01 Jun How Cell Phones Can Save Golf
Golfing in the U.S is on the decline. A few weeks ago, I heard Jack Nicklaus talk about the 5 million players who have left the game in recent years. Year after year more people quit playing golf than take up the sport. The declining interest in golf even shows up on the internet as fewer people are searching the word “golf.”
Women have stopped playing, kids aren’t learning and business is no longer conducted on the greens.
Reasons for the Decline of Golf
Golf is an expensive sport. The Golf Shot Doctor noted that equipment will cost about $1,022 just to start. Green fees will run you around $50 every time you play. If you choose a more prestigious course, expect to pay more. Pebble Beach charges $495 for 18 holes. Economy aside, that’s a significant amount of money when so many alternative hobbies (running, yoga and even Wii dancing to name a few) are available at a much lower cost.
Golf is hard. It takes a long time to learn the rules, the etiquette, not to mention how not to lose so many of those expensive little balls. Once you’ve mastered the mechanics, you’ll still spend half your day playing 18 holes. At about four hours a round, golf takes up more time than a little league baseball game, one hour meeting and yoga lesson combined.Society changes and technology play into the time problem, too. Changing family dynamics means men are no longer spending their weekends on the golf course and are instead, helping out more around the house and with the kids. Business golfers no longer want to take the time to play four hours of golf when a quick teleconference will do. You could argue that it’s not just time for business golf, but the lack of importance placed on personal connections that has kicked golf out of the boardroom.
Golf is an elitist sport. One of the most popular club’s in the U.S. finally allowed two women to join their all-male club, just one year ago. Not even enough for a foursome. The overwhelming list of rules and etiquette are not appealing to the masses, either. Uptight dress codes, limited cell phone use and a slew of bureaucratic idiosyncrasies are not appealing to the newest generations of potential golfers.
How to Fix Golf
There is no easy answer to save golf. This is a sport that has been on the decline for the better part of a decade. At the same time, research indicates that many outdoor recreational activities such as tennis, swimming and running are losing participants, as well. As obesity rises and video games soar in popularity, perhaps we have a much larger problem to solve.
It seems that golf however, has been failing in a way that the sport can overcome, if it chooses to listen.
Cost and Time
While this is oversimplifying things, here are a few quick suggestions to overcome the cost and time problems. Several courses already offer some combination of these suggestions.
- Shorter, easier to play courses will help the masses. Not every course should have a PGA layout. This will help beginners feel a little more comfortable with their skills, increase pace of play and reduce the number of lost balls.
- Offer budget friendly, six hole options to allow busy golfers the opportunity to play a few holes in less than two hours.
- Rent out all the necessary equipment.
The Real Problem… Golf’s Image
While the cost is a problem, parents shell out thousands on hockey, gymnastics and other sports for their kids. Why not golf? These same parents spend time and money on gym memberships, bowling and other activities. Why not golf? The real reason? Golf is just not cool anymore.
Golf has become the nerdy guy in the Mac versus PC commercials. The sport is more about preserving the past, than embracing the future.
Millennials and their younger siblings embody anti-bureaucratic traits. They are all-inclusive, politically correct generations. They shy away from too many rules and prefer transparency. They are the future of golf. And they don’t leave home without their cell phones.
How Cell Phones Can Make Golf Cool Again
No, cell phones can’t save golf by themselves. The idea is that golf needs to start embracing change. Start by allowing cell phones on courses. Allow fans and players to take pictures and videos, make calls and share the experience with others.
Sports and entertainment events are all about the experience. Whether we are playing or watching, we take away the memories. Golf needs to let people document those memories and share it with others.
If a basketball player can shoot a free throw with thousands of screaming fans, if a field-goal kicker can still kick after a late timeout from the opposing coach, if a pitcher can pitch with cameras and noise behind home plate, then golfers can golf regardless of cell phone distractions. It will take time. Golf is a very mental game. But so are many other sports.
And Then Golf Must do More
Allowing cell phones won’t be enough, but it will be the olive branch that peaks potential golfers’ and fans’ interest.
The next step is to strip away the old, uptight image.
Simplify the rules. Do away with silly etiquette. Embrace change.
Now pick up your jaws golf enthusiasts. Believe it or not, your dear sport will still look like golf. More importantly, your dear sport will survive. Golf must evolve if it wants more, consistent participation.
When I talked to my golf loving, husband about the decline, he was surprised to hear there’s even been a drop in participation. After I read him the numbers and my blasphemous ways to to fix golf, he objected. “Maybe golf has declined, but everything is cyclical,” he argued. “Golf is just experiencing the ebbs and flows that every other sport, fashion or type of music has experienced.” Besides, the parts I suggest stripping away, he claims to like the best.
I appreciate his opinion, but I think golf has the potential to be great. To me, golf is about getting that little white ball in a small hole, several yards away. It’s about being outside on a beautiful, well manicured course. It’s about getting some enjoyable exercise. It’s about spending time with a few friends. It’s not about overwhelming rules and uptight etiquette.
I imagine many recreational golfers will take offense to this. Those with money vested in golf, however – think… the PGA, golf courses, equipment manufacturers and distributors – they probably see the decline as a problem. These are the people that will have to change golf’s image.
And they can start with allowing cell phones.