Golf industry executives, tour officials, sponsors and decision makers attending the 2016 HSBC Golf Business Forum have vowed to grasp the opportunities and new momentum created in the game during 2016 to increase the popularity of the worldwide. The overwhelming outlook was one of optimism and excitement for lies ahead in 2017 following a watershed year in 2016.
Much has been made of golf’s declining figures in many of the game’s heartlands. But the consensus from those in attendance is that the sport has undergone a quiet revolution characterised by greater international collaboration amongst the industry, the introduction of new formats, greater attention to youth development and greater focus on digital technologies.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said: “Anything that is golf related that young people can use to connect to the game is positive. It doesn’t matter what it is. The idea that young people aren’t interested in the game is just nonsense. Look at the growth in those trying the game for the first time. It can be anything from three-holes to Topgolf, the format doesn’t really matter.
“There is a sea change. We have a new generation of players at the top of the sport and players who want to contribute and connect more with their fans. Players today are more attuned to and capable of using social media to reach people in big numbers. So the sport is in a very healthy position and going to thrive in the years ahead.”
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan added: “There was a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the game. But if you wanted to summarize where golf is now in 2016 in three words. ‘Global youth movement.’ These three words are inarguable. It’s not just happening here, women are joining golf all over the world. The youth that are driving our sport is a movement and driving the way we make decisions about the way we do our jobs. That didn’t happen overnight. It’s the outcome of being open to change and doing the right things for many years already.”
Much of the reason for the positive outlook was down to the phenomenal success and global impact of golf’s return to the Olympic family in Rio with leaders believing even more can be made of the Olympic opportunity in 2020.
Anthony Scanlon, International Golf Federation Executive Director, said: “Golf at the Olympics was one of the great comeback stories of the year because the players embraced it. There is no other opportunity to showcase this sport to a global audience that the Olympics delivers for the game of golf. I know of no other initiative that causes hundreds of countries to invest in the future of the game of golf for both men and women. Only the Olympics can achieve this movement globally.
Scanlon reflected that 70% of those watching golf at the Olympics had never watched golf before.
He added: “That’s hopefully 70% new fans. New people we can talk to and get into the game. Already we’re seeing triple digit in junior development in China for golf. The number of programs that are increasing is in the hundreds.”
Looking ahead to Tokyo in 2020 a panel including Mike Davis, Executive Director USGA said; “I think a lot of people that had questions about the sport of golf and no doubt the IOC had some of those. When you look back at it, the golf course performed well, the players loved it and Rio did a good job of hosting. Now, more than ever, the players want to make the Olympics a bigger deal in the future. Those of us on the IGF are thinking that if we can expand, that means more countries will participate and more fans are watching, which in turn, grows the game.”
Whan added to the call for making even more out of the Olympic opportunity, he said: “If we could improve, it’s doing what we did and provide more medal opportunities.”
Giles Morgan, HSBC Global Head of Sponsorship and Events, who hosted the interview with Jack Nicklaus in the opening session said, “It has been a wonderful couple of days and that is with thanks to all our fantastic array of panelists and moderators and the energetic participation of our delegates. Everyone has agreed this week that 2016 was a watershed year for golf – new winners, new heroes, new fans, and new momentum. There is much excitement as we look ahead as we have the prefect platform to enter 2017, still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Clearly new opportunities to grow the game whether the US or around the world exist and they are within the grasp of everyone who attended.
“Golf is getting more global, it is getting a younger sport. That is what golf needs. But many from within golf didn’t predict Olympic success so we need to stay open to change. We need to keep the momentum. It’s a challenge everyone here must relish. Not fear. As the last two days have proven golf’s leaders are all in agreement. We need to take risks, be innovative. That is the same for all businesses and industries in 2016. Jack Nicklaus said it best here when he stated the world is changing and golf needs to change with it. If we all accept the challenge and opportunities created during 2016 – we can make golf anyone’s game.”
HSBC Golf Business Forum www.golfbusinessforum.com