Rubenstein: Where does golf industry go from here
Published on Friday, May. 24, 2013 09:43PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012 07:51PM EDT
The press conference to discuss the National Allied Golf Associations’ (NAGA) spanking new consumer behaviour study took place Wednesday at Golf Canada’s headquarters in Oakville, Ont. I participated, asked a couple of questions, and did what conscientious journalists do these days. I multi-tasked.
By that, I mean that I was listening to the news conference. I was checking Twitter. I was checking email, and sometimes replying to emails. Meanwhile, I was following a live blog of Apple’s introduction of its iPhone5. That news conference started at the same time as the NAGA call. Maybe this is why I can’t help but think about Apple and NAGA at the moment. They’re mixed up in my brain.
First, to the NAGA conference. I won’t discuss all the results from the sophisticated study and analysis. Navicom, a Markham, Ont. based market research company that tries to understand why people make the choices they do, conducted the study on behalf of NAGA. I previewed it here in advance of the call. Here is the study itself.
As I wrote, the word “engage” was going to be important. The study concluded that there are approximately 5.7 million Canadians who comprise an “effective population” of golfers, and a little more than a quarter are “engaged” in the game. You could translate this as meaning they are seriously “into” the game. They play a lot, they spend money on the game, and they get a lot out of it. It’s their thing, or one of their things. Hey, I’m a 60s kid, so that’s the language I’m using.
That leaves about 4.3 million Canadians who play some golf, but aren’t into it in nearly the same engaged way. Forget about growing the game for a minute. Forget about the reasons people give for not taking up the game, such as it takes too much time and costs too much. Navicom’s president John Pulley, who answered every question from the media in as straightforward a manner as possible, said that people don’t really know why they make decisions anyway.
Pulley’s point was that people use linear, logical thinking to explain why they do things - such as taking up golf, or, as participants, why they take lessons - if they do. But they provide their answers after the fact, that is, in a linear, and of necessity, backwards-looking manner. Pulley explained that science has demonstrated that people make decisions for non-linear reasons. As this applies to golfers, their attachments are emotional more than they are reasoned out.
The NAGA study used the latest, sophisticated scientific methods to tease out the authentic reasons people play golf. There’s no need here to go into the methods used to come up with statistics, rather than data. Pulley explained that data can generate answers for “who, what, where, and when,” but not “why.” For the “why,” complex scientific analyses that amalgamate answers to questions are required to produce what he called “a reconstruction of subconscious, non-linear processes.” Pulley referred to the use of eigenvectors, eigenvalues, n-dimensional spaces, and more.
The bottom line is that the industry needs to find ways to help golfers who are already emotionally connected to the game to stay that way. It also needs to develop and implement strategies to get the casual golfer and others who can but don’t play the game forge an emotional connection. That’s going to take creative, innovative approaches, never easy in a game as tradition-bound as golf. It will make some club pros, club managers, and others involved in the game uncomfortable. We’ll see whether the industry can unite to move golf forward in this razzle-dazzle, speeded-up, early 21st century.
Meanwhile, I want to point out two key pieces of information that the study generated and that I believe do not bode well for increased participation in the game. The first finding is that 17% of golfers today started the game when they were 6-11 years old. Only 7% of today’s golfers have a child in that age group who plays.
Additionally, 23% of today’s golfers took up the game when they were between 12 and 17, while only 9% of today’s players have a kid in that age group who plays.
The percentage of kids who have iPhones or any other smartphone is obviously much larger. Getting them into golf is a gigantic challenge; golf isn’t on their radar, or smartphones. I’m not sure the powers-that-be will be able to overcome the hurdles to getting kids into the game, to keeping them there if they do start, and to getting them “engaged.”
I hope I’m wrong. Certainly, NAGA’s members have to act, armed now with the results of a study that must have been expensive. Important programs such as National Golf in Schools, CN Future Links, Get Golf Ready, and Take a Kid to the Course are in place. But something is missing, because kids aren’t getting into golf and adults in the 46-59 year old age group are leaving it. More information on the numbers is available in the study.
The Navicom study effectively issues a stern challenge to NAGA members: Get Golfers Engaged (GGE). Call this a new, must-do program. I look forward to seeing how NAGA members plan to make this happen, and to another study a year or two from now to measure the results.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein