The NGF recently released a study saying that 56 million people in the U.S. play video game golf, 45.5 million of whom are non-golfers. That’s an amazing stat in my opinion.
First, I’m surprised that 39% of actual golfers (26.1mm) are also golf gamers (10.2mm). Given the perception of the golf industry, I find that data interesting in a good way.
More importantly, the fact that 39mm people who have "never played golf" are hitting the links on their big screen shows that a lot of people are interested in playing the game. Unfortunately it's just not in the way that we as an industry want or need. Concepts like the Chicken Stick and games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf are moving the needle by making the experience remarkebly real-life in the comfort and convenience of one's family room.
Visit a TGA Premier Junior Golf Class and you'll hear almost all of our elementary and middle school students say that they’ve played golf before – miniature or “putt putt” golf, that is. Almost all of the hands go down when students are asked if they’ve ever been on a golf course or to a driving range.
Then consider that TV ratings have skyrocketed in the last 10 years. Thursday's record-breaking Ryder Cup viewership is the latest example of this. More people are watching the game now than ever before.
For me, all of this adds up to an important message – people are interested in the game of golf. A lot of people are interested. And that interest is growing. This makes me optimistic.
But that interest isn’t translating into rounds at the golf course where participation is down 13% over the last five years. People say that time and cost are the hurdles keeping them away.
For golf entrepreneurs, I believe that figuring out this dilemma is the biggest opportunity in the industry. It is also the most important conundrum facing the health of the game. Perhaps we’ll simply follow the cycle of the economy. But I think it requires a fundamental shift in how we think about the game.
I believe that the 18 hole round will always be the backbone of golf. But perhaps, as an industry, we need to look at an 18 hole round as one way, not the only way, to enjoy the game. The 46 million non-golfing gamers are telling us we should. We as an industry need to embrace this, innovate around it and find ways to monetize the opportunities.