When you hear that soothing jingle followed by Jim Nantz’s familiar “Hello Friends”, you know that the traditions surrounding The Masters make the tournament one of the most renowned events in all of sports.
Fans (pardon me…patrons) will soon focus their attention to Augusta, which from a business perspective, kicks off the real golfer season around the U.S. It seems that by watching the best players in the world navigate the risk and reward of Amen Corner, our inner golfer is awakened. Yet, amidst the pageantry and rich heritage of The Masters, the USGA is concurrently making innovative changes so the game of golf can be more user friendly.
In early March, the USGA and The R&A released a preview of new golf rules proposed by the two governing bodies. The proposed rules changes mark the first fundamental review of the Rules of Golf since 1984 and were instituted to “. . . ensure the Rules fit the needs of today’s game and the way it is played around the world.” The modifications reduce the current 34 rules to 24. Modernization is the key theme (watch video) running throughout all proposed changes.
Five of the most significant proposed changes largely effect pace of play and reduce the hair-splitting penalties that most recreational golfers seemed to ignore. Moreover, the game is adapting to how we live our lives and finding a way to make golf more enjoyable for all.
For the USGA, the proposed changes could not come at a better time. Since 2011, the number of golfers in the United States has declined from 25.7 million to 24.1 million in 2015, per the National Golf Foundation. While participation declines are never favorable, the golf industry has seen growing interest in the game by Millennials, whom the NGF notes were the biggest group of the game’s beginners last year.
Speeding up the pace of play is a step in the right direction for the USGA and The R&A to attract millennial participants. For instance, NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, noted that the league is considering shortening NBA games to meet millennials’ attention spans. “It’s something that I know all of sports are looking at right now, and that is the format of the game and the length of time it takes to play the game. Obviously people, particularly millennials, have increasingly short attention spans, so it’s something as a business we need to pay attention to,” Silver said.
While improving pace of play is a critical step in the right direction to attract more millennial players, the USGA and the R&A must meet millennial golfers with technology to attract the widest base of this segment.
In this regard, Golf 20/20 found that millennials want “Golf+.” Golf 20/20 defines “Golf+” as, “Enhancing golf experiences by combining the activity with other things that millennials love, such as affordable adventures, technology usage, listening to music, drinking, flirting, etc.” Utilizing research looking at what motivates millennials to play golf, Golf 20/20 asserts that “Golf+,” “will grow the game’s influence with this generation.”
What’s the take away for USGA and The R&A? Rules changes are a step in the right direction and will hopefully lead to more innovations. To fully capture the greatest cross-section of the millennial market, the USGA and the R&A must not only speed the game up, but must also make it more tech savvy and ultimately, millennial engaging.