Tag Archives: british golf

Golf’s exclusivity is damaging its long-term future

A look at the names on the sponsor billboards, scattered around the European and PGA Tour’s most prestigious events, reveals golf’s underlying issue.

Every week, when Rory McIlroy and the likes tee off, the exclusive brands of Rolex, BMW and Fly Emirates can be seen plastered in the background.

Noticeably, standing alongside them, is their affluent middle-aged target market. 

It’s a reccurring snapshot which reflects the demographics of golf’s audience and why the game is struggling to attract new fans to the sport.

British decline

The decline is particularly obvious in the UK, where, according to England Golf, since 2006, the number of people playing golf has fallen from four million to 2,785,000, and the membership of clubs in England has decreased from 850,000 to 652,000.

Many in the game believe the length of a round puts people off. Others say young people these days are more interested in computer games. Then there’s competition from other sports such as cycling.

But the huge cost and obstacles to being a dedicated golfer today have surely played their part.

With the high price of equipment, course entry fees and strict rules at clubs, it’s not hard to see why the youngest and less well-off in society are not queueing to take up the sport.

In London, especially, the dearth of pitch and putt golf and closure of public courses is hardly aiding the sport’s appeal.

Going to watch live tournaments doesn’t exactly boast inclusivity either. For example, at The Open in July, the cheapest ticket for one day’s play at Royal Birkdale worked out at £75. For an adult earning a relatively basic wage, a sum of this size would seem quite substantial, even if it is the showpiece event of the year.

And although children (under 16) could gain free admission with one adult ticket, the £40 price for youths (16-24) also appeared expensive considering that fans from that age group are supposed to be the target market.

Lack of coverage

Elsewhere, the lack of exposure in the UK is only too evident in TV coverage as free terrestrial screening of golf has become virtually non-existent in recent years.

Indeed, except for the last two days of The Masters, the rest of the European and PGA Tour events, including the other three majors, can usually only be watched live on Sky Sports.

This means that anyone without the right Sky subscription – that is, the majority of the country’s population – can only see two days of live golf each year.

It begs the question: how can people be inspired to follow their favourite players on a regular basis and become genuine fans of the sport when they are struggling to even play or watch the game?

Innovation

Over the last 12 months, the European Tour’s chief executive, Keith Pelley, has introduced lots of new and innovative ideas with the belief that quicker forms of golf will attract new interest.

GolfSixes, a tournament with 16 teams of two fighting it out in a match play contest over six holes, was staged in St Albans in May to liven up golf’s image and was a deemed a success with newcomers watching on TV and turning up in person.

The field wasn’t amazing, but it was a start in Pelley’s eyes.

Next year will see more modernisation with the new short-formatted Shot Clock Masters tournament and the exciting strokeplay Belgium Knockout competition, hosted by Thomas Pieters.

But, again, with all three of those events being on Sky and available only to those with a subscription, the handicap is that few people will be able to see golf’s latest innovations. This is the major issue.

Whilst, undoubtedly, Pelley and the European Tour’s efforts to shake up the game are leading the way and should be seen as progress, it’s clear they and others in power across the golfing world still seem to be missing the point.

Making the sport more exciting and faster may be the way forward but it is meaningless if the audience you are looking to attract cannot access the product.

Hence golf’s problem is not necessarily the format of the game, but, more so, its exclusivity. The sooner golf’s hierarchies realise that, the better.

Images courtesy of zimbio.com

Essex boy Gennings is California dreaming of pro golf career

Since ‘crossing the pond’ from England to the United States in the summer, George Gennings has gone from strength to strength as he aims to become a professional golfer.

College sport is taken extremely seriously in the US, with many players on the PGA Tour taking the college golf path, including England’s former world number one and four-time Ryder Cup winner Luke Donald, who studied at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“I think it gives you a platform to build from, and gives you an experience of what playing on tour would be like” said the Essex-born Gennings.

“I am currently studying at Reedley College in California, which is about 30 minutes south of Fresno, the nearest major city, and half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles,” he said.

“I’m planning on doing my four years out in the US, and hoping to graduate with either a degree in either Business or Economics.”

A future star?

Gennings in competition at Bishops Stortford Golf Club whilst back in the UK.

Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed are just a few high-profile names that have taken the college and university route into professional golf, and Gennings is well on his way to following in their footsteps.

“If you go down say the Top 100 in the world rankings, I would guess that at least 60% of them played college golf,” said the 19-year-old.

“I am practicing every day with the team, but we don’t play any tournaments during the fall season due to CCCAA (California Community College Athletic Association) rules that only allow us to compete during the spring semester.

“I’ve played eight competitive rounds within the team as our coach runs an off-season schedule, where we play the courses that we’re going to be playing in our conference, and my current scoring average is 71.2 so I’m really pleased with that,” he said.

Culture shift

Gennings, who was the Youth Captain at Thorndon Park Golf Club whilst living in Essex, admits that the move from Brentwood to California and being separated from loved ones was a major challenge.

“The culture is very different to what I’ve grown up with, and even though I’ve been here for over four months, I’m still learning and adapting,” explained the Englishman.

“Missing home has without a doubt been the hardest thing. It’s such a tough experience being away from them, I honestly can’t describe how much I’ve missed being away from them”.

“If you go down say the Top 100 in the world rankings, I would guess that at least 60% of them played college golf” – George Gennings

British golf courses are renowned for their unpredictable conditions, whether that be due to erratic weather or difficult-to-read greens and fairways. So how has he adapted to the American course layout?

“It’s just a completely different style to back in England. That’s been the toughest thing to adapt to,” he admitted.

“I would describe it over here as target golf. There’s not as much wind so you haven’t got to worry about the ball moving in the air, no rain or cold so the ball is going to go further, and all the greens are pretty soft, so the ball isn’t going to go very far once it gets on the green. I’m slowly getting there!

“Everyone can go online and see how you’ve done, so there’s nowhere to hide”

“I feel playing out here is going to help me achieve my goal of making it pro as one week I might have a tournament in Arizona, then the next in Carolina, and that is very similar to what guys on the PGA tour face now, traveling from event to event and having to be away from family for prolonged periods of time” he said.

“You’re playing at top quality golf courses against some of the best university teams, so it will allow me to compare my abilities on the toughest stage. Everyone can go online and see how you’ve done, so there’s nowhere to hide.”

Next steps?

So, what is the process now for the 19-year-old?

“It’s mainly general studies at college at the moment. This year is more of a transition between college and university.

“I will be transferring to university next year, where I will do my major in my Junior and Senior (third and fourth) years. I’m hoping to get some funding from wherever I go and start playing in regular tournaments,” he said.

“The ultimate goal is to play professional golf, whether that is out in America, in Europe, or the Middle East. I’ll come back to England after I’ve completed my four years, sit down with my family and coach to evaluate everything, and if we both feel that I can make a living out of it then I’ll give it my best shot!”

You can follow George on Twitter @GGennings