Speed and simplicity is everything in the modern world – especially for young people and, as ever, they don’t want to be caught dead doing what their parents once did. Youngsters may have at first been introduced to golf through mum and dad, but soon after they’d much rather be swinging with their friends – and doing so at a speed which only they are accustomed to. And, traditionally, this has always been a problem for the ancient game.
Traditionally golf is played at a glacial pace; it is steeped in tradition and comes with a rule book that reads like a particularly dense legal volume. However, this isn’t true any longer. For many years the sport has been evolving in order to better cater for a wider demographic mix and to all socio-economic backgrounds. It is no longer an elitist environment and is more inclusive than it has ever been, but still the governing bodies of this ancient game understand the need for further change.
Recently the sport has relaxed certain rules to make golf simpler, faster and more enjoyable to play. Ideas such as eliminating any penalty if a ball moves on the green while the player has done nothing more than take normal actions to prepare for a stroke; reducing the time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes to search for a lost ball; and being allowed to remove items such as leaves and twigs in a bunker that are around the ball have found favour with most players. All of which are good signs that adjustments are being made – but some say the sport still isn’t moving quickly enough.
With every new generation, children are weaned from an increasingly early age on super-quick technology. They want Apps, Android and Apple. Teenagers today haven’t known a life without incessant, all-consuming technology in their personal lives. It has been their existence, in many cases, for their whole lives. 95% of UK teens have a smartphone; 45% of teens admit to being online on a near-constant basis. They’ve taken to it like cookies to a PC, whereas parents can still remember struggling to program a VCR. But should golf speed up to catch-up?
A new guide has been produced by England Golf, the governing body for amateur golf, to help clubs learn more about young people and how to attract them into the sport. Its research shows that in 2017, 67% of all young people (about 5.35 million) took part in some form of golf activity. Many of them played crazy golf and went to driving ranges, but only 1.65 million have gone on to play more golf. But, at the same time, these players are later turning their backs on golf clubs and traditional junior memberships are dropping.
Lee Dolby, England Golf’s Young People Manager, says: “Attracting young people is essential for the future of golf clubs. One size definitely does not fit all. Young people change faster than any of us and what appeals to a six-year-old may not be right for a 16-year-old.
“But, many clubs still just offer one version of junior golf. We need to think about the individuals, their motivations and the barriers they encounter. Traditional membership drop off doesn’t mean they don’t want to be part of a club, but it does mean they don’t like what clubs are offering them.”
Emily Furniss, Young Golf ambassador for England Golf and the Golf Foundation, furthers this: “Not everyone wants to be the next Rory McIlroy, some young people just want to belong, to make friends or play for fun. Listening to the opinions of the next generation will broaden the appeal of the game.”
With so much attention now being placed on the future of the sport there’s never been a better time to see what changes your local club has been making (and in the Wolverhampton area we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to clubs and courses). It may not yet be ready to let youngsters play loud music on the course or be willing to put a 16-year old on its committee but it will have some great membership offers available and much more. Check out some of our advertisers for inspiration.