Virginia and Texas, and growing quickly throughout the U.S. Jerry Tarde, Editor of Golf Digest shared some of the insights we uncovered in his May, 2014 letter entitled “Cheaper Than a Therapist.”

We segmented the golfers we talked with by age, which allowed us to more clearly see differences in their perspectives on the game.

Many of the millennial aged golfers were born into golf families, and appreciate golf as a family sport

“I got into golf through my dad. I’m sure at some point he took me to a driving range or something like that when I was a kid. My uncles were really good golfers and so I had an inclination to play in the game. About five years ago, I really got into it.” 18-25 Austin, TX

“I play with my whole family sometimes. Me, my mom, dad, brother, we’ll all just go out, even when it’s cold as hell, but it’s still fun to go out with family. That’s why I like it.” 18-25 Austin

“Me and my brother and my dad, we used to go golfing a lot. I actually went a round on Thanksgiving Day with my brother and my dad and my uncle and it was a ton of fun. It was a lot of fun, it was a bonding type of thing.” 18-25 Orange County

Across the age spectrum golfers appreciate an opportunity to get away from their everyday routine and spend quality time with their friends

“One of the things that I really cherish about golf sometimes is it’s a chance to catch up with buddies that you were so close to. Then people have families, you mean to do things but you don’t, and five years goes by. Then you have an entire afternoon sometimes or you get up real early in the morning and you rekindle these friendships. It’s just as much about that as the golf.” 36-54 Austin

“I feel like golf’s like camping. It’s that quick four or five hour camping trip, where you’re going outside, you have that camaraderie with your buddies.” 26-35 Austin

[Golf is]…”just one of those pastimes, you get away from the wife, get away from the kids, just hanging out with your friends. Actually my wife is an amazing golf player, so now I have more incentive to play, except for the kids, of course.” 36-54 Orange County

Younger players appreciate the athleticism of what some may think of as a sedentary game

“I think it’s one of those things once you get out there and you’re doing it…. it’s as much mental as it is truly physical. Then it’s dialing everything, getting everything to work together. I absolutely think it’s athletic.” 18-25 Washington, D.C.

“I think it’s definitely more physically demanding than people think.” 18-25 Austin, TX

“I think fitness is a big part of the game that was really revolutionized by Tiger Woods, bringing fitness to the game. Even Gary Flair, he’s in great shape and he’s an older guy. 18-25 Austin, TX

The game and the players are changing, and that’s not a bad thing

“It’s crazy to see how many generations are out on the golf course.” 36-54 Orange County

“[The younger crowd] makes it more diverse and brings in everybody versus a select group of wealthy middle class white collar guys. If all you see is older guys playing it’s like, ‘When I retire I’ll go play.’ When you see younger people playing it attracts a younger crowd. It’s become more of a cool thing to do now than it used to be.” 18-25 Orange County, CA

“It’s evolving, but it’s a good thing…. It’s a little more relaxed maybe than it has been in the past and it’s maybe becoming more so, which I think opens up the game to more people which is a great thing.” 36-54 Austin,TX

One big assumption we started out with was that younger golfers did not share the core values as older golfers – i.e., the “honor code” that has been central to the game for centuries. But after our in-depth conversations with golfers across the age spectrum, we found that assumption was wrong. Both younger and older players expressed a deep respect for this aspect of the game. There is a scale of adherence to the rules with ‘nitpicky’ at one extreme and ‘loosey goosey’ on the other. But in golf, for the most part, etiquette remains a core value of all who play the game.

If you would like to challenge your assumptions about what the true nature of your customers’ core values, contact us. We can design a study that will help you get much closer to understanding the mindset of your audience.

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