World Golf Foundation report says golf needs to modernise to survive

It seems strange, in a week when the Ryder Cup has been dominating both front and back pages of the international press, to talk about golf’s waning popularity.

However, according to a report commissioned by the World Golf Foundation, that is exactly what is happening. The reports says the sport needs to become faster and more inclusive or its long-term future is at risk. Here are some lessons that golf can learn from other sectors in order to keep stay relevant and popular in the 21st century.

Harnessing the reach of technology

In the online age, the internet provides the natural access point for pastimes of all descriptions. Here, golf can clearly take lessons from the casino sector. The parallels are clear, in that both are traditionally seen as leisure activities for the idle rich. Yet sites like Casinoshark have opened up the market to those who would never have thought of  setting foot in a real-world casino, by providing an opportunity to try the games out online. The result? Far from cannibalising the land-based casino market, the online games have prompted players to try them out for real, and business is booming like never before.

The rise of eSports provides the perfect means for golf to use technology to generate more fans and players. The NBA launched an eSports league this year, which runs concurrently with the real one, and there is increasing talk of the football Premier League following suit. Golf games are traditionally popular among gamers, so there is a golden opportunity here.

Embracing Top Golf

When cricket first introduced the concept of T20, the purists were horrified. Coloured clothes, music, cheerleaders and a game that would be all over in three hours flat? Today, even the die-hard traditionalists are forced to admit that the shorter format plays an important role in the game. It’s fast-moving, exciting and brings in welcome revenue from after-work spectators. And best of all, test cricket is still seen as the pinnacle of the game, and has benefited from a new generation of fans, and indeed playing techniques, that have been born of T20.

Golf has a ready-made solution in the Top Golf phenomenon. Exactly the same reaction is being seen among the traditionalists, but this short-format, family-friendly version of the game can revitalise the sport they love in exactly the same way.

Opening up the clubhouse

Across the UK, golf clubs are going under financially and being forced to shut down – and once they are lost, they are gone forever. There is a parallel here with the nation’s pub sector, and again, there are lessons to be learned.

Today, the successful village pubs are the ones that have reinvented themselves as family-friendly centres of the community. Instead of demanding a strict dress code and charging exorbitant membership prices, golf clubs need to be welcoming families with open arms. Let the kids wear their trainers and provide consoles for them to practice their virtual swing. In 20 years time, they will still be there, but with kids of their own.