Tiger Woods is back at the PGA’s Masters Tournament, and all is as it should be once again.
If only it were that simple. Alternately known as “the game of kings” or “the rich man’s game,” golf has had a poor round that started in the early aughts and now needs some caddying.
Woods’ return to Augusta National is bringing back the rousing birdies and preternaturally precise putts that made him the wonder of the sport. And while the world of commerce is springing to life around the five-time tournament winner, the golf industry is trying to chip its way out of the rough after years of decline.
A 2020 blog post by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) put it in perspective, saying “There were 6.8 million fewer golfers in 2018 compared to 2003 — a loss of 22%,” adding that “The decline is a function of the high cost of playing, difficulty of courses, and the game’s incompatibility with contemporary lifestyles.”
It’s that last one — “contemporary lifestyles” — that may hold the key. Lime green trousers are hard to pull off, as is the price of play for the infamously frustrating game.
While Woods is the big draw this month, golf is on a longer recovery trajectory pushed by pandemic tailwinds that reignited interest in the socially distanced outdoor activity.
One piece of telling evidence is that enthusiast website GolfMagic said Wednesday (April 7) that it has “smashed its record for unique users with 3.1 million in March 2022,” marking the “fifth time in the last 12 months that GolfMagic has announced a record for monthly uniques.”
The New Golf Is Coming — Fore!
Leading the reinvention of golf is category mainstay Calloway, now positioning itself as a “golf entertainment company” through recent acquisitions like the Topgolf chain of video driving ranges that double as party venues, uniting digital and social experiences around golf.
New York-based NBTV Channels announced March 30 the September launch of Golf Nation, a shoppable streaming “entertainment network offers consumers premium original video programming along with virtual and physical products that are available for purchase and home delivery through the channel without interrupting the viewing experience,” per a press release.
Suzy Whaley, the PGA’s first woman president and a former LPGA player has been named president of the new venture. In the statement Whaley said, “We have this unique opportunity to curate and produce shows that celebrate the sport promoting diversity and inclusion while delivering a one-of-a-kind solution for brand partners.”
About those lime green slacks that one can never un-see, hot brands including Lululemon are cashing in on a pandemic bump in golf interest. During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call March 29, Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald teased the following: “Our first-ever ‘Designed for Golf’ collection will roll out next week.”
A quick web search shows that everyone from Amazon to Poshmark to Vineyard Vines to the usual suspects, including Nike and Adidas, are out in force with PGA merch and apparel.
Millennials Match Play
That’s smart, as millennials are the new golfers, and they are a breed apart from parents and grandparents who belonged to clubs that were overbuilt, speeding a decline that’s slowing.
According to the 2021 Millennial Golf Industry Study conducted by Golf Inc., 60% of respondents “said golf has become more important to them during the past year.”
“Not every millennial is the same, but it’s often communicated that way,” said Matt Weinberger, director of operations at Nextgengolf, which participated in the survey. “We see tremendous opportunity for PGA professionals and golf facilities to deliver value to young people. The key is understanding how golf businesses mesh with millennial lifestyles.”
It’s not a gold story without mentioning Titleist. On an earnings call in March, Titleist parent Acushnet Holdings CEO David Maher said, “we are encouraged by the game’s momentum with U.S. rounds up 5% in 2021 and up 20% or almost 90 million rounds versus 2019.”
“This increase over the past two years was aided by play from some 800,000 new golfers with juniors and women the fastest-growing segments, as reported by the National Golf Foundation,” he said, adding that outside of the U.S. “rounds were up over 10%” in 2021.
The National Golf Foundation (NGF) sees similar trends. In a March letter on the NGA website, President and CEO Joseph Beditz said, “In 2021, a record 3.2 million Americans played golf on a course for the first time. This after 3 million newcomers picked up golf in 2020 as the pandemic unfolded and people sought out safe, outdoor activities that could provide a sense of normalcy with friends and family.”