Golf tries to shake off ‘older man’ image as authorities target a younger, more diverse crowd

  • A study carried out by research firm Sports Marketing Survey, commissioned by the Royal & Ancient (the ruling authority for golf outside of the United States), found that 11 million people in Britain played “some form of golf” last year.
  • The R&A recognizes the importance of the older demographic as the ones who spend most on golf and golf accessories, but it’s also targeting engagement of a new generation.
  • This idea of inclusiveness may not appeal to everyone. Notably, President Donald Trump called for golf to remain at a premium price in an interview a few years ago.

The world’s best golfers in the men’s game descended on Carnoustie in Scotland at the weekend for the 2018 Open Championship — the oldest tournament in the sport.

However, organizers are using the blue-ribbon event as a platform to encourage a new younger audience to pick up a club.

A study carried out by research firm Sports Marketing Survey, commissioned by the Royal & Ancient (the ruling authority for golf outside of the United States), found that 11 million people in Britain played “some form of golf” last year.

That figure took into account participation on either nine or 18-hole courses, driving ranges, pitch-and-putt, golf simulators, “adventure golf” and even golf video games.

The survey found the most ardent golfers are still over the aged of 65; playing on average around 49 rounds of golf per year. However, when it comes to elite levels at the top of the golfing pyramid, it appears to be a younger man’s game. When analyzing the overall strokes gained for 2017, on the PGA and European tours all of the top five names were in their 20s, including multiple major winners Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

Chris Ryan | Getty Images

Speaking to CNBC at the Carnoustie course, Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A said “We have a goal to have 25 percent of the attendees under 25. We want to increase the level of diversity. We don’t just want to have middle-aged men watching, we want women and young families as well.”

The R&A recognizes the importance of the older demographic as the ones who spend most on golf and golf accessories, but it’s also targeting engagement of a new generation. However, getting the right balance is still importance.

“Professional golf is a business and the business of professional golf depends on sponsors and TV companies being able to sell to people and therefore the more people that play the game, the more commercially attractive the whole sport is at the professional end.” Slumbers added.

This idea of inclusiveness may not appeal to everyone. Notably, President Donald Trump called for golf to remain at a premium price in an interview a few years ago.

“I feel golf should be an aspirational game, something people aspire to,” Trump said during an interview with Fortune in 2015 before becoming president. “People should come to golf, golf shouldn’t come to them. It may be elitist, and perhaps that’s what golf needs. Let golf be elitist.”

That view of Trump’s is further underlined with reports that his Mar-a-Largo resort doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 following his election to the White House.

That figure isn’t close to the world’s most expensive golf club membership, reportedly available at Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China. A Chartered Diamond membership can cost $382,000 and a further $14,400 a year in rent.

Equipment costs have also made some feel as though the sport is prohibiting them to play it seriously. If you wanted to have the exclusive Majesty Prestigio Super 7 driver by Japanese manufacturer Maruman in your bag, it will set a golfer back around $2,500 and a full five star set of irons, bag and accessories from Honma Golf could cost up to $76,000.

Introductory sets are available for less than 1 percent of that price and the R&A, in conjunction with the USGA (United States Golf Association), will be introducing a rewritten rulebook for the game to be enforced from January 2019, simplifying rules to make the game more accessible.

New rules include; no more penalties for accidentally moving a ball on the green, option to putt with the flagstick in and a player can take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke. The Women in Golf charter was also announced in May 2018 by the R&A.

The spectrum of golf interest and the opportunities to become involved seem to be evolving, whether that be through traditional forms or modern adaptations of the game.