The second annual Golf 20/20 Conference convened this week at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. More than 240 industry members discussed the future of a non-growing industry.
Heres the mission statement:
to align the golf industry behind a plan that addresses the future of golf in a strategic manner, with an emphasis on accelerating growth and participation, and creating new avenues of access into the game.
Wisely concluding that we cant take anything for granted about golfs potential, the World Golf Foundation (which oversees 20/20) commissioned consumer research. The responses of 100,000 people generated 20/20s first look at the market.
The World Golf Foundation has a clear interest in fan-building, so its not surprising that the results are hopeful. That doesnt mean its not true. But as with all such results, the value depends on your point of view.
For instance, the study says that about 10 million adult U.S. golfers (40 percent of the total) play about 48 rounds of golf per year and spend an average of $1,700 annually on fees and gear. Most of these people are between 40 and 64 years old. They have household incomes of more than $75,000. And there may be 12 million more of them out there, waiting to be invited into the game.
Such an identifiable, easy-to-reach customer base is a marketers dream. I hope this Best Customer scenario works out as well as the WGF hopes.
But theres some potential bad with the potential good. Look at the age group: 40-64. How does this fit in with all the up-and-coming junior programs we hear so much about, such as The First Tee? And look at that income level. Clearly, it excludes a lot of people.
Junior programs were a major topic at this years conference, and the study just cited also said that in the long run (the studys words), junior programs pay considerable participation dividends. But between smitten junior and Best Customer, where is the golfer?
Somewhere in that middle, Im convinced, is a group Ill call by my own research-group name: The Golfer Wanna-Be Parent. I admit my evidence is anecdotal, but just about everyone in the industry agrees that adults of a certain age ' lets say 25 to 35 ' often leave golf or never get to it because of the joys, tribulations and responsibilities of caring for young children.
Ive always wondered how to track the golf lives of such people, or if its even possible. Its important, though. More than child-rearing happens in this era of life. For many, personal income rises steeply, to levels that wont always be spent mostly on formula, milk or dance lessons. Preferences for allocating precious leisure time develop. Children choose sports of their own, influencing the way their parents play and coach.
Time, cost, and difficulty are the factors that intimidate and irritate most nascent golfers, says former Dunlop Slazenger president Dave Branon. Naturally, the first two are special problems for parents of young children.
Perhaps one more challenge to add to the list is how to keep as golfers people who cant play ' as fans, as dreamers, as coaches, as grass-roots organizers. Little League, done right, can awaken the generous baseball coach in a former kid.
And golf can enter (or stay in) the heart of a man or woman who, when playing with a child, dreams of the day he or she can smile and say to the child, You go ahead and hit first.