Golf is too hard, they say. Yet because of golf’s handicapping system, anybody can compete against any other golfer, regardless of age or ability. No other sport as easily allows for this dynamic. Adding to the sport’s charm is the fact that it can never be mastered. Golf is a game like no other.
Yet we hear the game is not gaining interest among Millennials and that it is dying. Pundits point to the drop in TV ratings of recent major tournaments, seldom noting that there was no drama in those tournaments because of blow-out wins. The most recent PGA Championship, which was full of drama, had its best ratings in five years.
Others note the decline in equipment sales, number of rounds played, and decreases in apparel and golf tourism. There hasn’t been a meaningful breakthrough in equipment in at least a decade. Thus, there is no reason to replace your equipment. Number of rounds played is weather dependent and economic driven, and were actually up in certain months this year. Apparel sales and golf tourism is dependent on the economy, and the economy has been rough the last five years.
I spoke to several Millennials about their interest in golf. All said they love golf but have to work more or take on additional jobs to achieve the same level of income they earned in the past. This leaves little time for golf, which they believe takes too long to play and is too costly. Baby boomers have the same complaints. As I learned in my Business/Government class, the decline in discretionary spending is always linked to the economy. It will be felt more by the golfing industry because its revenue tops baseball, basketball and football combined. Add the spillover to industries such as tourism, and it expands to $170 billion.
Nonetheless, let’s not curse the darkness but rather light a candle.
Here are a few suggestions that will help the popularity of golf:
More affordable courses for the public are a must. If you don’t think golf is popular, try and get a tee time at your local muni course on the weekend. Golf is too expensive and a lot of that expense is due to questionable municipality bidding processes that have driven up the cost of playing. Private course need to control costs and so too the overly expensive resort courses ($500 a round).
There are few things better city governments can do than providing affordable golf, due to the social and physical health benefits of a sport that all can play at any age. If you don’t believe me, ask the last two former mayors of New York, who greatly improved the muni golf experience while keeping costs under control. Private clubs need to be run with a more levelheaded fiscal discipline. If resort courses don’t get their act together, they are going to be bought out by foreign investors who see great value in resort courses.
Speeding up play is also crucial. This requires diligent marshals, hit when ready rules to be applied and, if you can’t play from the tips (few can), play from the appropriate tee box for your skill level. If you are out of the hole, pick up your ball.
For TV, speed of play and action per viewing time needs to be increased. All televised tournaments should be foursomes and not twosomes. Thus, there is more action per viewing time and also you are more likely to see the gamesmanship of competition, as the leaders are likely on the same hole on Sunday. It works for the Ryder Cup.
Also “mic up” the caddies so the audience can hear the interplay of the golfer and caddie and can better understand the player’s strategy. Let’s not be too precious here. It’s a game after all.
We need the next charismatic superstar to improve TV ratings, too. I am involved in the First Tee (the group that provides opportunities for young people to learn golf). No worries here. Trust me, they are on the way. Aside from the younger ones who performed well on the Ryder Cup team this year, others are on the way and are of various ethnicities, including one young African American people in L.A. are calling “The Lion.” I had this polite young man at my course a couple of years ago and he shot a 2 over at age 11.
While things can better, I am “long” on golf. The winners will be the networks, the Golf Channel (Comcast), the golf industry (Nike, Titlist, Foot Joy and so on), the PGA, tourism, our youth, society and just maybe our future Ryder Cup teams.
Brian Mulligan is currently the CEO of Brooknol Advisors, a Media, Entertainment and Sports Advisory Company. Mr. Mulligan has held CEO, Chairman, COO or CFO position of virtually every media/entertainment vertical for majors over a 30 year career, from Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures, CEO of Universal Television, Chairman of FOX Broadcasting and Cable, EVP/CFO of a Fortune 50 Company, SVP of MCA INC, EVP of Strategic Planning and Corporate Development Universal, Senior Executive Advisor Boston Consulting, Vice Chairman of Media/Telecom of a Money Center Bank, and worked extensively in/with private equity. Instrumental in over $175 billion of media and entertainment transactions.