How golf uses technology to grow the excitement and appeal of the game was one of the hot topics at this year’s KPMG Golf Business Forum staged in St Andrews, Scotland, 3-5 June.
Hosted at The Fairmont St Andrews Hotel and supported by Visit Scotland, Scottish Development International and Fife Council, with the assistance of Golf Tourism Scotland, the Golf Business Forum brought together over 250 delegates including leading brands, developers and world-class golf and leisure operators from more than 30 countries.
Among the many subjects covered, delegates heard how technology is helping other sports to engage more deeply with audiences and how golf, driven by the professional game, has an opportunity to grow by embracing new technologies.
Talking in the first session, ‘The Boardroom’, Marc Player, CEO of Black Knight International, said: “The pace of change is not fast enough in golf. Technology allows us to communicate instantly with audiences around the world and this gives the professional game an opportunity to become more entertaining, fun and sexy – that is what we need in golf. We have to embrace technology, and bring a bigger fan base to the game.”
Also taking part in the session, Andrea Sartori, Head of KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice, added: “Using the professional game as an example, I see no reason why you could not interview players during the round, or even get some on-course insights from the caddies? Golf needs to become entertaining to watch, and can learn a lot from sports like professional football where players are now interviewed at half time. Golf has a real opportunity to enhance its viewing experience.”
Panel member, George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, commented: “We are constantly looking at ways of enhancing the experience of watching professional golf and have tested various things in recent years. We have to be very careful about introducing different elements during the intensity of competitive play but are always open to ideas that make the proposition richer, as long as it maintains the integrity of the game.”
In one of the other key sessions, ‘Technology: the future is not what it used to be’, delegates heard from Chris Burton, Head of Global Sponsorship for SAP, an organization that has created technology partnerships with a host of sports, including NBA basketball and NFL American Football.
Chris said: “As a company we’ve not invested in golf because there has not been a credible route to connect all the dots, beyond direct sponsorship. But imagine how technology – sensors in golf clubs or even a chip inside the golf ball – could transform how people watch and interact with the professional game.
“I think golf has a long way to go. Everyone understands there is an issue but there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to act. We all accept it, but we don’t seem to move the needle. If we can work together we can make one little step to make golf a bit better. You have to put your toe in the water. I love golf and I love the traditions, we have to respect that, but technology can help the golf fan have the best day of their life.”
Also discussed at this year’s Golf Business Forum:
Scotland in Focus
During a compelling session that started with the launch of KPMG’s ‘Value of Golf to Scotland’s Economy’ report, commissioned by the Scottish Golf Union in conjunction with VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise, (downloadable from www.golfbusinesscommunity.com), it brought together key figures in Scottish golf to debate current opportunities for its £1 billion golf industry.
Stewart Walker, Director of Golf Tourism Scotland, said: “The report highlights the importance of golf as an industry in Scotland, and yet we have been complacent in identifying golf as our unique selling point. We’ve got to use the ‘Home of Golf’ as our consistent message.”
Peter Lederer, Chairman of Gleneagles Hotels, echoed Stewart’s thoughts, adding: “We must not take Scotland and its golf for granted. Great brands are always very consistent, and Scotland has to be looking to improve and always offer a great experience. On the whole we get that right, the customer enjoys Scotland, but there are 180 other countries involved in tourism, desperate for the same market, so we cannot stand still. We must keep momentum up and keep polishing our brand.”
Hamish Grey, Chief Executive of the Scottish Golf Union, said: “The key to growing golf in Scotland is getting the businesses, the clubs, right first and then we are more likely to get the visitor experience right, and get customers having fun and then coming back for more. The pressures in the wider economy have forced golf to look at the business from a customer’s perspective and we are now seeing positive evidence of change in the Scottish golf industry.”
Global Trends Affecting Golf Development – travel and tourism
Delegates were shown statistics that illustrate a predicted global growth in middle class society over the next 30 years and how this would create a travel and tourism opportunity for golf. A growing middle class will create consumer curiosity towards developing areas of the world, and as these areas become safer and more accessible, they will create viable travel and tourism destinations, and a real opportunity for golf development.
