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Volume 5, Issue 11 – November 2015

A note from China –

It’s 4:45 a.m. here in Shanghai (November 4), but I’ve had a good night’s sleep and my mind is quite active right now. I’m wide awake indeed, catching up on emails… and I wouldn’t mind being a little tired later when I’m on the airplane(s) home. I suppose since I have a very long day of travel ahead and the trip is coming to a close, my subconscious is forcing me to begin digesting everything from the week at the HSBC Golf Business Forum where NGF was a premier partner and speaker/content provider.


A view of Downtown Shanghai from the site of the HSBC Golf Forum.

To say it’s been a very interesting trip would be a gross understatement. I suppose of all places to go on a first trip to Asia, Shanghai or Hong Kong would likely be among the least disconcerting (relative to other destinations) for an American… especially one who grew up in a “big energy” city like New York, but it was still a major culture shock as I was warned it would be. Outside the bubble of the Golf Business Forum where everything is scheduled and handled, communication is difficult, my credit cards don’t work and life is bustling around you everywhere.

When I ventured out into the city on the first night (Halloween, btw) with my friend Steve Bauerle from GolfTEC, that’s when I really got a feel for what it might be like to be “an international” in your 30s or 40s here. The New Yaw-ker in me was very comfortable with the environment… but what I’ve only begun to realize since then is that I feel VERY small here. Making the 70 to 90 minute drive outside the city to Lan Hai International Golf Resort yesterday was an opportunity to see some of the size and scale of Shanghai and reflect on the rest of China you can’t see.

I’m fascinated.

The number and size of the buildings in the city, the length of the tunnels and bridges to get out of the city (insane!) and the visual sweep of the suburbs are a lot to fathom. I look at specific ramshackle homes and then the nicer ones and imagine “who lives there?” or “what do those people do for a living?” and I find myself at a complete loss.

As somebody who feels like they really do understand people… I realize that there is so much here that I don’t comprehend at all. I’m not speaking about the golf industry folks… we have much in common… but when I look outside the GBF, everything seems so completely foreign from a psychological standpoint. The deck is completely reshuffled in terms of any insight I normally have on what makes people tick. Of course I realize that certain things are universal like the love of family and the need to pursue security, food, clothing and shelter… but I’ve looked into the eyes of many Chinese people here and they give back a different spirit and energy than I’m used to… and I want to understand it better.

For example, the female caddies at Lan Hai International Golf Resort yesterday really seemed to be fun loving young girls (kidding each other and poking fun at each other when they thought nobody was looking) – but completely incapable of communicating with us. The girls seem to operate in fear of getting in trouble… but they did have a fun human side that they showed to each other but clearly felt uncomfortable showing us. Our group busted its collective gut… when the first instantly understandable comment from the caddies was heard on the 2nd tee. “Oh No!” was reflexively yelped upon seeing one player’s drive fly dead right and off the planet. Sorry Manny.


The spectacular clubhouse at the Lan Hai International Golf Resort in Shanghai.

The Lan Hai Club itself was beyond extravagant… and there were members… old guys clearly worth millions of Yuan… wearing shabby business clothes while napping on couches in plain sight and snoring their butts off. The ceilings were 25-30 ft. high in the bar and library… with amazing mill work all around… but empty shelves everywhere… including the pro shop and other rooms. It’s rather bizarre… like an unfinished palace… even though they are not a new club and have something like 800 members there (mostly Chinese, not internationals).


A look down the hallway at the Lan Hai International Resort clubhouse.

Bottom line is that I certainly don’t feel like I understand the Shanghai or Chinese culture at all… because it‘s loaded with many contradictions. The side-by-side existence of communism and capitalism, poverty and immense wealth, humility and hubris… it’s really hard to get your head around, in all honesty. I’m sure there are a few books I should read… I’m open to recommendations.

Back to the GBF. It’s been a terrific experience and a wonderful opportunity to be here at the premier global golf conference with our partners from IMG. I’m grateful for the experience. After going more than 10 years without any international travel beyond North America, 2015 had me in France, Spain, Scotland, and now China… and I feel different having experienced those places… and I knew I would.


The leaders of several of the world’s top professional tours and organizations were on hand in Shanghai.

