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Is golf cool again with millennials?

A Jordan Spieth bobblehead at Pebble Beach
Source: AT&T
A Jordan Spieth bobblehead at Pebble Beach

Jordan Spieth is one of the most buzzed-about pro-golfers ahead of this weekend's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The 22-year-old, who is currently ranked No. 1 according to the Official World Golf Ranking, was the youngest player to win five times in a season since a 21-year-old accomplished the feat in 1929.

To commemorate Spieth's achievement, 8,000 Pebble Beach attendees can take home a Spieth bobblehead and more can watch several Spieth bobblehead comedic online videos, courtesy of title sponsor AT&T. It may seem out of line for the normally buttoned-up sport, but it's part of a greater initiative to make golf cool again among younger audiences.

"The PGA Tour is certainly looking to grow their fan base, and we're seeking to grow our millennial consumer base," said Ryan Luckey, AT&T's assistant vice president of corporate sponsorships.

The death knell of golf among millennials has been often rung by the media, often sighting the fact that 200,000 millennial golfers left the sport in 2013, according to the National Golf Federation. But the PGA Tour and its sponsors believe times are changing.

Using a mix of showcasing millennial golf stars and digital media marketing, it believes it has millennials interested in the sport again. Since last year, Ty Votaw, chief marketing officer of the PGA Tour, said it has seen a 43 percent increase in its website traffic from millennials year over year, while its Twitter followers went up 39 percent in the same timeframe.

Most importantly, Votaw said there's a "healthy" number of millennials playing golf: The PGA Tour said that 6.5 million millennials played 100 million rounds of golf in 2015. The age group made up 28 percent of all total golfers, mirroring its percentage in the population.

"There's been a little bit of a misconception," Votaw asserted. "That's not to say that we think that's enough millennials."

The numbers are slightly lower than what was reported by the National Golf Foundation, which found that 6 million millennials play approximately 90 million rounds each year.

But notably, there are some differences in playing style. The research shows that of the age group, half are frequent golfers like previous generations (about 18 rounds), a little less than a quarter use it as social events (eight rounds) and a little more than a quarter play infrequently. Together they spend $5 billion on golf a year, a tiny fraction of the $76 billion industry.

But, by embracing digital, Votaw believes the future can be brighter. The National Golf Foundation also found that 12 million nonmillennial golfers are interested in learning to play the game.

"We have found a way to create content where our fans have increasingly wanted to consume it. It serves as snacks to the full meal of our television audience. … Every sponsor that we have, the conversation is about what we can do from them in the digital realm across our platforms and our social media," Votaw said.

The PGA Tour itself has been focusing on making its content available online. It's hosted Snapchat live stories at several PGA Tour events. It worked with digital media company Bedrocket Media Ventures to create SkratchTV, an Internet-only golf network. The organization also hosts streaming coverage of its tours on PGA Tour Live.

"We have created content across our digital platforms that has delivered to our fans where they are increasingly wanting to consume that content," said Votaw. "Digital content actually complements our television content, and helps drive ratings and further interest in the sport."

In the past year or so, Fed Ex hosted "Night Golf," played after sunset with glow-in-the-dark equipment. Farmers Insurance hosts University Day Challenge, which has included bringing athletes' university mascots down to the course to cheer on their alumni and having players knock out college logos from a pane of glass in order to raise money for charity. The events were recorded and then clipped for sharing on social media.

In addition, AT&T and Coca-Cola are sponsoring Spieth while Farmers Insurance put Fowler on its roster, and they're using them in their social media marketing.

Then, there's the Spieth bobblehead.

"The bobblehead is just a throwback promotion bringing an iconic piece of memorabilia of a young man who has become the face of our sport, and headed in 2016 we loved it and think it is was a great extension and activation of their sponsorship," said Votaw.