Are golf initiatives and marketing strategies alienating a core segment of the golf market?

It’s safe to say that established, older, golf club members have a very bad reputation – they’re depicted as unwavering in their views, unwilling to change and unwelcoming to new members. Like the perceived image of golf to a non-golfer, this perceived image of a typical golf club member is stuck in our minds whenever discussions around golf club membership arise.

I don’t believe it’s fair to label every member over a certain age as being unable or unwilling to change. It could even be said that in the golf industry’s quest to build a younger audience, have we forgotten to take into consideration the very people who play an integral part in the sport?

Driving younger people into the game

The drive in recent years, with multiple initiatives, has been to change the perception of golf, break down barriers and make it more accessible. I remember seeing a preview of England Golf’s re-launch of the Get into Golf campaign in 2018 and nearly falling off my chair…it wasn’t the golf I knew and definitely didn’t depict the golf that new golfers were going to find.

In a very short space of time, we’ve expected golf clubs to conform to these new ideals, the golf that is portrayed on Instagram, young, vibrant and playing in leggings. None of which is necessarily an issue but, in some cases, it has totally alienated a core segment of golf clubs and they have been vilified by many who do not want to listen or accept their point of view. I mean, why would we, they’re not the future of golf.

The villain at the golf club

If there were to be a story written about golf, you can guarantee that the villain would be played by a middle-aged, white, man – they’d most likely be wearing corduroy trousers, a white polo and the golf club’s branded sweater. There are female equivalents – just not as many of them to play the role.

I’m not going to deny that these villainous golfers don’t exist but like the perceived image of golf, there’s probably far fewer of them at golf clubs than many would have us believe. We also tend to forget what these older members have contributed to the club over their many years of membership – not only from a financial point of view but in their time, with many taking on voluntary committee roles. These positions are often not filled by younger members and are thought of as roles for them as most are retired and “need something to keep them busy".

Now we add in a global pandemic and the makeup at a lot of golf clubs has changed completely. The average age of golfers fell by five years to 41-years-old. With that in mind, it could be argued that older members should just put up and shut up…

I only half jest here as that’s the message that we send out when we keep rolling our eyes and commenting on how out of touch baby boomers are with the millennials and gen Z’s of the day. I’m in my thirties so I can’t imagine what it must feel like for those who are in an older age category who are slowly being made to feel like they don’t belong and that their views don’t matter.

Marketing that doesn't resonate

Even when it comes to clubs and clothing, it’s all marketed to a young audience. They look at golf clothing and equipment and none of it resonates with them, they’re not marketed to, very rarely do you see a seniors equipment advert and the latest Spring/Summer skort is normally modelled on a 20-year-old size 8, definitely not someone who looks like them.

I know there will be golf clubs out there that have managed to find the right balance, to make everyone feel welcome. I’m also not denying that there are things that need to change at some golf clubs, I highlighted more clubs having a flexible membership approach a couple of weeks ago.

In our strive to bring in younger golfers we should not discount the older members in our golf clubs, a member should be a member, regardless of their age and each should be valued for what they bring to the golf club community.

Do you feel welcome in your golf club and feel that your views are listened to? Drop me an email and let me know your thoughts on this article.