The millennial problem – Will the Olympics attract a new demographic to golf?

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Experts say that golf risks missing out on millennial generation at their own peril

As golf returned to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years, it met one of the main objectives of the IOC for its inclusion – television ratings. Final round coverage of the men’s event in Rio, as Justin Rose defeated Henrik Stenson in a titanic battle, was the second-highest watched golf event in the US this year, behind only the Masters in April.

While stars like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth withdrew from the Games, the international element of the format is bound to have long-term benefits, with players from countries like Bangladesh, Venezuela and Taiwan taking part. On the women’s side, all the top players were present in Rio and the women’s competition is bound to have an even greater effect on the promotion of the game.

Such exposure, which is hoped will inspire younger people to pick up clubs and play, comes at a much-needed time for golf. Steve Mona, chief executive of the World Golf Foundation told The Guardian that struggling golf clubs must adapt to the demands of younger people to ensure that the sport has a future.

“Clubs have to have something to please young people,” he said. “It’s a tricky problem. Someone like me wouldn’t think of engaging in social media on the course, I’d only be thinking of the next shot. But young people want to be on Facebook and Instagram between shots.”

The number of golfers in the US has fallen from 30 million in 2008 to 25 million today, according to the research firm Golf Datatech. When I spoke to Paul Turner, manager of McGuirk’s Golf store in Blanchardstown, he mentioned the gap in the market from late teenager to middle-aged adult, the so-called ‘millennial generation’.

The two constants there in stopping millennials from playing golf are 1) time and 2) money. Unfortunately, millennials are in the age group that suffered most from the global recession in 2008

“That age group is hard to attract to golf. When you’re young and you play with Mum and Dad and it’s your number one sport, it’s great,” Turner said.

“But then you go to college and you don’t have the time, you could have a part-time job, you’re making a future for yourself. Then you’ve your first job and you’re trying to get on your feet. It’s only then when you establish yourself that you may have time again to get seriously back into golf.”

The two constants there in stopping millennials from playing golf are 1) time and 2) money. Unfortunately, millennials are in the age group that suffered most from the global recession in 2008, earn 20% less than the generation before them. With spiralling rents and zero-hour contracts, it is hardly surprising that golf is not at the forefront of their minds.

Time-wise, 18 holes of golf is time-consuming, which is why initiatives focusing on nine hole competitions by the R&A are much appreciated.

“People who want to play are increasingly struggling to find the time to play golf and so positioning nine-hole golf as a legimitate alternative makes a lot of sense,” Padraig Harrington said. “I’m sure this new format will encourage more people to get out on the golf course and play nine-hole golf.”

Offering reasonable, discounted nine-hole rates and competitions for the college/post-college demographic could be a very viable solution if golf is to arrest the slide. For if a young person is inspired by the Olympics, then golf clubs should do everything they can to facilitate that interest.

By David Gorman

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