As with many other activities, those who foster and promote the game of golf are constantly seeking ways to increase participation, especially in an era when time and cost are high priorities among consumers.
For leading golf organizations, including the USGA, the conversation has centered on finding avenues to achieve these goals.
The 5th Golf Innovation Symposium, presented by Cisco and held in Tokyo last month, reinforced these issues while at the same time bringing to light some solutions through research and metrics.
One possibility moving forward: simulators and short courses – both in yardage and number of holes – are acceptable alternatives that make golf more inclusive and welcoming to newcomers. Even Topgolf, family-oriented facilities where players of all skill levels hit golf balls to specified targets, has proven to be another way to introduce the game in a non-traditional setting.
Why? Because today’s consumers are vastly different from those of a decade – or half-century – ago.
In a world often defined by 280 characters or fewer, with attention spans not lasting longer than a 10-foot putt, the game can be perceived as too slow. Given that 18-hole rounds can take four-plus hours to complete, interest for the non-traditionalist can wane.
This is true for many sports, which is why efforts are being made to speed things up.
Just look at how golf has recently evolved. Eighteen-hole playoffs at major championships have been eliminated in favor of shorter formats. And even golf’s most sacred statutes – the Rules – underwent a major overhaul in 2019 to simplify the game.
It’s why some of golf’s influencers have argued for alternatives.
Eighteen-time major champion Jack Nicklaus has advocated for six-hole golf. The USGA has promoted its Play9 initiative.
The French Golf Federation spearheaded an effort to construct 100 short-course facilities over the past 11 years. By providing a welcoming atmosphere and good value, these facilities recorded more than 80,000 “licensed” golfers in 10 years, more than 17,000 of whom were new golfers.
Many facilities in the U.S. have constructed short courses as a way for youths, families and novice players to enjoy the game without the intimidation of playing a regular layout. Most are par-3 courses that require only a handful of clubs and take far less time to play than a traditional course. And most are nine-hole layouts.
In the Republic of Korea, where the game’s popularity has exploded since Se Ri Pak claimed the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open title, simulators have become one of the fastest growing segments in the game. Because of the extreme costs to join a private facility, many aspiring players in this golf-crazed region have turned to simulators to enjoy the game. According to GOLFZON, which has installed more than 5,700 simulators in Korea, nearly 80 percent of “screen golf” participants have played golf on a green-grass course.
Simulators also enable someone to play a great course in a short amount of time.