Millennials and a Golf Revolution

WILL MILLENNIALS DECIDE THE FATE of recreational golf as we know it? I suppose, to some extent. It’s already happening, according to several reports.

Millennials and a Golf Revolution 1
Nextgen City Tour: Millennials enjoying golf.

In “Millennials upsetting the golf cart, traditionalists,” Craig Handel wrote:

Golf may be steeped in tradition, but millennials are forcing a mini-revolution in the way the sport is viewed and played. 

To accommodate the 18- to 34-year-old generation, some course officials are relaxing dress codes, allowing music during rounds and being flexible in how many holes they play.

“We need to get over what golf is and was,” Greg Norman said at the Franklin Templeton Shootout.

I would agree with Norman, to a point. I don’t think the game itself should be diluted with larger holes and other gimmicks. If you want to play an easy game, don’t play golf.

As for loosening up in other areas such as dress code, why not? There is essentially no dress code in any part of our society these days. Why should golf be much different? (I realize there will be some exceptions.)

I’m in favor of anything that speeds up the game, including shorter rounds. For heaven’s sake, though, could people just get on with it and play faster? You’re not those guys on TV. Sorry, but you don’t need exact yardages or to look at putts from every angle.

Handel runs down many of the dreary statistics we’ve heard before. Golf courses are closing — 643 since 2006, according to the National Golf Foundation. There are four million fewer golfers than a decade ago. Up to 160 courses are expected to cease operations this year.

Handel quoted Paul Chipok, a land-use local-government expert:

“It’s attributable to an aging baby boomer population and millennials watching too much MTV and having an attention span of about 30 seconds. [Millennials] are very tentative. They don’t want to make commitments. They’d rent rather than own, they prefer city dwelling as opposed to suburbs because they don’t want to own cars. This also lends itself to the golf game where you have to commit at least five hours. It’s different than going to the gym for an hour or playing a quick racquetball game.”

Yes, millennials are different than boomers. They’ve grown up in a different time and with different cultural and economic circumstances. I don’t blame them for making different choices. I also don’t think golf is doomed.

Things change.

Remember bowling? My dad was on his college bowling team, and there were church and other bowling leagues when I was kid growing up in Indiana. Bowling alleys were everywwhere. (Pops also pitched horseshoes and softball and played industrial league basketball.) Boxing was also huge. Baseball was America’s pastime. (I loved baseball as a youngster.)

Yes, things change, but I think golf will survive, even if it contracts and adjusts. It has always been a niche sport, so there’s no need to panic. But I suppose that’s easy for me to say. I’m not the PGA of America or the USGA or other interests with a large stake in this ancient game.

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

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