When Todd Hamilton won THE OPEN at Royal Troon in 2004 in a play-off against Ernie Els, it was the 6th Open in a row of the 8 held at Royal Troon won by an American. Arnold Palmer in ’62, Weiskopf in ’73, Watson in ’82, Calcavecchia in ’89, Leonard in ’97 and Hamilton himself in 2004. So, can Europe come good, and break-the-run, or with Dustin Johnson in scintillating form perhaps another American winner could be on the cards. Although – to counter this – four out of the last 5 winners at Royal Troon won only one major in their career.
So, welcome to Royal Troon for the 145th Open Championship and the 9th occasion here on the Ayrshire coast. A lot has happened since we last gathered together at THE OPEN – it has been a year of sporting change, of underdogs, surprise wins and confounded expectations. But even in a world where Leicester City are Premier League champions, Japan beat South Africa at the Rugby World Cup and Iceland beat England in the European Championships in France; let me start in the traditional fashion, by welcoming many of you back to the Open Championship Industry Lunch – and also for those first timers, you are so very welcome.
This is the seventh lunch hosted by SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. and the BGIA on behalf of HSBC Golf Roots. One of the constants in life – and where there has thankfully been no change – is that I am able to again welcome Paul Jepson and Ian Peacock. You are both creating an amazing record – welcome to your 31st Sports Marketing Surveys Open lunch. Since the first at Royal St. George’s in 1984, there have been 32 held, and you have attended 31. Thank goodness some things do not change.
For those of you not used to my few minutes with the microphone, this is where I try to enlighten, amuse and educate you on issues, facts and figures facing the sporting world – with particular attention on golf.
But let’s start in the very recent past, at SW19, and the Wimbledon Championships. I am certain many of you were travelling up here as the final was being played out in gorgeous sunshine in one of the iconic cathedrals of British Sport. Whilst some of the SMS INC team were in the car travelling North, Milos Raonic was serving the second fastest serve in Wimbledon history, 147 miles per hour. It was rapidly repelled by the exceptional Andy Murray, like so many of Raonic’s other missiles. Had it beaten Murray’s racquet though, and somehow defied the laws of physics to keep on at 147 miles per hour for the 2 hours and 48 minutes of the match, it would have travelled 412 miles, or to put it another way, two miles short of the distance between centre court and Royal Troon.
It has been a year of records for tennis – with Great Britain winning five trophies at the 2016 Championships. In addition to Murray’s success, Gordon Reid added the inaugural men’s wheelchair singles title to his doubles crown; and the ladies also prospered, with Heather Watson winning the mixed doubles, and Jordanne Whiley the ladies wheelchair doubles. This is a record for Great Britain at any Wimbledon of the modern era.
This year also saw Sports Marketing Surveys celebrating its 32nd Year as the official provider of the Wimbledon Equipment Census. Although the Tournament only finished on Sunday, and subject to the final checks, I can reveal that for the first time, Babolat has become the #1 tennis racquet at the Championships by themselves with 175 racquets in play.
This Wimbledon success crowned a heroic year for British tennis. The Davis Cup victory at the end of 2015 was the 10th time Britain has won the trophy ensuring GB remains the most successful country ever, but it was also the first victory in 79 years – which is the longest interval between titles! Andy Murray had an astonishing 8-love singles record in a Davis Cup year – making him only the third player ever to achieve the feat after John McEnroe and Mats Wilander.
Wimbledon also saw records from elsewhere with Serena Williams at 34 winning her 22nd Grand Slam event, 17 years after her first Grand Slam victory, and finally equalling Steffi Graf’s record established 20 years ago in 1996.
But Tennis – like a number of sports in Britain – has been facing pressures. Participation levels continue to fall, with the decline particularly steep among ladies. However there is some light at the end of the tunnel, in that overall core male participation has risen.
Positive signs could also be seen in tennis ball sales, with shipment figures in the UK up 16% to 1.6M dozen balls in 2015 – compared to a growth across Europe of only 1%.
There has been a tendency is recent years for pessimism about the future of golf, the time-consuming, frustrating but completely wonderful game that we are here to celebrate. Traditional participation has declined in the last five years, and, like European Championship winning captain Cristiano Ronaldo, golf is an easy target to kick when it’s down. Golf and football have not always been natural allies – who can forget Rory McIlroy’s ankle injury that denied him the chance to defend his Open title last year. A week after the end of the European Championships, perhaps there is one area where the two could overlap more.
Ronaldo, whatever your view on his mannerisms, is an intriguing example of a sportsman propelled by self-belief, a man willing to plug away again-and-again after every missed free kick and every article describing him as a prima donna. Ronaldo is labelled by his detractors as too obsessed with his image but his end product, like golf’s is remarkably successful and remarkably resilient.
Ronaldo has never scored from a free kick at a major tournament, despite having 43 efforts. He does though have a record equalling nine European Championship goals, goals all scored from within the box and with a combined distance of 81 yards – incidentally exactly the same distance that Ernie Els outdrove Todd Hamilton in the first playoff hole in 2004, or the equivalent of 331 footballs laid side-by-side.
As Ronaldo stands over his free kicks, visualising his shot, he knows he cannot score every one, just as a golfer knows that he cannot hole every putt and just as we know that we cannot convince the entire population to play golf. We can still try.
