Is the Internet Killing Golf or is it Digital Darwinism?

Last month I read a very interesting post from Rory Hughes called The Internet is Killing Golf.  Originally published in Golf Chicago Magazine, the article is well written and presents a compelling argument.

But after working in industries that have  been digitally disrupted, I have come to realize that the problem with golf is not the Internet, it’s Digital Darwinism.

Coined by Brian Solis, author, speaker and principal analyst at Altimeter Group…

Digital Darwinism is the phenomenon when technology and society evolve faster than an organization can adapt.

digital dawinism
Source: Hamill Associates Ltd – TGI Golf Conference 2014

The leaders in the golf industry suffer from this affliction, not because they aren’t intellectually intelligent, but because they lack the Social IQ needed to thrive in today’s  constantly connected, socially-centric world.

Golf is not alone

Golf isn’t the only industry feeling the growing pains that come with disruption.  Video and music were similarly disrupted, forcing them to modify the business models and pricing to survive.

music industry

music revenues

In the video industry, survival of the swiftest saw Netflix cannibalize its own DVD rental industry and move into streaming video.  Blockbuster was late to that party and we all know how that ended.

Netflix versus Blockbuster

Today Netflix has over 65 million subscribers and is the largest TV/movie subscription service in the US.

Sadly the publishing industry is still living in the dark ages and paying dearly for it, refusing to recognize that the gold old days of print advertising revenues are a thing of the past.

Newspaper industry revenues

They have yet to learn from the hard lessons of the music and video industries, holding on to traditions that are becoming less and less relevant with constantly-connected consumers.

Reinvent to revitalize

The Internet isn’t killing golf any more than it killed music, video or journalism. Businesses quick to capitalize on disruption and reinvent themselves (e.g. Netflix) by giving people want they want – convenience at the right price – are reaping the rewards.

Meanwhile those holding on to the past and its traditions (e.g. publishing and golf) are paralyzed by what businessman and author, Clayton Christensen, coined “The Innovator’s Dilemma“.

It’s a common crisis whereby the favourites of one era can quickly become the underdogs of the next because they can’t see beyond serving the needs of their existing target market to innovate for the future. Instead they look for easy answers and delude themselves into believing that what worked in the past will continue to work in the future – they just need to weather out the storm.  Sadly, this mindset has been proven again and again to be a recipe for disaster.

The only winners in this scenario are those who embrace disruption by investing in innovations that will revolutionize their industries.  The last thing the golf industry wants to do is revolutionize itself beyond the millions spent in equipment and ball design every year – investments that have proven to do little to help improve the handicap of the average golfer.

Business models, tee sheets and target markets haven’t changed much in the last century. According to the National Golf Foundation:

  • A golfer is defined as anyone having played an 18-hole round in the last 12-months
  • Golfing population in the U.S. = 29,000,000
  • Golfers comprise approximately 9.6% of the general population
  • 77.5% are male – 22.5% are female
  • The average age is 46
  • 68% of golfers are married
  • 67% attended and/or graduated college
  • 50% are employed in a white collar occupation
  • 90%+ Use the internet on a regular basis

Efforts to cater beyond this dying breed (of which I am one) are rare, except for a few forward-thinking golf executives who understand that the times, they are a-changing and golf needs to change to keep with the times.

There will always be room for traditional golf in this world, just as vinyl records are still popular with a small, discerning niche market that values nostalgia and superior sound.

But the new masses (millennials and Gen Zs) are not going to flock to an over-priced, inconvenient and non-inclusive sport just as they refuse to pay for a whole album when all they wanted is one song.

the other side of fearIf I had a wish for 2016, it would be that the golf industry would start to think and act like a start up, seize what’s on the other side of fear, and reinvent itself.

There is still time to turn things around, but that time is of the essence.  Or as author Ray Wang once said, “Digital Darwinism is unkind to those who wait.”


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  1. Interesting.. ya cant argue that.. golf sure is viral in internet.. what is not?.. internet major advantage and disadvantage here yes even for sports too..

  2. Interesting post, as was the Hughes article. Both take interesting angles on the lack of youth engagement with our sport. What I am curious about is whether children, teenagers and young adults were ever in love with golf. It would be interesting to see the “golf adoption rate” of young people to see if it has grown, shrank or stayed the same over the decades.

    What I think we are facing is more the effects of the tidal wave aging of America. The baby boom is aging out and there wasn’t a replacement generation behind them of equal size. So the pie in terms of potential golfers is getting smaller and that issue is not going to change. Unfortunately the golf industry was built for the peak size of the baby boom and is going to have to consolidate as folks retire their clubs.

    Ultimately with a smaller pie, golf is going to have to innovate and hope that the current onslaught of young tournament winners catches the eye of the current and next generation.

  3. Interesting comparison between golf and the music/video industry. it is sad though, that the new masses are not picking up the beautiful game of golf. We can only wait and hope.

  4. Golf is definitely on the decline, people are spending less time outside and more time inside on their phones,tablets and computers watching Netflix. The expensive costs of golf also with the amount of time required to play a full round is also a reason why people don’t play golf.

    If the golf industry can change and appeal to the youth the decline will stop.

    I believe golf should not always be 18 holes and also speed of play should be better. I like the golf board making its way onto the course making it easy to move around the course and increase pace of play.

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