The future of golf

9 great strategies to improve the future of golf

Too expensive, taking up far too much time, too many old people, consuming too much space and definitely not social enough. Have you heard this before? Clearly these are the major arguments behind the lacklustre growth in golf. Does it mean that the future of golf is bleak? I don’t believe so! In case the industry does not stick to its (sometimes) archaic habits and is willing to change, the future of golf should be bright.

Golf showing lacklustre growth …..

The golf industry is huge! Around 60 mln people (and I am definitely one of them) play a round of golf from time to time. Nevertheless, the sport is not growing any longer. Over the last couple of years, statistics show that growth is lacklustre, if not negative. Were it not for Asia, the numbers would have looked even worse. The US and Europe are to blame. Similar to several other sports, golf is confronted with demographic issues as well a changes in consumer preferences. There appear to be several major problems.

Confronted with major problems…..

A round of golf is taking too much time…

A round of 18 holes of golf is taking about 4 hours and most people simply do not have the time nowadays. Particularly the attention span of younger generations like the millenials and GenZ is too short to play golf

Golf is too expensive…

For many people a round of golf does not come cheap. Greenfees, equipment, balls and the 19th hole! You can do the math yourself to realise it is not for everybody!

Golf is for older people…

You can argue it is not and I am with you, it is a great game for everybody! Nevertheless if you look at the numbers, you will notice it is mainly older people that are often (slowly) strolling along the golfcourse or watching golf at home.

Golf is taking up too much space and is not always environment friendly

Obviously, there are many exceptions and sustainability definitely is on the agenda of most clubs. However, it is also true that in densely populated areas, space is scarce. Golf courses that take up a lot of space can raise some eyebrows, particularly with those who are not playing.

Golf is somewhat elitist and not social enough

The sport of course is suffering somewhat from an identity problem. Especially the younger generations (milennials, gen Z etc) don’t regard a golfcourse as a sociable place where you can meet up and chill with your friends. Moreover, they have a problem with issues such as dresscode and the lack of music. They also regard golf as somewhat elitist. Obviously this is not the case everywhere but this perception is not taken away easily.

Clearly, these problems can be resolved and there are plenty of initiatives that could address most of these issues. If traditional thinking is left behind, I am sure the future of golf will be bright again. However, a prerequisite is that the golfing world is willing to embrace change. This particularly might be a challenge for many traditional golfers, who in many cases still call the shots. Nevertheless I believe it can be done! Let’s look at several changes that can be implemented in the future and which simultaneously address the issues above.

Possible changes and inovations in the future

Revenue/business models likely to change

The traditional revenue stream of a golfcourse consists for a large part of membership fees, greenfees, driving range revenues and food and beverage income. This traditional business model is unlikely to survive for most of the current golfclubs. Yes, some of the old traditional clubs probably will survive, but elsewhere new models have be adopted and luckily some of the clubs are already doing this. There are already loads of different experiments with for example flexible memberships, flexible pricing etc. Don’t be surprised if new initiatives will come to the fore.

What to think of the dynamic pricing models that are common in the hotel and airline industry? Often you can get yourself an excellent deal. A round of golf is ideally suited for such a strategy. Quite often golfcourses are empty, no visitors at all! Lower or increase the greenfee in line with demand! You pay more when it is crowded and less when it’s not. This way, income will increase through time and courses will be better utilised. For golfers a round of golf may suddenly become more affordable and hence new groups of golfers might be attracted.

New types of golf will be embraced

Traditional golf does not appeal to everyone, but new formats might come forward. What to think of Topgolf?

This is a hugely successful initiative build around a driving range. It originated in the US and is based on golf, games, food and fun. It particularly appeals to young adults (Gen Z). The game can be played by anyone. You can score points by hitting microchip containing golfballs at giant dartboard-like targets at an outfield. The closer you get your ball to the centre or to the ‘bullseye’ and the further the distance, the more points (or beers) you can earn. To some extent you can compare it to a bowling alley. It is an excellent way to lure young people into the sport of golf and might well be a nice intro to the real game.

Another concept, this one is from Australia, is Future golf. It is a golf community for everybody, from golfer to non-golfer and is based on flexibility, accessability and barrels of fun. Building communities does well with the younger generations such as Gen Z. So, similar to the first initiative, this may be a good way to get new addicts to the game of golf.

