Thursday, January 3, 2013

Golf’s Multi-Generational Marketing Efforts Suggest 7 Questions for Associations

As 78 million Millenials (aka Gen Y or Digital Natives) come of age, some professional associations are watching and wondering what to do while others are embracing generational differences.
  • In a guest post last February 19, Jim Nagel outlined the generational issues decimating most service organizations and/or monthly lunch clubs (chapters). 
  • Sarah Sladek’s The End of Membership as We Know It also provides valuable information about associations and the coming wave of Generation Y (aka Millenials). 
Because of its multi-generational appeal, golf’s three major initiatives serve as a case study for associations representing other industries and professions. In addition to trying to engage millenials, golf hopes to engage or re-engage retiring Boomers. 

"There are few people in the game more traditional than I am, but I recognized long ago that our game needs change,” golfing legend Jack Nicklaus has said. “We have been a sport that, historically, has been slow to change and adapt. Creativity, innovation, and a willingness—if not passion—for trying new things are paramount for change."

Slow to change and adapt? That could describe many associations too.

Golf’s challenges

The number of annual rounds played in the U.S. fell from 518 million to 475 million in the past decade and it declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2011. The number of players peaked at 30 million in 2005 and has been sliding since, to 26.1 million golfers in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers were available. 
The research suggests four major reasons for the decline:
  1. Takes too much time to play ... 6 or more hours if you count travel time.
  2. Aging players (retiring Boomers) can’t hit as far as they once did. As a result, play is slower, scores higher and game more frustrating.
  3. No true “youth feeder system” as youth have to learn with adult-sized equipment on adult-sized courses unlike basketball, football and baseball which accommodate young players.
  4. Not a “neighborhood game” or team sport and Millenials love doing stuff together.
Here is a summary of the three golf initiatives designed to increase golf playing in the U.S.:


So, I read with interest last month’s Wall Street Journal story titled “Jack Nicklaus’s Plan to Snag the Kids.”

"Today, kids start playing athletics when they are as young as 4 or 5 years old, and by the time they are just 7, 8 or 9 years old, many of them have picked their two or three sports," Nicklaus said.
I love the partnership created to bring golf to younger kids. The partners include:
  • Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus won more major golf tournaments than any other golfer in history. Then, he built Jack Nicklaus Design as one of the premier golf course design companies. 
  • National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) ... NRPA members offer space for the golf courses. And, a way to get more people coming to NRPA parks and recreational areas.
  • Starting New At Golf (SNAG). SNAG® Golf has built a learning system and age-appropriate equipment and programming to effectively teach the game of golf to people of all ages and ability levels. Here’s WSJ video interview with SNAG co-founder Terry Anton explaining that SNAG is in the educatainment business as well as helping “snag” youngsters for the game of golf.
Their strategy involves creating “Nicklaus Leagues” for youngsters that will build on a two-year NRPA pilot program in 15 cities. For 5- and 6-year-olds in the Nicklaus Leagues, the emphasis will be on whacking the ball around, having fun with snacks essential. Seven- and 8-year-olds will get more instruction and compete with partners in best-ball format against other teams. Nine- and 10-year-olds will use slightly smaller, Super SNAG clubs and balls and compete as a team with stroke-play scoring. 


A GolfWeek story outlines Golf 2.0, a joint initiative of the Professional Golf Association and the U.S. Golf Association.

Golf 2.0 aims to retain core golfers, re-engage those who have left and create new players. It plans to achieve these goals by tailoring messages and delivering customized programs to each of nine consumer groups identified by the Boston Consulting Group, which the PGA retained to help develop Golf 2.0. These groups represent a broad demographic such as: core golfers; occasional men and women golfers with no children; “lapsed” or former golfers, including men, women, retirees and parents; children; and Latinos familiar with the game.


The First Tee program focuses on using golf for health and positive youth development. Fittingly, it offers nine core values and nine healthy habits. It says it has reached 6.7 million youth since it started in 1997. Part of The First Tee program also focuses on getting more minority youth to take up golf.

So, where does your association stand in terms of looking ahead to the impact of 78+ million millenials not just on your membership but also on your profession or industry.


  1. Will Millennials continue engaging in your profession or industry at the same rate as Boomers? 
  2. What types of programs/services will appeal to the 78 million up and coming Millenials? Remember: Millenials have a big interest in supporting causes.
  3. What will Boomers do when they retire that will impact your industry or profession? 
  4. What types of programs/services will appeal to retiring Boomers ... estimated to reach 78 million in the next 10 years? (1 Boomer turns 65 every 8 seconds).
  5. Can you develop a program or service that helps the greater good while boosting your industry or profession? Note how The First Tee program appeals to health and youth development while advancing golf.
  6. Can your program appeal to companies and celebrities who will support it? See how golf reached out to NRPA; The PGA and USGA appealed to Jack Nicklaus; and The First Tee got sponsorships from major companies (such as Shell and Johnson & Johnson) and participation with elementary schools.
  7. How will you track and celebrate success? The First Tee measures participants and volunteers and has established an aggressive goal. SNAG has established a goal for the number of leagues/teams. Golf 2.0 has established nine target audiences and specific objectives for each.


  1. Steve -- great points, but the thing that jumped out at me is something that I thought associations 2.0 were supposed to do -- collaborate. Why so many programs? Does SNAG do something First Tee doesn't do? Or is it targeted at different people -- like the Cal Ripken league vs Little League? It is interesting that the PGA and USGA were founders of First Tee, but now have a different program. The PGA and USGA are also founding partners of Play Golf America. While going after people in many age groups and bringing them to the game is great, It seems, at least superficially, that there are just too many golf organizations and too many different interests. Think of the power of collaboration if all were behind just one or two initiatives.

  2. Great points Donna. I remember thinking about the multiple program approach. Some is because of difference audiences but still not sure that is enough to justify the apparent lack of collaboration. I'm working on another look at this so will see if I can probe the collaborative approach.