In serving its mission to act in the best interest of the game, the USGA developed an initiative aimed at increasing golf participation by improving the experience for casual players. Over the past two years, its primary focus has been speeding up the pace of play, as industry-wide studies show the time it takes to play as a key barrier to participation for most golfers.
As part of this initiative, the USGA rolled out its “While We’re Young” campaign, and a fun ad series featuring famous faces from the world of golf and entertainment.
According to a Sports and Leisure Research Group study in 2013, nearly 40 percent of casual golfers (those that play seven or fewer rounds annually) cite time as their biggest barrier for participation, but say they would play more nine-hole rounds if encouraged.
The USGA’s current “Play 9” program looks to address that specifically, “During our extensive conversations with golfers, we’ve learned that they feel challenged by the time it takes to play,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. “By creating awareness of the nine-hole round, and the many ways that one can enjoy the game in less time, we hope this creative program featuring one of the game’s more dynamic and progressive players will energize and remind golfers how they can fit the game into their days.”
Through a partnership with American Express, the program culminates in “Play 9 Day,” which encourages golfers around the country to go out and play nine holes today.
By making Rickie Fowler the face of this campaign, it’s clear that the USGA is targeting young adults who may not have the time — or the attention spans — to devote five hours to a round of golf. But the industry is in desperate need of a kickstart. The figures for number of players and rounds played are both down since their peak in the mid-’00s and the golf business is suffering tremendously as a result. The USGA and golf’s stakeholders are looking for answers, while hoping the pace of play initiatives provide a necessary spark.