Panellist, David DeSmith, Director of Marketing at Southworth Development, commented: “In a successful, emerging development of the future you will be selling memories. Having a great hotel, good food and excellent service will be a given. What will make new tourist destinations work will be the interactions visitors have while they are there.
“For future golf developments to succeed they need to move from an old one-way transactional relationship to one that is friendship based and emotional. Golf development owners have to make visits more personally nourishing – the emotional response from customers is the one that will trigger people to return.”
The subject of sustainability also figured highly in many discussions at the Golf Business Forum, with the Golf Environment Organization’s Director of Programmes, Kelli Jerome, participating in the ‘Global Trends’ debate.
She added: “Golf has a major opportunity to show that it can construct courses for much less money, have them working efficiently with what is naturally on the site, and then operate them efficiently too. Golf has to ask itself how do you create a more sustainable development and how does it enhance society? A lot of the issues faced by the industry are perception problems, but if we are going to come under pressure from the rising cost of resources, we need to address the issues.”
Game Changers: Shaping the Future of Golf
The final session of the Golf Business Forum welcomed industry heavyweights to the stage to debate current issues influencing the game, the growth of the Asian golf market, how golf needs to change, and its inclusion in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
On the Asian market…
David Withers, President of Jacobsen Textron: “Golf’s centre of gravity is shifting. America has always dominated and is still the dominant force in world golf, but we are witnessing growth in the Asian market. The issue for the West is that we need to grow the game, but in China it is very different, they are at the beginning. Where middle classes develop, we will see more and more golf courses for the masses in China.”
On golf in The Olympic Games…
Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the R&A: “It was made clear to us at the bidding stage that golf in the Olympics had to be an event for the game’s top professionals. It was very important that the top layers of the game supported the bid, which they did, and the players all made it clear that a 72-hole Strokeplay format was right. That is what has been proposed and accepted. Technically, this is still an open point until the end of the year.”
On sponsorship in golf…
Giles Morgan, HSBC’s Global Head of Sponsorship and Events: “I don’t think golf has a reputational problem, but it does have to monitor its reputation all the time. We choose to sponsor events in golf rather than players, as we see individuals as too much of a risk.”
Introducing ‘Silver Surfers’ to golf…
Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A: “There is just as much potential to bring older people in, or back, to golf to boost numbers as there is to introduce young people to the sport. I don’t regard it as a bad thing to get older people playing golf. I can’t pretend I have a formula to do it, but clubs are under pressure to get members, and thinking differently in areas such as this is an option.”
Golf’s next big star…
Guy Kinnings, IMG Global Head of Golf: “What a star player can do to bring a country of potential new golfers to the game is incredible. If we take the Asia region as an example, TV revenues from golf have been growing rapidly and if this interest brings hundreds of millions of new ‘eye balls’ to the game, that can only be good. I am also convinced the next huge golf superstar will almost certainly come from Asia.”
Lifetime Achievement Awards
The Golf Business Forum also recognised two great leaders in the professional game, awarding both George O’Grady CBE, Chief Executive of The European Tour, and Tim Finchem, PGA TOUR Commissioner, with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their services to golf.
Receiving his award, George O’Grady, said: “To be recognised here in Scotland is very special. I’m very humbled – it is hard to believe I have been in the game for 40 years.”
Tim Finchem added: “My award is a recognition for our team, our players, our sponsors and our tournaments on the PGA TOUR. If you stand back and look at pro golf today, it is as healthy as it has ever been, the globe is getting smaller and we are all working together for the good of the game.”
The Golf Business Forum also heard from some greats, including five-time Open Champion, Peter Thomson, former Secretary of the R&A, Sir Michael Bonallack, and one of Europe’s finest golfers Colin Montgomerie, who joined the panel session discussing golf in Scotland.
Golf Business Forum www.golfbusinessforum.com