Technology to the rescue

Technology might well be the saviour for the sport of golf. Get asleep and wake up in 10-15 years time and the golfing world might be very different. What to expect? Do you have a minute (or two)? It goes far beyond your GPS watch which is tracking your distances and rounds and keeps an eye on your stats. Just a few examples to warm you up:

  • Software will facilitate dynamic pricing and dynamic routing over different loops of holes.
  • Augmented reality will become a big thing. For example, imagine yourself wearing ordinary glasses in which you can see distances displayed to whatever target on the golfcourse. Arriving at the green, you can see precisely where the breaks are etc etc. You can see your own swing live or with a slight delay as it happens! You can even do it with an overlay of either your own perfect swing or of a person you want to imitate, say Ernie Els. Imagine what that will do to practicing your swing!
  • Expect robotics to enter the stage. Robots already do exist, but besides mowing grass, an entire range of other greenkeeping tasks will be taken over by robots. It will definitely bring greenkeeping costs down substantially.
  • Sensors (see my blog on sensors) and microchips will not only be placed in golfballs but also in textiles, equipment and on the course. Ok you might say, big deal! We are talking on sensors in golfballs for years. When will they be finally there? They will come, be assured! And you will lose a hell of a lot fewer balls than before. Also expect sensors in golfclubs, which measure smashfactor, rotation, distance etc. In fact they are already there. Cobra has already introduced a sensor in one of their drivers, the others will follow suit. It is offering great analytics. If there are sensors in the ball and on the course, electronic fencing might not only keep your ball in place but also protect neighbouring properties. Imagine you have adjustable electronic clubs. You only need one iron, which makes your bag substantially less heavy.
  • Imagine you will play with a hologram of your favourite player who will give you tips during your round or alternatively, maybe you can have a chat with your new golf buddy Tiger when strolling along the fairway?
  • How about smart digital flags in the holes? Yes they are already existent. On those flags you can display info or advertise, which might again generate additional revenues.You got the picture I suppose.
  • Tracking software. Artificial intelligence will keep track whether players are playing quick enough. This self learning platform will know which holes with what kind of weather will take which span of time. If it tracks discrepancies golfers will receive a warning that they have to play quicker or let other golfers through. This will reduce slowplay.
  • Expect smart clothing to facilitate training! Watch out golf teachers! There are already experiments with sensor equipped textiles that will guide you towards the perfect golfswing by activating sensors so you can feel what the perfect posture is. When coupled to artificial intelligence it even will adjust its teaching to your likes and in line with your biomechanics.
  • Expect drones to enter the golfcourse. They can deliver your snacks and drinks at the hole where you are

Maybe not all of these ideas will materialise but don’t be surprised if most of them do. All of this will particularly appeal to the younger game- and techsavvy generations. They embrace technology and this could well be one of the catalysts to lure them into the game.

Also interesting to read: 10 great technologies that will change sports

Better utilisation of courses

Golf courses are taking up a lot of space, often used only for golf. Golf course owners should be creative and look if there are other ways to exploit their courses. Just of the cough a few ideas: start beekeeping and produce honey from your own course, use the olive trees for olive oil harvested at your course, find alternatives for golf such as footgolf, use the ponds for keeping trout and let families with children reel them in (lures them into the clubhouse again), use land for farming purposes, play movies at night on the parking place, etc etc

Ecofriendly and cost efficiënt golf courses

Investment into golf courses and related maintenance costs often take away a big chunk of the available cash. Expect more cost efficient solutions in the future. Artificial grass is cheaper than ordinary grass and definitely requires less maintenance. Golf purists cower now, but no, you don’t see and experience the difference with the newest alternatives. No, this is not the same as the grass you see on driving ranges. Think differently and ask yourself how much water needed for sprinkling purposes can be saved this way! Whether you like it or not, it is a matter of time.

What to think of new state-of-the-art bunkers? Epping golf club build 5 bunkers for less than GBP 5000 by using environment friendly crushed quartz sand. And there are more good, cheap and ecofriendly alternatives. Again, it means cost reductions, which should be beneficial for pricing. Simultaneously it fulfills the needs of new generations for which sustainability is key. Durabunker is another example of this.

Golfballs will also change. Think about the millions of golfballs lost every year. This is not particularly good for the environment. Well, ecofriendly biodegradable balls already exist and will no doubt get better and gain traction amongst golfers.

Clubhouses will be different

The 19th hole is in the clubhouse and ofcourse you want to have your drink there after a round of golf. Reality is that a clubhouse is underutilized during your round. Often it is largely empty and not attractive to many. The younger generation even regards it as plain boring. The clubhouse should target itself on groups of people rather than individuals. It should become more of a social meeting place! Expect therefore huge changes in the future which make the clubhouse lively again and better utilised. This also means more revenues from alternative resources which in turn might reduce the price of a round of golf.

