The Opportunity to #MakeGolfCool for Generations to Come
By Steve Skinner, Chief Executive Officer, KemperSports
I have worked in the golf business for nearly 30 years, and I can’t remember a more exciting time for the sport. While the increase in golf participation has been well documented and widely celebrated across the industry over the last three years, my excitement extends beyond those numbers and focuses on who is taking up the game and how we’re evolving to attract and welcome these newcomers to the game.
According to the National Golf Foundation’s (NGF) 2023 Graffis Report, the demographic cohorts with the most significant on-course participation growth since 2020 include youth (+36%), Black (+34%), Hispanic (+21%) and women (+15%) players. And perhaps a surprise to some, young adults comprise the largest on-course participant group of all age segments, with 6.2 million golfers between the ages of 18 and 34. Simply put: golf is becoming increasingly diverse and younger as participation climbs to record levels.
Source: 2023 National Golf Foundation Graffis Report
While we are reinvigorated by the opportunity this growth presents, it has required the industry to continue to innovate and reimagine how the game is being presented to young golfers to keep them coming back again and again. From my experience meeting with our general managers and golf professionals and speaking to other leaders in the industry, it is clear that everyone wants to be part of that process and solution.
For years, we at KemperSports have been working as a team and with the communities in which we operate to make golf more accessible and more fun. We were living off the baby boomers for a long time, but now as the numbers show, it’s young people who are making their presence felt and shaping the future of the sport. Tiger Woods breathed new life and interest into the game back in the 1990s, but what we are seeing today looks and feels a lot more like a grassroots movement. And for a community-centered company like us, that offers a lot of opportunity to try new things and push the envelope.
PGA Jr. League at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
Unquestionably, the pandemic was a major contributor to golf’s record resurgence and helped spur newcomers to give the game a try and players of the past to return to the course. And when they did, they discovered all the great things most of us in the industry had long known and believed about golf. Since then, we’ve begun to lean into the new preferences of these players and made the shift to focus on making the game as fun and enjoyable as possible.
Frankly, if all this had happened 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have been ready for it. The game has centuries-old traditions, and we probably would have reverted to what we had always done and known of the traditional 18-hole round, no music and strict dress codes. Now, we’re responding to the marketplace by creating a more welcoming and relaxed golf experience. You don’t have to look or dress a certain way; you can play music on the course and a round of golf doesn’t necessarily mean 18 holes and a par of 72 anymore. What is most important now is that you come out and have fun.
Six-Hole Alderwood Course at Colwood Golf Center in Portland, Ore.
Our belief is that for more meaningful and continued growth to take place, it must take place at the local level. In the last three years, we’ve made a concerted effort on enhancing the overall golf experience one facility at a time, one golfer at a time. As a leader for player development, we’ve taken that approach to our instruction efforts where we’re combining skill development with the social aspect of the game. Through our golfer surveys, we’ve learned that this was one of the best ways to retain players who are new to the game as it allows them to feel more comfortable and confident, which in turn helps them develop a deeper appreciation for the sport and heightens their motivation to keep playing.
KemperSports Community Advisor for the #MakeGolfCool Initiative Roger Steele helps a Chicago Public Schools clinic participant at Harborside International Golf Center (Chicago, IL.) during the first-ever KemperSports Youth Golf Week.
Earlier this year, we proudly teamed up with Roger Steele in the name of youth golf through a shared vision of making the sport more welcoming and accessible for young players nationwide. As passionate about golf as anyone I ever met, Roger serves as our official community advisor overseeing the #MakeGolfCool initiative, and our partnership with him represents our latest effort to attract young players to the game of golf and inspire a love and passion for the sport that will create new opportunities to help them grow.
Roger was instrumental in spearheading our first-ever KemperSports Youth Golf Week back in July. Throughout the week, KemperSports properties celebrated by offering discounted greens fees, youth golf clinics, special giveaways, instructional events, contests and more for young players (through age 16), and we had thousands of kids participate nationwide. With the help of Roger and our staff of grassroots golf ambassadors across the country, Youth Golf Week will become an annual initiative to introduce generations of young people to this great game.
There’s no question that golf is currently enjoying and benefiting from its moment in the sun. But as we’ve learned from the past, these moments can often come as fast as they go, so we must continue to prioritize our collective grow-the-game efforts and seek out opportunities to help people fall in love with the game. If we can do that by combining innovation and tradition with a heightened level of passion, agility, and creativity, together we can impact the game of golf for generations to come.
To learn more about how KemperSports is growing the game and ways you can #MakeGolfCool, visit kempersports.com/growthegame.
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