More than anything, I am extremely proud to have represented NGF well here… halfway around the world… while spending time with a group of international golf business leaders who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting before. I didn’t get to meet everyone I wanted to, but almost everyone.


The Mayor delivers his speech at the HSBC Golf Business Forum

The feedback on the NGF presentation I made was positive and rewarding. I’m brutally critical of myself and I don’t think I deserved more than a “B” grade on the speech, relative to my absolute best delivery… but others saw it differently and felt compelled to tell me so over the past 2 or 3 days. The content was designed to provide a new perspective on Golf’s Global Brand (see the recap of the Mayor’s speech in this November issue of the NGF Dashboard) and it was the first time anyone had delivered this presentation. As a result, I’ll freely admit that I felt some palpable waves of pressure in the 24 hours leading up to my time on stage… further aggravated by a jet-lagged lack of any decent sleep the immediate night before.

The industry continues to talk to itself, as it relates to growing the game. Professional golf is important in terms of exposing the game to millions of TV viewers around the world. However, the pro game is the entertainment business and not the recreational golf business… Can GBF attendees Rickie and Bubba help grow the game’s cool factor? Yes it can. But we need more transparent discussion that golf participation growth will succeed or fail at golf courses, the engine of the golf economy… through the marketing and selling of the game, widespread invitation of prospects and accommodating new (and often intimidated) players.

Growing participation in new markets requires several foundational components including heroes (pros and celebrities who play the game and can inspire others to play), corporate sponsors like HSBC (thank you Giles Morgan), availability of golf instruction, a strong middle class and developers who create accessible and affordable golf. Without public golf that’s priced within reach of the middle class, golf cannot grow among the masses with any scale.

Of course we can always hope that a Chinese national wins the Olympic Gold medal in 2016 or 2020, but that’s not really a constructive nor strategic approach to golf’s global future. Like any other product or service, golf must be available, golf must be sold and golf must be FUN.

Cheers,

Yours truly,

The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 5, Issue 10 – October 2015

In an unexpected but welcomed surprise, the Mayor is headed to Shanghai today (Friday). I’m on my way to attend the HSBC Golf Business Forum alongside some of golf’s most influential leaders and stakeholders. It will be an honor to represent NGF as a forum speaker, halfway around the world.

As a premier partner with IMG in the event (along with companies such as Jacobsen, John Deere and Syngenta), I am privileged to be delivering a presentation to the conference this Monday entitled “Golf’s Global Brand.” As many of you know, NGF and many significant partners, including the The R&A, spent the past five years creating, refining and maintaining the first definitive and complete database of every golf facility in the world. I look forward to sharing what we have learned through the development of this industry asset.

The “Golf’s Global Brand” presentation will address the perceptions of golf in a different way than we’ve approached it before.

  • Golf is a game, a business and a global brand with hundreds of years of equity.
  • Like all brands, golf has an image.
  • Golf’s image is shaped by professional golf and what people see on television… and that image is vastly different from recreational golf played by an estimated 50 million golfers globally.
  • Golf is consumed differently around the world based upon geographic, economic and cultural variances.
  • Golf facilities are concentrated, yet widely dispersed.
  • Where are the courses, where is development happening and what kind of development is happening?
  • Asia is the most active region of the world for golf development.
  • What are the underpinnings of golf’s growth in a country?

We’ll give all the NGF Dashboard readers a more detailed look at “Golf’s Global Brand” in next month’s issue, which you should expect in your mailbox before the Thanksgiving holiday. Happy Halloween, and enjoy some autumn golf wherever you are in the golf world.

Cheers,

Yours truly,
The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 5, Issue 9 – September 2015

Top 10 true and positive statements about golf that don’t typically appear in the general media

  1. U.S. Golf participation has been stable at 25MM since 2011
  2. Approximately 2MM brand new golfers (never played before) take up the game each year… and another 2MM former golfers return to the game annually
  3. There are 6.4MM millennial (age 18-34) golfers, spending more than $5B annually on golf
  4. The pool of interested prospects for golf is enormous – more than 32MM non-golfing Americans are “very” or “somewhat” interested in playing golf right now
  5. Golf employs more than 2MM Americans
  6. The average annual number of rounds played, per golfer, is more than 18
  7. Golf generates nearly $4B in contributions to charity annually
  8. There are more municipal golf facilities in the U.S. today than ever before
  9. 75% of golf is played at public golf courses (not so elitist after all!)
  10. Golf is the #1 outdoor pay-for-play individual participation sport

Extra Holes: Golf is the greatest game ever.  It’s a sport for a lifetime that everyone can enjoy, a tradition like no other, a platform to teach ethics, discipline and integrity, the best sport for business (Cycling?  Puh-leese!!!!), and so much more.

