How to Get More Juniors Playing Golf
YOU do not need us to tell you that the biggest challenge facing golf as a whole has been its inability to attract growing numbers of youngsters. Club membership in 2020 is booming after the lockdown, with many courses now full to bursting point. Some have even reached the point where they are not taking any more new members. That is the good news.
The bad news is that children and teenagers still fail to see the attraction of our beloved sport, despite the fact that most golf courses offer them cheap and, in some cases, free membership, especially if they already have parents as members. We live in an era in which the younger generation prefer to spend their time in front of a computer screen, games console or on their mobile phones. Social media and computer games are king.
It is obvious that something needs to be done about the fitness of an entire generation, for whom exercise, and the great outdoors are anathema. We need to get the message across that golf is fun and is a great way of socialising with like-minded people.
What Needs to Change?
So how do we do it? We are obsessed with 18-hole golf. It is part and parcel of the tradition of the game, but, as we all know, it takes time to play 18 holes - for the younger generation, far too much time. So, we should be selling the sport to kids as a nine-hole game that can be played in 90-100 minutes. Let’s be quite clear - Foot Golf is NOT the answer.
We also need to relax some of the game’s draconian rules and traditions. Why can’t teenagers wear jeans on the course? Before the stuffed-shirt brigade start choking into their gin and tonics, they should know that it works perfectly well in France. Jeans do not equate to scruffiness. In fact, a decent pair costs a damn sight more than some of the Rupert Bear abominations we witness on our courses. Give the kids a break. And why should they have to wear polo tops with collars? What’s wrong with T-shirts? And, heaven forbid, trainers?
And let’s allow them to take their mobile phones on the course. They will take pictures while they are playing, and they will send them to friends and post them on social media - and that will help to spread the word.
Sadly, we are still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that will not last forever. When restrictions are finally lifted golf, clubs need to encourage their professionals to get into schools and talk to pupils about the joys of the game - and to show them how to play. Most schools still either have playing fields or have access to them - the perfect place to hit golf balls.
Show kids videos of the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Bryson DeChambeau at their very best. And tell them how much money these guys earn. Golf may not be seen as a “sexy” sport, but the potential earnings most certainly are.
Give EVERY boy and girl in the UK under the age of 16 the opportunity to have free membership (this already happens with council-owned tennis courts), free lessons and a rules and etiquette briefing. Not all of them will want to play in competitions but they do need to understand the rules.
Before anybody takes issue with me over this, I am not suggesting that we give them a free hand - there would be tee-time restrictions, but bear in mind that school-age children have plenty of holidays so would be playing midweek, when most courses are quiet anyway. And in term time they could play after finishing school for the day.
Clubs need to engage with youngsters in a way they understand - and that means getting to grips with Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. And when teenagers come into the clubhouse, provide them with a games room, somewhere they will want to spend some quality time with their friends. Clubs also need to identify individuals who can engage with juniors and make them feel that they are welcome and relevant. And that can’t be somebody in their 60s or 70s. It needs to be people who can actually relate to youngsters. Why not make this part and parcel of the assistant professional’s job description?
Club manufacturers also need to get on board by reducing the price of junior equipment - it is simply too expensive. £300 for a set of seven clubs cannot possibly be justified. And all manufacturers are guilty of charging too much. Cut costs now, get a boy or girl on board and the chances are that they will remain loyal to that brand for the rest of their lives. It is not rocket science.
This is an issue that exercised many of you during our August survey, as the comments below prove conclusively.
"Demographics getting older, not enough youngsters getting involved."
"I still believe golf clubs have outdated models that mean most clubs skew older in age. Clubs aren’t doing enough to encourage a more diverse age profile into their club. Also, not enough diversity in golf full stop which is a worry. The youngsters need more encouragement to play; seems they find the game very expensive and time consuming."
"Young people aren’t playing to the extent they once did. Golf is too expensive and takes too much time. This is not about slow play. The main issue is the obsession with 18-hole games and the tradition that all competitions must be 18 holes. If we wanted to promote a game which took less time - say two hours, - then we would focus more on nine-hole games. But the traditions within golf are too strong and the game will die before it recognises this."
"Numbers are falling. Money is disappearing. Golf clubs are poor at attracting juniors and women."
“Golf will die if new players (i.e. kids) aren't brought in. That doesn't mean abandoning rules and formats but welcoming kids and cutting them some slack with clothing and access. Free golf for juniors now means green fee-paying adults in the future."
"There’s always uncertainty for golf. Golf clubs still need to modernise and meet the demands of new younger golfers rather than going with the norm. We’re all paying customers after all. Older members are imperative to the club as their loyalty and memberships keep the courses alive - however listen to the younger members as they’re the future."
"Depends on those in authority making the game more attractive to the younger generation. The first step is to make the professionals play faster. They are role models for the younger people who could take up the game and those same younger people question why the pros take so long to play a shot. They don't want to spend up to five hours playing a game!"
"Clubs need to be more accessible to children, encouraging them to come and play from a very young age. I don't find any clubs inviting for children and there's still a snobbish culture in golf which needs to go. I've been playing golf on and off over 20 years and I still find those who have all the gear and no idea can have a bad attitude towards new players or players who don't spend as much on the gear. Regarding children, clubs should encourage them (at certain specified times) to come and play with parents and not be pressured by other golfers to speed up. Let them tee off, pick up and drop near the green, chip on and putt. Why not? They'll learn to love the game. Par 3 courses are generally in poor condition so there's no excuse of getting kids on those to experience a proper game.”
"Golf is too expensive for young players to participate, or parents to fund. Golf club membership is OK, but the increasing cost of clubs is prohibitive and one has to question whether the main manufacturers are actually profiteering. What 17-year-old can afford a set of woods costing £800+. This is clearly way overpriced; no driver is worth £400. If this trend is not reversed the game will die, left in the hands of 70+ aged Committee members."
While golf remains highly popular and naturally appealing to older people, can the game do more to connect with the next generation? Clearly, a significant number of golfers feel that the sport must become more dynamic and engaging in the future.
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)