Volume 4, Issue 2 – February 2014
Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -
After golf’s “show season” comes to a close each year, my analytical nature simply won’t allow me to move smoothly into St. Valentine’s and Presidents’ Days without contemplating what the PGA Merchandise and Golf Industry Shows (PGA and GIS) foretold about the coming year in the golf business.
Most attendees of the golf shows return home having handled the hottest new hardware and apparel, refreshed their thinking with at least one new idea on how to better merchandise their shop (or maintenance facility), and salespeople debarked (perhaps by snow shoe or dogsled this year) with a few new customer prospects in their stack of business cards.
The Mayor, on the other hand, drove the 150 minutes home to Palm Beach County thinking I had left Orlando with a brand new shine on my crystal ball. The “speed dating” schedule of presentations, meetings and dinner conversations with industry leaders at GIS and PGA all somehow started to synthesize into a new personal vision that I see for golf’s future. I may not be qualified to make such a prediction, so please forgive my bluster… I know you’ll decide, in the end, if it makes any sense. However, I’ll be more than a bit surprised if this vision (or some evolved version of it) doesn’t develop into the new reality in the next 10-to-20 years… and golf will be all the poorer if it does not fulfill this prophecy quickly enough.
Innovation by Entertainment
A generation from now, the golf car will be the focal point of the American on-course golf experience and only 25% of courses will be able to sustain their operations offering only the “traditional” game (my definition below). The other 75% must invest in innovation by entertainment, by turning their golf cars into mobile epi-centers of technology and connectivity for every player.
Like many Crazy Town citizens who make their living in the golf business, I love the “traditional” game. For the purpose of this piece, I’ll define the traditional golf experience as follows:
- Golf as an escape from life’s normal stresses… a place where the everyday pressures of work and family can melt into the background as golfers enjoy the company of their playing partners and immersion into the game itself
- The opportunity for a real relationship experience… uninterrupted time with other live humans
- A mini-vacation from technology and the pull of email, texts, CNN, etc. (phone used only for work/family emergencies and peace-of-mind)
- Walking the course, whenever possible
Note: I’m not referring to non-traditional or alternate forms of the game itself… oversize cups, Kick or Fling golf, etc. I’m generally positive about anything that helps us sell the game by getting an interested non-golfer into the golf course environment (some will graduate to the traditional game)… but that’s a subject for another time.
You may have heard or read that the next generation of golfers… those who are currently between the ages of 18-34… have been “voting” definitively against the traditional game with their feet, as they say. They’re just not showing up at golf courses the way they used to. Golf participation among this age group has declined 30% during the past twenty years. Since the 18-34 age segment historically has the highest participation rate and is also the age range when most people take up the game for the first time, this decline has profound implications for golf’s future.
So, then why do we continue to offer only the traditional game? My time at this year’s two golf shows made me believe that our industry is finally coming to grips with the idea that immediate changes to the on-course golf experience are both necessary and inevitable.
The referendum on recreational golf (not to be confused with interest in pro golf) among younger people is so negative because we continue, as an industry, to expect/force them to put aside their regular lifestyle for 4-5 hours. Aren’t businesses and industries supposed to evolve and innovate to better serve their customers’ needs/wants? If we do not change (and fast!), the game and business of golf will absolutely guarantee its own “right-sizing” in the not-so-distant future.
|What makes golf so special that we can maintain the arrogant position that it’s the customers who need to alter their behavior in order for us to allow them to consume our product!?
Golf is simply not relevant for the perpetually engaged, never-out-of-touch “Millennials” of whom I write. The concept called “FOMO” (fear of missing out) is a huge driver of their behavior. After all, they sleep with their phones! Hey, wait a second… I sleep with my phone and I’m 44! Think of the golf course as FOMO-central – the place where they are virtually guaranteed to be missing out on everything in their life! Doesn’t that sound awesome? I can hear the echoes of a generation of 28-year-olds now… “Golf? Are you kidding me? No chance.” We might as well be fertilizing the fairways with kryptonite, folks!
My conversations at the Orlando trade shows referencing golf’s lack of favor with young people always gravitated back to the same issue: that golf’s resistance to technology, connectivity and entertainment is the most meaningful barrier to participation by generation Y, Z and whatever letter comes after that.
Since 18 holes takes roughly 2x the duration of most popular forms of recreation, the pressure on golf to innovate with entertainment is at least twice as high as alternatives. The repulsion/exodus from the course will continue indefinitely… unless we invest in bringing their world, to them in some really cool ways. Millennials like their world… they think it’s fun… and golf will have NONE OF IT!
My crystal ball says that the most critical way that golf must innovate is by encouraging and facilitating, not simply allowing (yes, there’s a BIG difference) entertainment in the golf car. The new line item in the capital improvement budget at most golf courses needs to be video monitors and connectivity in all of their Club Cars, E-Z-GOs and Yamahas. If you need to make your course a 150 acre Wi-Fi zone, then so be it. If every car in your fleet needs to be a mobile Internet hot spot, then get on it. Full broadcast media in every buggy… absolutely. Bluetooth-enabled speakers in the back of every car… check!
If the next generation of players were going to be attracted to the golf product that course owners and operators have been serving up… they’d already be playing. They’re not. Even if it was free, I’m not sure they’d be teeing it up. I think traditional golf is the most perfect game ever created… but our customer prospects under 35 absolutely do not agree. Unless you run one of those 25% of facilities (and I think that’s generous) that can do good business offering only the traditional game… it’s wake up time!
You want golfers (of all ages) on your course on a college football Saturday or NFL Sunday? Then get with the program. Encourage players to stay connected while enjoying their golf. Make it easy for an iPhone video of a shanked 8-iron into a McMansion window to go viral, from the course. Enable your players to challenge a golfer in Argentina to a skins match. Make sure the Twitter-verse is feeding the world to your golfers non-stop over 18 holes. I think if this new atmosphere is encouraged, you’ll find the 40 and 50-somethings will embrace the new connectivity and entertainment as much as the Gen-Y folks. They’ll just tap into different content between shots.
I can hear the nay-sayers now… “The Mayor must be impeached! This will slow down play! My regular customers who frown on technology/music (no fun stuff allowed) will leave me!” Well… if the supply engine of the golf economy doesn’t change… sparse tee sheets will indeed ensure that pace-of-play will not be an issue.
Facilitating the lifestyle of the most wired (wirelessly) generation in history must be our goal. Golf needs to be a perceived as a fun and vibrant environment in sync with modern life… not a fun-free zone where the largest generation in American history feels unwelcome.
Make your course a FOMO-free zone and help start the golf revolution that might just be the secret to keeping our game and business strong.
Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)