Can the game of golf survive recent society changes?

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Golf, by many, has always been regarded an elite sport, enjoyed the most by closed groups of individuals than by the masses. Others thought of it as of an ancient game, played by old and rich people who disregard any ‘non-elitist’ ways of spending time. Of course, these are just stereotypes and golf has always been doing well despite them. But, in the last few years, something has changed.

Is golf a dying sport?


Millennials don’t like it

The golf is in decline – although most of the people who played it 10 or 20 years ago usually still do that, unless they’ve been hit by the recent economic crisis, the millennials – the new generation that’s supposed to fill in the spots emptied by those who have already retired from the game – are not interested in what they believe is a costly, time-consuming and elitist way of spending free time.

The game which was for tens of years regarded a game for the white elite, and which took 260 years for one of its most prestigious club, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andres, to admit women doesn’t seem to be playing out well in the recent demographic changes, where being a part of an ‘elite’ is not seen well – even if, this is, once again, just a stereotype.

Middle-class way of life has changed

For many, the golf doesn’t seem to be fitted for the average life of the declining middle-class members. It takes too long, and adding to that recent recession, increased work hours and a simple change in man and women relations, it is harder than before to leave the wife with kids for the whole day for many men. And young generations, who could possibly spare some free time, more often choose cycling as it has a better image and gives a freedom rather than being a paid privilege, full of ancient rules none of the millennials wants to obey.

In the last 10 years in England, 20% of the golfers have discontinued their memberships; the number of golfers who played the game at least once a month has declined by more than 1/4 since 2007. The statistics are no different for other countries where the game has been quite popular over the last few decades – Japan and Australia have both lost around 40% of total golfers since mid-nineties, and in the US, which has almost 50% of all the golf courses and is the home for half the golfers in the world, more 18-hole courses have been closed down than have been built – and this is expected to continue. And while the Wall Street Journal reports that people are trying the sport, they aren’t sticking with it.

The whole industry is suffering losses

Because the decline hits not only golf courses but also companies that produce the golf equipment, several measures have been taken to promote the game, give it a new image and acquire new players, so needed to stop the plummeting equipment sales. As golf is an extremely difficult sport, what only adds to its decline, the more open-minded golf enthusiasts are looking for innovations, such as 15-inch cups, to make the game easier, more pleasurable and attractive. Some of the innovations already exist, such as drivers that guarantee extra few yards or a golf ball that uses smart aerodynamics – but they have not been approved by neither USGA nor Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which together set rules for most of the world.

It’s quite probable that the future golf will be easier, targeted at people who just want to have fun and spend some time with friends relaxing rather than competing. The problem with innovations that some want to introduce through the equipment is that it would kill the game’s integrity.

Players’ mentality is evolving

Another hope to stop the decline in golf is not the change in equipment but rather in the clubs and players mentality – what has already started on the players’ side, as they keep evolving. People don’t want to pay for the privilege of membership but they are willing to pay if they can access the course for a quick game from time to time. The game has to become shorter, possibly taking the number of holes from 18 down to 6, to create short courses which would appeal and fit into the modern lifestyle.

The image of golf is still that of an elitist, expensive and sometimes snobbish game. It is also difficult and time-consuming what doesn’t really fit the middle class anymore. Being a very competitive game, ironically it now has to compete for the audience itself, and unless it changes, even for the price of appealing to the biggest golf purists, it will continue to see the decline. But the hope is still there – including its (hopefully) great comeback in Rio, after 112 years of absence in the Summer Olympics programme.



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