I’m sat outside in the beer garden of my local pub. It’s a beautiful day to enjoy a nice refreshing beer with my friends. After a long week’s work, it is certainly needed. They know I run an independent golf magazine and are keen to know what’s been going on with the game. I told them about the recent ongoings and mainly focused the conversation on the need to appeal to more young players and women.
One of my friends hits the nail on the head when he said: “Well...to be honest with you, I don’t have much time to play much anymore what with the kids, work and stuff.”
He’s right. We are all in our thirties and all of our lives have changed in some way or another. Relationships, duties, mortgages, children and work. Our carefree lifestyles are now a part of our history. One friend even went a little further disclosing more information in the comfort of our circle. Things are not looking good for him as he seeks new employment as the economy hits hard times. For him, the strain shows the burden of his responsibilities taking their weight.
All of us used to play every single Sunday, some had memberships but now they have given them up. As life took its odd turns, the idea of membership for them became something that had to be sacrificed. As a group, we are lucky if we play together a few times a year now.
Without even realising it, the game has somehow lost us through no fault of our own. The game never hurt us or treated us badly. It wasn’t a messy divorce but more so a flittering apart. Blink and you would have missed it. Our gang and the game have simply drifted apart. No one was to blame. None of us even noticed.
We have become “Golf’s AWOL's” and we are certainly not alone. According to Statista, over 412,500 golfers have been lost between 2008-2017 in the UK. That is a decrease of 27% over the period. It is a trend that is worrying. Fewer golfers paying memberships and green fees have seen many courses close. Equipment manufacturers now have fewer players to appeal to. It all has a knock on effect as job security is now fragile. The golfing economy is ever dependant on players remaining loyal.
Remaining loyal is easier said than done. Golf, after all, is a leisure activity and not a cheap one at that. When the going gets tough financially, it quickly becomes an expense that is surplus to requirements.
Time and money are something that some cannot afford on the rollercoaster of life. Then there is the ultimate part of the ride. When the ride of life comes to an end. Older generations are more than likely to frequent the golf course in retirement. They have earned it and now finally have the time to do what they love most. But as the clock ticks ever closer to midnight for those players the need to appeal to younger generations becomes even more significant.
Golf certainly does not have that in its favour when compared to other sports. Seen as a stuffy and expensive sport, it is often relegated to the lower order by many young people. It also has the massive disadvantage in its exposure to that generation. Golf is not part of the school’s curriculum. In not being so, the exposure of Football, Rugby and Athletics would have already taken a hold on many young minds who dream of gracing Wembley, Murrayfield or the Olympics.
Attracting young players into the game is made even more difficult by the way it is portrayed. Whilst we (as golfers) love nothing more than the excitement of Major Championships, the television of Golf has remained stagnate. The same voices, the same production qualities that are at least 20 years out of date, show golfs glorious traditions but in an age that requires the need to grab people’s attention, it can hardly be seen to do that.
Now there is even an extra element to introduce. Brexit. As the realities of Brexit come ever closer (however you voted is now irrelevant) it is becoming clear that leaving the European Union is not as easy as many led us to believe. The impact on the game could be massive. Trading tariffs will change as Golf equipment is largely owned by the U.S. Taylormade, Callaway and others will be particularly concerned if the U.K market opts for other brands if the tariffs become too high. The value of British pound has decreased and the governor of the Bank of England has declared that UK households are financially worse off because of the decision to leave. With less disposable income, serious decisions in household budgets will have to be made.
All of these factors allow us to understand why players are going AWOL at a time when the industry needs us the most. If the trend continues, the damage may be irreversible. I make no apologies for being blunt in the matter but golf needs a silver bullet right now. It believes that social media will do just that. After all, it is what the kids do right?
Whilst there is merit in this thinking it fails to understand that social media simply preach to the converted. Messages, initiatives and influencers are simply talking to their own who already love the game. The real trick is to use this to galvanise support from those who wouldn’t usually pick up a club. How you do that is up to the experts but to date, it remains a closed media appealing to those who are already part of the club.
Golf faces some difficult tasks in order to change. It is trying and for that, it has to be praised. However, for us golfing AWOL’s who have already fallen in love with a game where our last round has become a distant memory, the real question becomes, how can we get them back when everyday life is preventing them from doing so?