Bunker Mentality

How Golf is Buying Time to Grow

A study published by Microsoft Canada in 2015 claimed that the average millennial’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds. While many academics have questioned the validity of the study there is no doubt that the world is accelerating, and consumers’ demands for instant gratification are increasing.

Sports are under pressure to adapt and fit in with a faster paced way of life. In under two decades, cricket has shrunk its shortest format from 50 to 20 and now down to 10 over innings to accommodate the perceived attention-deficit amongst fans.

Rugby has seen attendances and viewing figures for its long-established short format sevens increase dramatically in the last few years, aided by its debut as an Olympic sport at Rio 2016. Broadcast in over 100 countries it now attracts an estimated audience of over 120 million consumers. The fast paced, high scoring, two-day competition format that focuses as much on in-stadia fan engagement as it does with the sport on the field is generating considerable traction as it continues its whistle stop tour of the world.

Perhaps the one sport that has proven utterly resistant to change when it comes to formats and duration is golf and it is arguably the sport facing the biggest challenges when it comes to participation and audience engagement.

The recent return of Tiger Woods prompted a spike in TV viewing figures that only served to draw attention to the sport’s declining broadcast reach and this is mirrored in the falling number of people playing the game.

And the possible resurgence of Tiger should not be allowed to camouflage the many challenges golf faces.

Whereas most sports have placed an increasing emphasis on becoming more inclusive to attract a more diverse audience, golf seems to take one step forward and two back in this regard, an issue exemplified by the ongoing controversies around female membership at some of the sport’s most prestigious clubs.

Cost too is a significant issue with a set of clubs and a membership at decent course leaving you up to a thousand pounds lighter.

But ultimately the issue facing golf is no different to that which cricket identified and nearly twenty years ago.

The sport needs to find new, shorter and more flexible formats to appeal to new audiences that have a shorter attention span and less inclination to invest time in learning the intricacies of the sport than golf fans of the past did.

Happily, it seems that golf’s governing bodies have been convinced of the need to breathe new life into the game with new formats and new, simplified rules to nurture a new breed of golfer.

New formats are emerging including GolfSixes which shortens the competition to a six-hole knockout tournament over two days keeps the action moving with every shot a make or break moment.

Events such as the Long Drive World Series is held under floodlights, tours around the world in exciting locations like Dubai, Mexico City and China, with muscled players introduced to pounding music and then asked to smash as many long drives as they can down the fairway in 3 minutes help position golf as a form of sports entertainment not just sporting tradition.

The success of these new formats or at the very least the increased engagement of a younger consumer has helped nudge the PGA and R&A to make changes to the more traditional form of the game played on tour.

The perennial problem of slow play is finally being tackled with the European Tour this year trialling a 40 second shot clock in a bid to speed up play. If even these incremental changes can have an impact, then golf’s chances of prospering in an increasingly fast paced world will be greatly improved.

Of course, resistance from the purists will be significant but nobody is talking about changing the formats of the major championships or the Ryder Cup. Yet…

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