All true golfers have heard a repertoire of inane comments about the game that cause their ears to bleed. Claims that golf isn’t a sport, dismissive scoffs at “golf-related fitness” (with John Daly as their favourite testimonial), or the average weekend golfer telling all those within earshot that he hits the ball “about 350”—one might say that these kinds of statements are par for the course. But beyond their aggravating nature, they all have one major common thread: an innocent lack of knowledge.
When it comes to social media, similar unjustified opinions come from the golf industry’s experts, who take on the role of unknowing amateur. And the parallels only start there.
Any adult who was exposed to golf in high definition from the comfort of a LazyBoy before making his or her inaugural trip to the practice tee will agree: golf is harder than it looks. With no moving target, no physical contact and—discounting the beer cart—very few distractions, golf should be simple enough for anyone with basic hand-eye coordination. But as all those who devote weeks of their year to improving the angle at which one small metal slab impacts the ground can attest, it just isn’t that simple.
Social media is no different. Sure, your grandparents have a Facebook account and your 12 year old niece has Instagram, but just like the country club members who play three times weekly without ever lowering their handicaps, having an account doesn’t equate to being successful.
Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in any given field to become an expert. While the number may still be up for debate, the 10,000-Hour Rule attempts to quantify the old adage “practice makes perfect”. And though it has long been established that perfection doesn’t apply to the game of golf, there is no doubt that proper practice makes better.
Many argue that “feel players”, or those less technically-minded, contradict golf’s contingency on practice. In fact, these kinaesthetically-adept athletes serve to further illustrate the power of practice. Sure, a feel player can pick up their lob wedge and feel out the swing required to stick their short-sided flop shot pin-high. But it isn’t without numerous memories, years of experience and the gradual (if not purposefully sought out) absorption of technical knowledge.
At some point, whether goofing off with skilled playing partners mid-round, or paying a premium for professional coaching, that feel player learned about bounce and club path, wrist angle and follow through, just as any truly competent social media user learns keyword density, hash tags, digital engagement practices and search engine optimization until they too become natural. And just like a grip change requires time to sink in and continued practice to sustain, social media too requires ongoing maintenance.
A large part of the problem in the golf industry’s disregard for social media (and arguably the industry’s general decline) is the perspective that as a game founded on tradition, golf serves as an escape from society with no place for technology. The fact that the average male handicap has improved by two strokes in the last 23 years, and the average female handicap by three, proves that technology is playing a drastic role in modern golfers’ enjoyment of the game. It’s about time industry experts took advantage.
Perhaps golf businesses hesitate to invest in valuable social media services because they don’t see relevance within their own industry. As a stereotyped “old man’s game”, how impactful can the incorporation of social media be in golf’s future?
In fact, there is an incredible opportunity to reach North America’s golf population by means of social media. Thirty-something’s account for 25% of the entire golfing population, the largest age group invested in the game, while 50% of all golfers are under the age of 40. The average age of today’s golfer is registered at 39; a figure that has barely shifted over the years (Source: Media Life Magazine) . It seems what needs to shift is an understanding of what golf’s target audience is doing when they aren’t practicing those menacing flop shots.
The average adult spends 3.2 hours engaging with social media every single day. If, for argument’s sake, those old boy’s club stereotypes rang true, social media’s pertinence would still be far greater than what is evidently assumed. Those aged 50-64 are spending 2.4 hours a day on various social media platforms. Americans aged 35-49, that same category that composes a quarter of the industry’s consumers, spend 3 hours a day on social media. (Source: Marketing Charts)
As the internet’s top form of activity, social media’s booming power is largely a matter of accessibility. In our ever-evolving interaction with the internet, web-browsing itself is no longer convenient enough to satisfy those digitally involved (read: anyone with a smart phone).
60% of social media time is spent on mobile devices; a fact that illustrates the fast-paced, on-the-go nature of today’s society (Source: Business Insider). Golf itself may be an escape from one’s hectic daily routine, but how are golf businesses reaching that dedicated clientele beyond their weekly 5-hour allotment, if not via smart technology?
2014 was the fifth consecutive year that recorded a declining golf population (Source: Business Insider). Unfortunately, professionals are left to merely speculate on the imperative ‘why’—and in a sport that relies on measurable results, no less.
The handicap system is fundamental to golf, giving players of all skill levels an equal ground on which to rank their ability. Training facilities invest upwards of $30,000 on TrackMan devices, or other detailed analysis systems, in order to carefully identify inefficiencies and measure improvements.
However, when it comes to the social engagement of this ultimately social sport, the emphasis on measurement is lost. With limited social media usage, the highly valuable data available through Google and social media analytics is as unreachable as a 450-yard par 4, with player retention consequentially proving to be equally unlikely.
If there is one thing the unique diversity of athletes and enthusiasts invested in golf can agree on, it’s the addictive nature of the game. Much like the rush you get from that one well-struck shot on your first trip to the range, that sweet clink of your first birdie putt finding the bottom of the cup, or the excitement that builds as you walk up the 18th on track to finally break 80, every social media success ropes you in further to its obsessive domain.
As soon as golf businesses start taking their own advice and seeking professional assistance on a subject beyond their expertise, they will begin to learn what thousands of amateur golfers have learned before them: the shots that they thought they were hitting 350 yards were really only going 220, and that leaves a whole lot of untapped potential.