Cheers,

Yours truly,
The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 5, Issue 8 – August 2015

Crazy Town Residents –

The Mayor freely admits that he has a “collecting” problem.  The problem isn’t confined to golf… but as it relates to Crazy Town’s favorite pastime, the high-end hoarding includes scorecards, plastic and metal ball markers (kept isolated from each other, of course), divot tools and bag tags from America’s most famous courses.  I’ve been building up a golf course coffee table book library for 20+ years that would make Herbert Warren Wind proud.  My house has magazines, flags, memorabilia and even a “Big Three” golf ball triptych signed by Nicklaus, Palmer and Player in a neat little plexiglass case (with lighting).  Don’t get the wrong image in your head, though… Mrs. Mayor would never have her home looking like a clubhouse, museum or golf shop (“not that there’s anything wrong with that!”)… so only a very select few items are in public view.

The most important golf collection I “own” is housed only in my mind. The golf collection I value highest is the set of memories from days spent in the most special golf environments playing some of the best courses the world has to offer.  While I have GOLF Magazine Top 100 Course “peg boards” in the hall bathroom at home and in my office, indicating which courses I’ve played (66 of America’s top 100, for those scoring at home)… it’s the mental images of those days, and the people I was with, that are most meaningfully curated.

Paging through some of the coffee table books allows me to relive those special days and remember the inspiring holes.  Just last night, I caught highlights of The Barclays (okay… not exactly a book… but you understand) and remembered the afternoon I spent playing at Plainfield CC, a Donald Ross masterpiece in New Jersey.  Among many terrific holes, the Par-4 opener and the pair of Par-3s at 6 and 11 still stick out clearly in my mind after only one playing that happened nearly 15 years ago.

I owe much of my course design education to the magazines and books in my library (both physical and mental), and I’d like to recognize George Peper, Jerry Tarde, Geoff Shackelford, Bradley Klein, Joe Passov, Patrick Drickey and Linda Hartough for their work that I love and respect.  They are among many writers, artists and photographers that have helped me profoundly appreciate the architectural history of golf in this country and understand the difference between good and great.

If you are a Crazy Town resident who cares about this sort of thing… run to your computer and buy The World Atlas of Golf, Golf’s Magnificent Challenge (you’ll need ebay for that one), Geoff’s The Golden Age of Golf Design and Hartough/Drickey’s Green Glory and build your own collection from there.

Bradley Klein’s Discovering Donald Ross, is another one worth having, made even more important today since many of Ross’s most famous designs have been remodeled to the point where there is only marginal evidence that the great man was ever there. The gross manipulation of classic course designs for the sake of challenging professional golfers for one week per year (or worse, one week in a decade) is the kind of horrifying “progress” I could do without.

I had the great pleasure of playing an amazing Donald Ross course earlier this month, Interlachen Country Club in Edina, MN.  You golf-crazy lunatics know that ICC is best known as one of the four championship sites conquered by Bobby Jones in 1930 on the way to The Grand Slam.  To be honest, I didn’t do a tremendous amount of homework on the course before visiting it… and boy, was I impressed. Interlachen is more than deserving of its Top 100 ranking (should be Top 50 in my opinion) and one of the best examples of a complete Donald Ross course whose wonderful design integrity hasn’t been compromised. I especially loved the collection of short par-4 holes 2, 6, 7, 10 and 16.