Ronaldo’s lesson for golf is that it’s much harder to kick a man when he stands up for himself, when he is bullish about his own successes and when he is willing to find new ways to evolve his game. True, there is always a place for humility and grace, characteristics in which golf excels, but, if Ronaldo talked himself down, downplayed his ability, or even if he tried to remain the mazy dribbler of his peak years, he would be a lesser player. The same is true of golf which needs to engage new generations with new forms of the game, and above all to keep telling its amazing success stories to show the outside world and people considering taking part in the game, that it is a sport that remains very much open and truly inspirational and aspirational.
2015 also saw SMS INC. look at new ways of categorising golf participation. On behalf of the European Tour, the Golf Actives project looked beyond traditional 18 hole course users, to redefine on the basis of any active involvement in golf and found that 11 million people in GB&I engaged with golf in all its forms in the last year – from full length courses, to adventure golf, to pitch and putt, to golf video games. This is over 20% of the population.
There is further evidence of this success in other areas of the industry. Rounds played in 2015 were unchanged on 2014 – down 0.1% – and 2014 had been up on 2012 and 2013. Another good measure of the health of the game is sales of golf balls, and 2015 saw sales of just over 2 million dozen in the UK, an increase of 1.3% in volume. On a professional level too, golf is awash with European and British role models to inspire participation and enjoyment of the game.
There has been so much talk about women recently. We were all delighted and relieved to see Royal Troon welcoming female members, and this year will also see Britain with its second female Prime Minister, and also very likely the world will see its first female President of the United States. We also have a female President of England Golf for only the second time – in Marian Rae. Marian is in the room – so welcome to your first industry lunch at THE OPEN. What many people may not know about the President of England Golf is she is a Fifer – having been born in Fife and went to School and University in St Andrews. So at a time when devolution is again discussed, we have a Scottish lady bringing harmony and togetherness for England Golf.
I also know that England Golf, Scottish Golf Union, the Golf Union of Wales and the Confederation of Golf in Ireland are all sharing some best practice on growing the game. All working together to grow our sport – showing we can and should be united.
The world rankings of ladies golf is dominated by Asia with 30 golfers in the Top 50 and 61 in the Top 100 – and of these 38 are from Korea and 20 from Japan. Europe including GB&I do have 5 in the top 50 and 11 in the Top 100, and in Charley Hull we have a real role model for girl golfers;
Yet, perhaps it is in the amateur ladies game that we should be getting really excited and celebrating the real emerging talent, with Europe having 6 out of the top 10 ranked world ranked players, with 3 in the top 10 from GB&I. This success was so emphasised by the fabulous success of the Curtis Cup.
GB&I won the Curtis Cup for only the second time in the last 10 contests after beating USA 11 ½ to 8 ½ in County Wicklow last month with Meghan MacLaren sinking the putt that secured the winning point for GB & I. Now obviously, that talent must come from somewhere – and whilst David Maclaren – as Head of the European Senior Tour may like the credit, it is clear that it is his wife Mary that has the talent.
There is such a good story to talk about female golfers in GB&I. Going back to the Golf Actives study again, when you look at all forms of an Active involvement in golf;
On the traditional measure of participation – 14% of players on a full length golf course are female; but in total there were 3.1M adult female Golf Actives in the last 12 months or 33% of the total Golf Actives;
It is when you start looking at other forms of the game – such as playing a 9 hole course it is 25% female, or on a pitch and putt 37% and at Adventure Golf it is 55% female.
So, when you ensure golf is fun, family, flexible and fast – then there are lots of female Golf Actives out there.
This year, I have not got time to talk about too many other sports, but I would like to draw your attention briefly to cycling.
Last year, I discussed that amongst lapsed golfers who have stopped playing golf to undertake a different activity, 20% have taken up cycling. It is true that cycling participation is almost three times as much as golf – but the bubble has burst, the growth of the MAMIL phenomena and double digit sales of bikes has stopped. We are now working closely with a number of cycling manufacturers to help them understand why, with research in the UK, France, Germany and the USA.
But cycling is big business and again role models and elite success play their part and there is serious interest in professional cycling.
We can see this in the Tour de France which is again underway. The 198 riders (who started at the Grand Depart in Normandy) will complete over 3,519 km over the 21 days of racing. Our UK consumer research shows the Tour de France is followed more widely than The Tour of Britain or Olympic Events, demonstrating an appetite for endurance events even in the age of bite sized media and multi-screening.
As at the Wednesday before THE OPEN, the Tour de France has become almost a Tour des Anglais. Mark Cavendish has won three stages, taking his total to 29 wins, and rising to second in the all-time list of stage winners. Adam Yates currently wears the white jersey for best young rider and Team Sky’s Chris Froome is on track for his second General Classification victory, and Britain’s third success in four years.
So, as I enter my last straight of this endurance event – ‘the OPEN speech’ – and wanted to just say a few words about what SMS INC. have been up to in the last year;
So, life is busy.
Time to go out and celebrate golf. The final word – or actually four words – “GOLF IS NOT BROKEN”. Golf is being consumed in so many different ways – and we need to embrace this flexibility to create fun, family, friendly environments.
Golf is good for you – whether it is the non-impact sporting exercise with friends, or testing-the-mind with rules and scoring – there are significant social and health benefits. We must embrace that golf can be played from 8 to 80. So, let’s go and talk up this game – and golf will continue to inspire more generations of golfers across Europe and across the world.
Thank you, and good luck for all of you for this OPEN
SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. www.sportsmarketingsurveysinc.com