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 [email protected] or better yet, tweet to @MikeBelkin11.
The 19th Hole Episode 170: Grassroots golf and Darius Rucker
Host Michael Williams talks about the benefits of grassroots golf programs in growing the game. Also features a reboot of his exclusive interview with Hootie and the Blowfish.
The Wedge Guy: Have a ‘Plan B’
One of the things that I think is very interesting and fun about this game is that there are a number of ways to play every hole you encounter. And sometimes a hole offers “better” ways to play it than you might think. Let me explain with a couple of experiences from my own golf life.
ONE. In my thirties and forties, I played at a club outside of San Antonio – Fair Oaks Ranch. The 18th hole was a tough par 4 with a very small landing area and a gaping bunker at about 175 out. The skinny fairway left of that bunker wasn’t more than 15 yards wide, and there was a little mott of trees on the green side of the bunker that you would have to carry with your mid-iron bunker approach. Tough, to say the least.
That hole drove most of us nuts, and double bogeys were more common than birdies, for sure. Par was always a great score and bogey wasn’t “bad” at all.
So, one day it hit me that if I hit 4-wood off the tee, I would have an elevated fairway look at the green from about 200-210, giving me another soft 4-wood or 3-iron to the green, and the fairway was about 40 yards wide back there. Being a good long club player, I began to play the hole that way. Doubles disappeared entirely, pars became the norm and I even made the occasional birdie. Hmm.
TWO. At my recent club, the ninth hole just didn’t fit my eye or my game. I play a fade off the tee most of the time and turning over a draw was just not reliable for me at the time. That ninth is a dogleg left, with a bunker on the right side of the fairway that runs from about 160-125 from the green, right where the prime driving area is. What makes this hole so tough for me is that the prevailing wind is left to right, and trees just 60-100 yards off the tee keep me from starting the ball out left and letting it ride the breeze. This is another one where birdies are rare for me there, and bogies and doubles way too frequent. So, it dawned on me one day, finally, that I could hit 4-wood right at that bunker and not get to it, leaving me a 5- or 6-iron into the green, rather than the short iron the rare proper drive would leave me. So, that became my new strategy on that hole. I’m a good mid-iron player, so I’m fine with that, and that damn fairway bunker never caught me again.
THREE. My new club puts a premium on accurate wedge play. Most of the shorter holes have the smallest greens I’ve ever seen, so distance control with your wedge approaches is critical. And I find that reasonably full-swing wedges are easier to control distance than those awkward 60- to 80-yard partial swings. So, I’ve learned to put a premium on club selection off the tee on those holes to leave my approach shots in the 85-115 range, so that I can “dial in” my approach shotmaking.
My point in all this is that sometimes a hole gets under your skin or just doesn’t set up well for your game. When that happens, design yourself a Plan ‘B,’ and change the way you play it, at least for a while. Quite often you will find a solution to a problem and your scores and attitude will improve.
Club Junkie: Mizuno T-22 wedge and Cuater Moneymaker shoes review!
Mizuno’s new T-22 wedges are forged from the same 1025 carbon steel with boron as the irons, giving them an extremely soft feel. Very versatile, the sole grinds allow for hitting any shot your heart desires.
The Cuater Moneymaker shoes might be some of the most comfortable I have worn in years. Tons of cushioning, exceptional traction all over the course, and they are even waterproof!
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