I’ve been fortunate to play many Ross courses that have appeared on the ever-evolving Top 100 course lists during the past 25+ years that I’ve been “collecting” these types of experiences.  The aforementioned Plainfield, Pinehurst No. 2, Seminole, Oakland Hills, East Lake, Oak Hill and Aronimink among them.  Let me just say that several of those courses on that short list proudly carry the Donald Ross “brand” with not much more than a Donald Ross routing left as signs of his work.  They might have great turf and be 7,400 yard “hard but fair” tests for professional or amateur championships… but they are now modern pseudo-classics and not the historic designs they once were.  Some of the most study-worthy subtleties have been surgically removed. I have yet to visit noteworthy Ross designs like Inverness and Scioto in Ohio and another half-dozen well-loved eighteens in New England… and I look forward to developing my own opinion of them, first-hand.

It is those first-person experiences… playing the course, meeting the members and characters who make them special, enjoying the signature food specialty or trademark cocktail with friends in their 19th Hole… now that is a collection worth investing in… one that lasts forever.

Cheers,

Yours truly,
The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 5, Issue 7 – July 2015

Crazy Town Residents –

This Mayor is indeed a very lucky man. I have my health, a wonderful family… and the good fortune to have successfully followed my passion for golf and turned it into my profession. On occasion, my luck (and it’s true… the harder you work, the luckier you get) pays off in truly magnificent ways. For example, in my short 25 years playing serious golf, I’ve had the pleasure of playing 31 of the top 35 courses in the United States and 65 of the top 100 (by GOLF Magazine’s rankings).

However, I’ve had a huge hole in my golf resume to be remedied. Until this past week, I had never even been to Scotland or Ireland… let alone played any of their famous courses. A meeting with the R&A and the World Golf Hall of Fame induction were among the business reasons that helped get me across the Atlantic with NGF’s CEO Joe Beditz.

Dr. Beditz is a Scotch-o-phile (I think I have created that term, for better or worse) and… thank goodness… like Rain Man… he’s an excellent driver! The challenges of driving on the “wrong” side of the road are substantial. Having been piloted around Scotland for the better part of the week with my boss at the wheel, I can honestly say that multiple sets of eyes (including his) may not be enough for an American driver to avoid a fender-bender or worse. Our Volvo rental (safety first!) made it back to Avis unscathed… but not without a few challenging clockwise moves through the endless series of roundabouts. Working my way around three golf courses during the week was far easier, by comparison.

Arriving the Sunday preceding The Open Championship and going straight to a “bucket list” course was nothing short of a dream come true. The West Links at North Berwick was the first of many incredible memories created on this trip. The drive from Edinburgh (I was warned not to pronounce it “Ed-in-burg!”) through East Lothian to the course was, in itself, a feast for the senses. I consumed with pleasure the views of Scotland’s billowing hills, fields of barley and potato, centuries-old farmhouses, homes and churches… and sheep, goats and cattle everywhere.

The North Berwick course itself exceeded expectations, with a dozen terrific challenges building to the crescendo of holes 13 through 18. As a student of golf architecture, I was certainly familiar with North Berwick’s historic original “Redan” hole at 15 and “The Pit” hole requiring the player’s approach to traverse a stone wall at 13… but I was not aware of the “Biarritz/Road Hole” combo waiting for me at 16. Wow!!!! Now that was a really special treat. The 18th was pleasingly similar to the home hole at The Old Course at St. Andrews, with its own valley of sin and a short par-4 green site fronting the clubhouse. I still have not finished digesting everything this famous Scottish links had to offer.

Scenes from North Berwick

Pit 13th


Redan 15th


Biarritz 16th

Kingsbarns two days later made for a mesmerizing afternoon… and it was a rare treat to experience one of Scotland’s newest courses in such immediate contrast with one of its oldest. The perfect weather didn’t hurt either. While I suppose KB isn’t links golf, by strict definition, I would be eager to debate any purist who tried to tell me that KB shouldn’t be listed among the most pleasurable and satisfying golf experiences on the planet.


Kingsbarns’ Spectacular Par-5 12th

Kyle Phillips did a spectacular job with the design… as did the chef in the clubhouse who produced some of the best macaroni & cheese I’ve ever tasted (and I’d consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur in this area).  You’ll have to excuse the fact that I didn’t make eating haggis a priority on this first trip.

The last of my three golf experiences was on the parkland style Rosemount course at Blairgowrie, designed by the legendary James Braid. This was a track that would look right at home in Virginia, Georgia or the Carolinas. It was incredibly solid by any criteria, but Rosemount suffers for memorability in comparison with the first two blockbusters.Of note was a plaque near the first tee that curiously suggestedthat Braid was the “inventor” of the dogleg. Things that make you go hmmm…?

Of course, all this narrative on my golf experiences is just a preamble to the real showstopper… St. Andrews itself. I can’t even begin to articulate just how special it is for a golf-crazy lunatic like me to walk the streets of the Auld Grey Toon. The Kingdom of Fife might as well be called the Empire of Golf. Sure, I’ve been to Pinehurst several times and the place exudes golf in a profound way. However, when you’re at the birthplace of a game, everything else pales in comparison. The Royal & Ancient clubhouse and The Old Course are the spiritual home of any golf soul, alive or dead. The religious feeling that you get at places like Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot or Pine Valley is only magnified and intensified walking the streets of St. Andrews, drinking a pint of Bellhaven’s Best (cold please) at The Dunvegan or eating lamb rump (always a pleasure to see rump on any menu!) at The Doll House.

St. Andrews presents a legacy that I knew I needed to be part of. Just being in the town was transcendent. Spending time in the center of the golf universe provided the moving and powerful opportunity to walk with everyone who has loved this game for centuries. It will make me a more complete person (and advocate for the game) and I couldn’t be happier that my wife and best friend Alyson was there to enjoy it with me.

I’m hooked on the experience of links golf, the wonderfully welcoming Scottish people and the spirit of golf’s soul that takes permanent residence in this historic college town where Prince William and Kate got to know each other better. I cannot thank Joe and Theresa Beditz enough for showing me “their” Scotland. I am extraordinarily grateful for the generosity they showed me and Alyson… and the fact that we didn’t die on the curvy road to Blairgowrie!


St. Andrews University

I’ll hopefully be following the M9 and the rest of the route (carefully) to St. Andrews in the near future to play The Old Course for the first time… no fans, no grandstands, no camera cranes… just me, my friends and the golf gods.

Cheers,

Yours truly,
The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 5, Issue 6 – June 2015

Greetings Crazy Town Citizens –

It’s no secret that yours truly, the Mayor, is opinionated. That being said, I pride myself on staying open to those opposing views that are presented thoughtfully and respectfully. After all, there is something positive to take away from any rational and well-supported opinion on a subject you care about. That’s how we learn, right? If everybody agreed, what fun would that be?

Well, like many folks who love this game and appreciate a spirited debate over the merits (or demerits) of a specific golf course, I was thoroughly absorbed in the widespread and passionate criticism of Chambers Bay during and since the U.S. Open train (literally!) rolled through University Place, WA.

I haven’t yet played Chambers Bay (so my views on it are limited by what I saw on television), but if you care to read my personal criteria for golf course greatness, click here for a previous blog.

When a course is hosting a major championship, especially a bloody-knuckled, preserve-the-value-of-par U.S. Open… there are other considerations that go far beyond the course aficionado banter. The tournament set up, course conditions and the USGA’s selection of the site go under the microscope. In fact, we even have to consider the spectator experience and overall logistics in the mix of public opinion. I was disappointed to read, see and hear so much negativity.

This year, tee box “soap boxes” were standing-room-only with competitors, former players, pundits, broadcasters, industry people, and fans all stepping up to the microphone and sharing views ranging from educated to embarrassing to pure grandstanding.

Let’s start with The Black Knight… living legend Gary Player. The U.S. Open course is a “tragedy?” That hyperbole was a bit more Trump-style than I would have expected from such a classy gentleman. I have tremendous respect for Mr. Player as one of history’s greatest players, a global ambassador for the game and a vocal advocate for fitness. However, his breathless and biting rant was unflattering to him and the game he loves.This viewer thought his passion and hostility were at least a little misplaced by suggesting that Chambers Bay symbolizes everything that the USGA, the golf industry and his golf course design rivals are doing so incredibly wrong.

