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November 2017

Brave New World

brandnewworld.jpg‭Golf is constantly evolving. That much is certain. The direction in which the centuries-old sport fluctuates and develops changes by the day.

But for now, one thing remains clear: The immediate future is trending online. No, the 18 pristine holes on your golf course aren’t in any imminent danger. But how your customer gets there, and what they do while they’re out there, is happening thanks in part to the digital space.

“User experience from the first moment you touch the person has to be easy,” says Jeff Gerttula, senior vice president and general manager of CBS Sports Digital. “It has to be mobile. If it’s not on their phone, you’re not where their eyeballs are. If you think a young audience is picking up the phone to call, it’s not happening.”

That’s the existential challenge facing every industry right now. Recent National Golf Foundation data revealed that in 2016, 6.3 million golfers between the ages of 18 and 34 played more than 93 million rounds of golf annually. Retaining that demographic—and attracting more of it—will be essential to the long-term health of the sport.

“There’s a revolution coming in the next three or four years,” posits Maury Gallagher, CEO of Allegiant Travel Company and advisor to golf software company Teesnap. “ … We need to track that new customer. The younger group is coming, and I think they’re coming to golf.”

How that next generation is reached is up for debate. There’s any number of ways to approach it.

Take Greg Norman, for instance. The former top-ranked golfer has partnered with Verizon, and on November 1—after this magazine’s publication—the two will unveil an announcement that The Shark promises will bring innovation and technology to the game. The goal, he says, will be to grow the sport and attract new and younger players. “We want to bring millennials and Gen Z back,” he says.

Though the details of his grand vision are still under wraps, Norman isn’t quite as shy when it comes to discussing how the golf industry must approach its next wave of players. He’d like to see a cashless experience—no different than at a theme park—and a golf course connected to an array of platforms that can make the visit simpler for a visitor.
“Everyone is connected to something someway, somehow. If you’re connected, you’re going to make it a lot easier for people.”

And, lest we forget, a significant social media presence. “There’s no better feeling that connecting with your fan base,” Norman believes. “We can get back to them by being involved on social media.”

The digital world is already paying dividends at places like the USGA, which has seen a dramatic increase in mobile postings to its Golf Handicap and Information Network (GHIN) app since debuting in 2012. Though rounds posted have remained static around 50 million per year, the combination of mobile and digital postings recently reached 50 percent of the association’s total score postings.

“This tells me people want to engage the game with digital tools,” explains USGA CIO Andy Rhodes. “That’s the delta now—to leverage digital tools to engage with our golfers.”

The same can be said at the PGA Tour, where exploding metrics on and on its social media channels have led to an increase in overall viewership. Gone are the days of the antiquated no-phones-allowed policy at Tour events. Now, fans are helping produce content of their own.

“For a while, we prevented phones and discouraged photography,” recalls Lance Stover, who leads New Ventures for the PGA Tour. “Now we’re encouraging that. We’re seeing great stories circulate now.”

—Chris Cox



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