Financial Times: Is golf facing extinction?
Posted on September 25, 2015
Is golf facing extinction?
Referencing figures from SMS INC., a recent article in the Financial Times explores the decline of golf participation in the UK, and suggestions of how to remedy it. The piece discusses the number of individuals participating in golf in the UK dropping by 19% between 2006 and 2014, and the “inability of the game to respond to the changing world”.
SMS INC.’s John Bushell have recently stressed the importance of golf needing to be fun, fast, family and flexible for it to flourish in the UK once more. Gold memberships in England have now stabilised at 3.3 million, and with improvements to the number of Rounds Played in 2015, we hope to see a growth in participation.
Attitudinal shift in golf threatens extinction ‘within 50 years’
These should be exciting times for golf in the UK and for Europe more generally. Rory McIlroy is the number one player in the world, the Ryder Cup team is consistently beating its US rival and panic about the economy is receding. But within five decades the game of golf as it stands could be extinct, claims Simon Chadwick, a professor in sports business at Coventry University.
“Golf simply hasn’t responded to how the world has changed,” says Chadwick. “The game is becoming increasingly isolated. At the moment, the golf authorities are simply managing decline. If they don’t come up with a dynamic strategy, the game as we know it in the UK will be extinct in 50 years.”
According to Chadwick, golf has an image problem: it is seen as being elitist, discriminatory and unwilling to embrace change.
“There is a stereotype of golfers as white, male, middle-aged and middle class,” says Chadwick. “And it is quite an accurate one. But the values and attitudes of an ageing middle-class male are increasingly at odds with millennials.”
Millennials — roughly those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s — are more egalitarian, Chadwick believes. They view the game as stuffy and constrained by rules relating to dress and behaviour. “Golf and the way in which it is portrayed are as far away as possible from the millennials’ life experience.”
Egalitarianism is not the sole factor affecting participation in the sport. According to Sports Marketing Surveys, the number of British golfers dropped 19 per cent between 2006 and 2014. The primary reason for this fall is not the price of a round, or the often high cost of club membership, but a shortage of time, says its research.
Golf is not the only sport battling decline in the UK. Football is also proving less popular and cricket — despite the introduction of the shorter 20/20 format — has experienced a sharp fall in players.
Chadwick says the fall in those playing golf should therefore be seen in a broader context. “Just as our manufacturing economy has declined and Britons have gone from producers to consumers, in sport we have gone from participants to consumers.”
Yet just as golf officials in the US and UK are trying to change the sport’s image and stem declines in participation, it is that elitist image that makes the game so attractive in China.
“The popularity of golf and the level of participation have rocketed in China,” says Chadwick. “There, it is an aspirational sport.They relish the stereotype because if you are rich enough to play, you’ve made it. Also the Chinese view golf as a great way to do business.” The Chinese, he says, are exerting immense influence on the game. “They don’t want to change golf’s image at all. They want to maintain it and that is going to create some interesting tension in world golf.”
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