Of course these weren’t recreational hackers like me out there playing for a five dollar Nassau…. it was the best players in the world playing a course selected (and unapologetically built) with the objective of hosting the single most challenging event on the golf calendar. This didn’t seem to be the ideal context for criticizing the difficulty of the design… as played from the back tees and under the most trying of setups. Gary’s thoughts on rolling back the distance the golf ball travels is another can of worms altogether… but I understand this was a big opportunity to get many of his opinions out there at once… with the golf world listening.

We absolutely should encourage a trend toward simpler designs for the sake of the recreational game. We need to celebrate and support the accessible, affordable and less penal golf facilities because they are the ideal venues for beginners.

I have no issues with Gary’s message. My problem is with the tone, not properly befitting a career grand slam champion who also happens to design courses himself. Many of Mr. Player’s courses are highly challenging, expensive to build, expensive to maintain, high-greens fee/high dues facilities. I was once a member of a wonderful Gary Player signature course in NY. The Mayor’s career round of 73 was shot there… but it was far from easy. I’ve never been to South Africa. Is it fair to wonder if Fancourt has a glass house on it?

The conditions of the fescue/poa greens at Chambers Bay were far from ideal. Golf is played on natural grass susceptible to anomalies, right? The uniform conditions that the TOUR players typically enjoy (a luxury, for certain) were indeed nowhere to be found. So, what’s the point in complaining? Don’t all the competitors have to play the same course? If they whine, will the USGA make an 11th hour change and move the tournament over to Salish Cliffs, Gold Mountain or Sahalee? Wouldn’t the prudent approach call for playing the course in front of them with positivity? Be negative and your play will likely suffer. Nobody was surprised to see the more vocal complainers like Horschel (he of the vehement-putter-wag) and Sergio fall below the first page of the leaderboard. I don’t recall a single critical breath about the course from Jason Day, DJ or Mr. Spieth.

Personally, I thought CB was an inspired choice for hosting a U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest. It played far more fairly than it was given credit for. It’s just a completely different major championship test of golf (look, feel and playability) than what they’re used to. There are courses that the pros like for their uniformity and perfect-ness but lack soul. Is it really better to serve up heavy doses of 490 yard doglegs – with fairway bunkers flanking the fairways at 300 yds. – followed by approaches to TV dinner plate greens? CB forced players to make choices and execute shots borne of imagination and vision. CB and the USGA delivered a spectacular leaderboard, great stories, some epic shotmaking and a worthy champion.

It is so wonderful that there are transcendent and historic layouts like Merion, Shinnecock, Oakmont, Bethpage, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot to compete on (or preferably play for fun), complimented by some magnificent modern golf environments that give us golf freaks that intoxicating buzz we get when we play at a truly great course.

The Mayor is not afraid to be in the minority (this is not an election campaign!)… but I can’t wait to test my game against everything Chambers Bay has to offer. I’m eager to challenge those angle carries, play those slopes and putt those fescue greens for myself.

It’s always special to walk in the footsteps of the pros at a major championship site. From the proper tee box, the course will be far more forgiving than the one Jordan and Co. faced! Will I be disappointed if I pay a $300 non-resident fee and the greens are bare… you bet.  But I expect I will keep my mouth shut… simply delighted to be there… even though I wouldn’t be competing for a share of the $10,000,000 U.S. Open purse.

Yours truly,

The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 5, Issue 5 – May 2015

Greetings Crazy Town Citizens –

The National Golf Foundation and golf industry leaders are appropriately paying special attention to the 18-34 demographic and their engagement with golf. During the past 18 months, NGF has published some of the key data and research findings about this group of consumers who will have profound impact on the future of golf business. In this issue of the NGF Dashboard, you can read about the three segments of the so-called millennial golfers that NGF identified through its year-long study.

Despite the commitment and spending power of the six million+ so-called millennial golfers of today, they have a meaningfully lower golf participation rate than the same age group had two decades ago. The attitudinal, behavioral and financial changes that drove a 30% drop in their “part rate” certainly didn’t happen overnight… but most would agree that golf didn’t react to the changing sensibilities of this group of customers. For me and many others who would like to help change this trajectory, I’d like to focus here on some reasons WHY I think the drop may have occurred.