What to expect? Expect the life in- and oustside the clubhouse to be more centered around the driving range. Expect music, lounge seats and tables in this area. This way it will be a much better experience to hit some practice balls on the range with friends or family making the nasty one or two comments whilst sipping their drinks.

Certainly Gen Y and Gen Z would welcome this. As they also would enjoy a change in dresscode, which often is a huge hurdle to many! Also expect clubhouses to become multi-sport facilities. Why not integrate fitness facilities in a club in order to have more reasons to come to the club. If you start fantasizing, there are loads of other opportunities to better exploiting your clubhouse. Treat it as an asset!

Also interesting to read: How GenZ will change the world of sports

Alternative set-ups of courses

Newly build golfcourses will be different. Expect a higher number of golfcourses facilitating 9 holes rather than the more traditional 18 holes. In many cases these 9 holes will contain huge greens with different flagpositions. This way you will have a different second nine holes experience if you want to play 18 holes anyway. Also expect new courses to facilitate 6 and 12 holes loops. This way you can be much more flexible as far as time is concerned.

Additionally I expect Jack Nicklaus’ view on golfballs rather than golfcourses being changed gain traction. The ever increasing hitting distances have resulted in expansion of golffacilities rather than in downsizing. Society will increasingly put the brakes on hugely underutilised land…..and golfcourses definitely fit this category.
Reducing hitting distances by adjustments to the golfball will help. Some people argue that holes should get bigger in order to reduce slowplay. I don’t see this one happening. Puttting is an integral part of golf and fixing slowplay by altering the holes gets besides the issue. Leave the bigger targets to the driving range I would say.

Watch this extremely interesting interactive map of the American Society of Golf Architects. They also have an interesting view on what the future course will look like. Enjoy!

Alternative games

There already exists a golf putting tournament which seems to be popular and can be done in a stadium. There have been experiments with sixes and on the clock playing. Whether this will work remains the question. In any case there are plenty of other ideas on how you can make golf tournaments faster and more appealing. I will come back to this in another blogpost in the future.

Also interesting to read: 9 powerful reasons why gamification of sports matters

Connect, connect, connect!

Social media engagement will be extremely important. I cannot emphasize this enough. Gen Z will take up a large percentage of the population rather sooner than later. Together with the millenials they count already for more than half of the total population. If you want to attract these tech savvy and socially engaged generations you should be active on social media big time! Engage, engage and engage! Gen Z and Gen Alpha are married with social platforms like Insta, Snapchat, Youtube and the likes. If you are not active on these platforms you are boring and they will switch to a zillion other alternatives. Interesting and snappy content will be the name of the game!

E-sports are the sports of the future. Do you know there are already stadiums filled with capacity crowds just to see e-gamers at work. Connect with the younger generations by setting up interesting spectacular and social e-alternatives of golf. It will attract them and possibly lure them into a real game sooner or later.

The younger generations like rolemodels more so than clubs. Expect future brandvalues of golfers therefore to increase. These guys will have a huge responsibility in attracting new golfers. You can already see it happen with the Ricky Fowler’s and Rory’s of this world and a whole new techsavvy topgolf generation is waiting to step forward to fill in their gaps. These guys will and already are the big influencers and will be key for the future of golf.

The future of golf is positive if change is embraced

Some of the ideas may seem far fetched and controversial. You might think, bullocks, not in my life! It won’t be there in 20 years time. I am not saying it will, but try to imagine how people reacted on visions such as a car, TV and PC’s before they were invented. Don’t exclude anything!

Whatever happens, I firmly believe the noble sport of golf is far from dead. There are loads of opportunities to reduce costs, make golf less expensive, attract new groups of young people, make the game socially appealing again and address the other major issues which the sport is facing.

Jan Kees Mons

Cricket managed to turnaround the rot by introducing the spectacular 20/20. If cricket can do it, golf can! However, the sport should be open to sometimes rigorous steps. I am a purist but also a realist. It means compromising I am afraid.

Traditional golfers (many of them from the babyboom generation) may have objections against many of the solutions mentioned here. They will have to adjust! This will be a major challenge in the near future. However, to their benefit, there will always be venues which will target their particular group. No doubt for every demand there is supply, albeit very likely a whole lot more expensive.

All you golfers out there, what do you think? Let me know!

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.