The Golf Dichotomy: Youth vs. Tradition

Peter_Gardner_web101 Peter Gardner, Senior Partnership Architect & Insights Development

By one measure, the youth movement in golf is in full swing. Jordan Spieth dominated at Augusta National to win his first Green Jacket. Rickie Fowler surprised at TPC Sawgrass in a come-from-behind win. And Rory McIlroy reminded us all at Quail Hallow why he is the world’s top ranked golfer.

By another measure, however, it can be argued golf is still very much your father’s game. Just take a look at the numbers.

Of the 3.5 million or so avid fans in Canada, 75% are male, 40% are between 50 – 69 years old, and compared to other mainstream sports like hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, and tennis – golf fans skew the oldest (Repucom, 2015).

But skewing old and male has historically been pretty good for business. And here’s why.

Golf fans tend to be more established and have higher than average household incomes than other sports fans. They also over index in major consumer categories such as home ownership, number of vehicles owned per household, and intent to travel to name a few.

If that’s not enough, golf fans are also receptive to sponsorship, tend to view brands positively, and there is a strong relationship between brand loyalty and purchase intent in golf sponsorship. Remarkably, 43% of golf fans see sponsorship as a differentiating factor between competitive brands and will either visit the brand’s website (22%), have a conversation about the brand (19%), or research a brand (20%) after being exposed to sponsor activity (Repucom, 2015).

Being among the most established and affluent of consumers, it is not surprising that broadcasters and corporate sponsors have pandered to this loyal base of fans. But demographics are changing, and trends are showing that the millennial generation will soon outspend the generation before it. By 2017, Millennials are projected to spend upwards of $200 billion annually, effectively becoming the largest consumer generation in history.

So where am I going with this?

The sport of golf is finding itself at an interesting crossroads. The game’s elite of the elite are young, charismatic and stylish, and their influence on the sport has certainly been felt. But I can’t help but wonder if golf’s governing bodies and their incumbent broadcasters and sponsors have been reluctant to fully embrace the young stars of the game and the change they represent. I can imagine they do not want to risk offending their loyal (and lucrative) base. Or perhaps it is because golf is a sport defined by its traditions and is predisposed to resist change.

One thing is for certain, however, conditions are ripe for change and change will happen. And to me that means opportunity. Opportunity to present the game differently to a younger audience. And opportunity for youth and lifestyle brands to embrace the new heavyweights of the sport.

It is time to think differently about golf. Will your brand get in front of the tipping point and be a part of the change?