“The challenges facing golf at a grassroots level in the UK are well documented. Stagnating levels of participation, an aging base of regular players and a decline in traditional club membership have forced the sport’s governing bodies and club owners to focus their efforts on how to bring a new generation of younger players into the sport.
“Golf is not the only sport to face the challenge of responding to the changing lifestyles. In the most recent Sport England Active People survey*, participation growth is being driven by less formal sports such as fitness, recreational running and cycling, whilst traditional club based sports such as tennis, squash and golf are in decline.
“The concept of club membership seems less relevant to an era of changing work patterns, more demands on our time and wider choice. It has encouraged the sports governing bodies and club owners to consider shorter formats, more flexible membership packages and new marketing initiatives.
“These types of initiative will help, but attracting a new generation of players is also heavily dependent on the use of technology. A new generation of companies such as Uber and Airbnb has demonstrated the power of technology to challenge inflexible markets, drive-down prices and above all empower consumers to shape goods and services around their lifestyles.
“Mobile apps have replaced desktop web browsers as the main way in which people in the UK access their digital services, which means we now spend, on average, almost two and a half hours a day on our mobile apps. This all-pervasive app economy has transformed banking, shopping, dating, food and travel and is starting to shake-up the sports industry.
“Sports and fitness enthusiasts are already benefiting from the widespread availability of fitness tracking apps such as Fitbit, but most grassroots sport remains profoundly analogue. Finding and booking a tee time or a session with a golf pro should be as simple as booking a cinema ticket or ordering a pizza, but all too often it remains a frustrating experience for a consumer used to ‘one-click’ convenience.
“Capturing data on the informal participant, who does not belong to a club or appear on a membership database, is also a challenge for the sports industry. With Sport England funding for grassroots sport linked even more firmly to the ability to deliver participation growth, this lack of data represents a major knowledge gap for the sports governing bodies. Convincing informal participants to register their details and manage their sporting activities on an app is almost certainly part of the solution.
“Club-based sports such as golf do not necessarily need to fear the future, as long as they are able to respond to changing lifestyles and harness the power of the app economy. Make the offer flexible, convenient and (to use a favourite word of the app economy) frictionless and you can appeal to a new generation of mobile-enabled players.”
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