Rancho Bernardo, Calif. – As 100 of the golf industry’s
leading minds gathered for the annual National Golf Foundation Symposium, a bit
of sage advice came from an unusual, some would say nonconformist, source. The NGF
had enlisted former ESPN chairman George Bodenheimer to provide an outside perspective
on our sport and an inside look at leadership. George is an avid golfer and
loves what the game stands for but his counsel on managing change came courtesy
of the legendary philosopher/rocker Frank Zappa who reminded us that “a mind is
like a parachute, it doesn’t work if it’s not open.”
I have to admit I didn’t see that coming.
But in a rapidly changing golf industry where new players
are decidedly younger and more diverse than current people who play, it is a good
time for every owner, PGA professional, manager and superintendent to open up
their minds to why people visit their facility and spend hard earned money, and
This conference updates us on the key metrics of golf
industry health – customers, customer visits, places of business and spending.
Generally the news was good…the number of on-course players actually grew for
the first time in a decade, up 400,000 to 24.2 million and overall
participation – those that play green grass courses combined with new
off-course formats like Topgolf and simulators jumped over 2 million to 33.5
million. On the bad news front, our weathered battered courses saw rounds
played drop almost 5% and a cumulative 8% over the last two years. Course
closings since 2006 increased to 1,230, roughly 6% down from our all-time high.
Thanks to the resurgence of Tiger Woods, the number of people
who either played, watched or read about golf in 2018 jumped 12% to 107
million, or 36% of Americans over the age of five. The buzz factor for golf is
as high as it has ever been providing a big opportunity to leverage the record
number of new people playing golf (2.6 million) and the 14.7 million that don’t
play today but are “very interested” in starting.
Though all of these newbies and latent demand portends well
for golf’s future, a generational expert Alexis Abramson, PhD, suggested we
focus our sites on a core group aged 45-65 who really drive the business today.
Dubbed Generation G, these GenX/Boomers sport three times the net worth and two
times the discretionary spending of the 25-45 year set, in part due to the fact
only half are still working full time versus three fourths of the
Millennial/GenX group. Gen G has the time and money to spend on golf. And their
ranks will grow; Abramson forecasting the number will increase from 83.6 million
to 95 million in 2025.
What’s important to this influential group? According to the
good Doctor, six things:
Family. Spouse time, Father/Son events, family
gatherings, time with grandchildren.
Nurturing environments which provide safe and
healthy places to have fun.
They want a break. They seek deals and special
Nostalgia is important. Music, events,
photographs and memories.
Social responsibility. Sustainable practices,
ethical behavior and inclusion.
They want to be celebrated. Let them know you
care about them as people, not just customers.
How do you reach this group? Primarily it is through family
and friends as Gen Gers are on average asked twice a week for their
recommendations on where to vacation, eat or buy. They are heavy users of
review sites such as Trip Advisor. They are busy on social media, spending more
time on their devices than 25-45 year olds. Email still works as a form of
communication as (surprisingly) does direct mail.
Behaviorally Gen G members are thrill seekers. They like to
travel and will do so out of season to avoid the crowds. They spend $650 per
travel day, much higher than other segments. 50% are committed to a healthier
lifestyle making wellness tourism popular.
Having provided a roadmap to better embrace and engage this
best customer segment, the NGF turned to a new effort with state and regional
golf associations in Colorado to target their local portion of the nearly 15
million people labeled latent demand. A new Welcome2Golf.com website is being
developed, courses enlisted to welcome these new players to the game and
professionals prepared with the tools to ensure a fun, friendly start. A Boulder-based
ad agency will execute the campaign aimed at three non-golfer targets – 19th
holers, competitive athletes, and families. I’m thrilled to see the NGF use its
resources to help activate this non-golfer segment for the industry.
So yes, I would say to Messrs. Bodenheimer and Zappa, golf is filled with open minds. And that is important as we manage generational change in a dynamic new media world.