Golf participation for the Millennial demographic (ages 18-to-34), has decreased 30 percent in the past 20 years, and the remedy to bring the game back to us remains largely unsolved.
I relish the hot summer days when I’d bang range balls for a few hours, play nine holes and caddy during the afternoon. Life was good, life was golf. My circle of friends lived a similar lifestyle, played junior tournaments and some of us moved onto the college ranks. And then something funny happened. The game tied to our personal being somehow separated as we started careers in different cities. My golfing buddies and I aren’t alone.
The problem begins in the transition between high school and college. In 2012, 152,725 students played competitively in high school, yet only 12,147 students played varsity college golf that year, according to scholarshipstats.com. If you are part of the lucky 8 percent playing golf for a college team, you play for free and get handed school-logoed Pro V1’s. But what happens to those not on varsity who are forced to pay for their own golf, find transportation and courses that actually welcome their business? Some students attend one of the 100 or so universities that have courses on campus, but for many, the clubs don’t make it to the dorm room and students drop the game temporarily.
On the bright side, there has been a significant uptick in number of collegiate club golf teams from 50 to over 200 in the past year alone. Many of these club golf teams now compete in student-led weekend tournaments in the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA). The organization takes a proactive role—a grassroots effort of sorts—in recruiting and working with students to start school-recognized and funded club golf programs off the ground. While the NCCGA has carved out a niche for competitive non-varsity golfers, it struggles to assist more recreational players or students brand new to the game.
At Michigan State’s club golf fair in the fall of 2011, nearly 500 students signed up with an interest in joining the club, but only a few dozen ultimately remain on the competitive club team roster. The gap could be filled by finding a solution to keep more of these fringe college golfers in the game by getting PGA professionals to teach lessons on campus, helping them improve and stay interested.
The problem—specifically with Millennial golfer participation—begins in college but exacerbates as a young professional.
“Consistently keeping up a golf game has been very difficult since moving to Manhattan,” says Ryan Down, a 26 year-old former Yale varsity golfer. “Transportation is the main issue: most people don’t have cars in the city, which sometimes means two trains and a cab to get to a course. The other difficulty is the lack of availability of decent courses that aren’t constantly packed with weekend golfers. All in all, it can easily be an 8 hour commitment including the ride to and from the course.”
With often 60+ hour workweeks and a lack of transportation options, golf is just not feasible on weekends like it was back in high school. Young professional golfers in cities such as New York, Boston, DC, San Francisco and Chicago face serious barriers in making it out the links on any regular basis.
I live in Boston where I can’t afford to own a parking spot, so I’m left stranded if I haven’t secured one of the few public spaces before 7 p.m., thereby making playing golf after work a serious challenge. Improving or sharpening my game is a thing of the past. For the modern young professional, playing golf requires planning, commitment from friends and some serious dollars if you’re looking to play a decent track with the rest of the masses on summer weekends.
Is golf officially dead for college students and young professionals? Does the industry just need to wait until we turn 40, own a house with a white fence and join the local country club? The answer is no, however, the industry needs to make changes in becoming more relevant to younger consumers. The explosive growth of the NCCGA proves the demand for competitive golf for single-digit handicap players at the non-varsity collegiate level.
So why is nobody extending competitive golf into the young adult space? As a former D3 golfer who plays twice a month, I have zero business spending $125 trying to shoot 74 and qualify for the state amateur. That said, I’d love to compete against other serious golfers around my age in a more relaxed environment.
Theories exist — including foot golf, 15-inch cups and actually using media effectively — to help Millennials keep golf fun and accessible, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. If you have thoughts on ways to engage the next generation of golfers, shoot a note to Mike@nextgengolf.org or better yet, tweet to @MikeBelkin11.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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