Much has been written about the financial challenges faced by this generation… and golf is indeed a pay-for-play sport where income is the #1 demographic indicator of participation. Millennials (aka Gen Y) carry more college loan debt than any previous generation before them, they are unemployed and underemployed (and some would argue under-motivated) and traditional “graduation” through life stages is being delayed beyond typical societal norms. In other words, they are moving out of home later, marrying later, getting jobs later and starting a family later than the waves of Americans before them. Golf has undoubtedly been affected negatively by these dynamics.

However, let’s go beyond the implications of financial challenges and dig deeper into the mindset of millennials and the way I believe their social psychology is affecting their relationship with golf.

One basic observation is that these 18-34 folks have a different view of consumerism and activism than previous generations. They desire and command great influence as it relates to the businesses they support (or criticize). Lightning fast millennial-driven activism via social media has helped to overthrow governments, “millennial love” has launched brands into the stratosphere, and they’ve driven corporate change through passionate populist “mob” pressure. The muscular influence of social media “sharing” can be a force for good. If there is a perceived “wrong” to be “righted,” (like McDonalds and the minimum wage or a footwear company offering poor working conditions to factory workers), Twitter and Instagram have empowered Gen Y. When we were children, we learned that sharing is caring… and sharing (or indifference/lack of sharing) can make or break brands.

We, the public, now enjoy significant power to control how brands of every kind are perceived. And GOLF undoubtedly is a brand that is perceived differently based upon the generation you were born into. Golf’s image cuts in many ways. Most Gen X-ers and Boomers perceive golf as a desirable aspirational pastime, even a social imperative for successful people. Is that elitist? That depends on your perspective.

As a group, Gen X-ers and Boomers are typically eager to share news of our golf experiences with our peers (not necessarily through social media, but in our more native methods like phone or email). 19th hole stories about rounds at Winged Foot or Shinnecock Hills usually inspire envy, curiosity and/or congratulatory reactions from our similarly aged friends.

Millennials are different.

Social media is the preferred distribution channel for Gen Y’s personal sharing… I’m always amazed at the mundane events that the 18-34 crowd feel are post-worthy… getting cups of coffee, visiting the supermarket or boarding an airplane among them. However, it appears they take greatest satisfaction posting images of themselves enjoying an adventure, accomplishing a goal like finishing a race or doing community service, selfies in unique venues, photos with friends or, the holy grail of posting… a photo with a celebrity. Please forgive my 45 year old snarky-ness.

I think it would be fair to say that the posting of such “events” on social media platforms are elements used in the crafting of one’s personal brand. This brand creation… the collection of text, images and associations (incl. natural or strategic tagging) are curated to present their image. Corporations may have relinquished control over their brands to millennials pushing an agenda of transparency… yet the 18-34 generation presents us with a most-interesting contradiction by doing the exact opposite when it comes to themselves. They aren’t trying to out-transparent each other… they’re manipulating their personal brands to OUT-COOL each other.

Well, the bad news is that our study indicated that Millennials don’t find on-course golf experiences to be very cool or share-worthy. Coffee is Tweet-worthy but playing a round of golf with friends isn’t? Even those millennials who enjoy “old school” golf don’t seem to broadly promote golf as part of the personal brand they share with their peers.

Why would this group discriminate against golf in this way? One possible answer may have been revealed in NGF’s recent research.

The new study reported that 44% of millennial golfers perceive golf as elitist. Since Gen Y is often described as the most inclusive generation, many of the same aspirational elements of golf that attract Boomers and Gen X-ers are repelling millennials.

I think it has to be considered that golf’s perception as an elitist sport among millennials may be closely connected (along with the aforementioned financial issues) with the decline in their participation rate… and the low interest in sharing their connection with the game might be the “smoking gun.” Many Gen Y-ers believe “if there’s no post, then it never happened.”

The artistically composed iPhone photo of the double-shot half-pump soy latte posted on Twitter did actually happen… and it will help sell coffee. Conversely, the low volume of Gen Y social media posts of on-course golf experiences is detrimental to the selling of golf.

We have a big job to do as it relates to golf’s pervasive negative image with young people. Perhaps, in the end, it will be golf’s truly democratic nature (a game played by people from all walks of life with 75% of rounds played on public golf courses) that will win over this important generation estimated at 80MM Americans.

Yours truly,

The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

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