Millennials trending away from Golf …
First it was the news that a bankruptcy judge had approved the liquidation of Edwin Watts Golf Shops, a chain founded 46 years ago in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., the retailer had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2013. Then, last week national retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods laid off more than 500 of its in-store PGA Professionals citing slow golf sales. Just a couple of days ago, Taylormade Golf decided to close Adams Golf headquarters in Plano, Texas and to consolidate business operations at TaylorMade Headquarters in Carlsbad, California. Needless to say this consolidation comes with a 15% reduction in workforce (the bulk of it Adams Golf employees).
These are ripple effects from a well anticipated and documented downfall of the golf industry… top to bottom.
Golf attendance is down, Golf equipment sales have been way down and the number of golf courses closing annually is supposed to dwarf the number of new courses opening for years to come. Everybody pointing fingers … who’s to blame? even Tiger Woods has been blamed for the rise and fall of the game. Truth is, Tiger Woods almost single-handedly made the sport popular in the first decade of the new century. But his fall from grace has little to do with the fact that millennials (son’s of baby boomers birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) are trending away from golf and choosing other means of entertainment. I was able to witness this change in behavior first hand from my good friend and next door neighbor Steve.
Steve, learned to play golf from his father and mentor at a young age of 7 years old. When I first met him a few years ago he was 15 years old 6′ feet tall and boasted a 1 handicap. To make a long story short, Steve decided to quit golf halfway thru a golf scholarship at Georgia Tech in 2013. He stayed in school and will graduate with a degree in Economics next year but his passion for golf vanished in thin air… why? I had a chance to talk to Steve last May and he response was complex… yet simple!
“No other sport takes as long to complete than golf. Name a sport” he said “Football, Baseball, Basketball … you name it…. It takes an average of 2-3 hours to complete at any level. Softball leagues are limited to 7 innings or about an hour an a half, my morning run only takes 30 minutes per day. When I compete in 5K races it only takes me 20 minutes to complete the whole race. Running as a sport was able to modify itself to accommodate shorter runs. The first races a few centuries ago where 26 miles long. Today, less than 10% of all runners still compete in marathons (26 mile races). Golf needs to figure out a way of making these golf outings shorter. The average pace of play at a public facility here in South Florida on your average Saturday is about 4 and a half hours. By the time you leave your house, travel to the course, practice, tee off, play and have a couple of drinks at the 19th hole you have missed your entire Saturday. That could have been fine back in the 70’s when golf was your only pastime… there was no cable TV, no internet, no laptops, cellphones, play-stations and I can go on and on but I think you get the point. Personally, if I were to return to the game it will be a Saturday mixed league limited to 9 holes and exclusively for players 19 years to 24 years. We don’t want to hang around old people for 5 hours… nothing personal. haha!!”
Shocking? I don’t think so. I think Steve (being a Millennium kid) has a pretty good idea why people his age are not longer embracing golf the way we did. Those missing players are directly affecting our industry. According to the National Golf Foundation, there were 25.3 million golfers in the U.S. in 2012. However, that’s down from 25.7 million in 2011 and 26.1 million in 2010. The biggest drop-off in players is among the millennia generation, with 200,000 players under the age of 30 leaving the game last year, according to the NGF.
Stop blaming the problem on Tiger or the declining middle class, please don’t tell me the game is boring, or that it has too many rules… We have to support programs like The First Tee to encourage broad participation of children but we also have to address one of the main problems …the game is too long for the new generation. The golf industry hasn’t just been going through a recession in the United States. It has been in a depression and is up to us to make a conscious change to make it appealing for generations to come. Let the people decide 9 or 18…. or better yet. Let’s run with Steve’s idea and make 9-hole leagues. We have to remedy our own illness!