Make Sundays Great Again

Presently, technology has infamously been the reason for the decline of certain industries such as taxis, bookstores, and traditional television distributors.  Obviously in many ways, technology has also advanced industries. What most people fail to mention is how technology has saved some businesses, especially one that personally means a lot to me: golf.  Now, the argument of whether or not golf is a sport or “cool” is a discussion for a different time and place, but let me just emphasize the difficulty of swinging a 3.5 foot stick over 100 mph to get a little white ball that has a diameter of 1.68 inches to travel about 150-500 yards into a 4.25 inch diameter hole, in 4 shots or less.  Not to mention the wind speed, hazards around you, type of grass, and the fact that the player has to conform to the course, as no course is the same..but this is me getting off topic.

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Over the past ten years, golf has been on a steady decline as the bougie sport cannot seem to attract the younger generation.  Since 2002, the amount of U.S. golfers has declined by 30%. The USGA (United States Golf Association) and the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) knew that some changes had to be made.  These associations understand, especially for millennials, that golf is too slow and too expensive. With that being said, within the past two years, golf has actually made some changes that might have saved the sport from dying.  These technology innovations have truly made a difference in making golf cheaper as well as more interactive.

  • Top Golf3111_topgolf-las-vegas-hitting-bay-night-01

Top Golf has modernized the traditional driving range by utilizing the Internet of Things, gamification, and analytics to intrigue those who might not be fond of golf as a source of entertainment. As soon as you walk into Top Golf, the customer receives a card that Top Golf uses to track visitor information such as the locations they visit as well as how much and how long they spend at each Top Golf location.  From there, the player goes to a selected hitting-bay and logs-in using his/her Top Golf card. Each hitting-bay has RFID readers that can tell when a ball is needed. Also, each ball is microchipped so the systems knows who you are, which then allows it to keep score for the player. On top of the bay itself, the driving range has over 500 RFID readers that indicate targets, to create a point system for the player.  Top Golf has taken the seriousness out of golf to create an environment for those who might not have the patience for a five-hour round.

  • Technological Advancements in TV CoverageDUaX8eGV4AAVl27

This is a personal disclaimer: when I went to my first Bears football game as a 6 year old, I was really confused why all the lines I saw on TV were not shown on the actual field. Well, golf is finally catching up. If you watch golf on TV then you probably have noticed some changes.  CBS is covering 21 PGA Tour events in 2018 and they are upping their visual representation of what happens on the golf course. Toptracer and Virtual Eye are just two of the many new tools that is being used to cover golf on TV, which will make it a bit more interesting to watch. It is not the most revolutionary thing to happen and seeing it on TV would not make someone say “wow”, but it does keep golf on the same playing field as other sports shown on TV that utilizes pretty lines and cool camera angles.  

Toptracer would be the pretty line version for golf.  It wirelessly tracks the ball, which then is represented with a line on the television screen.  This is significant because ball trackers in the past were only used on the tee shot, but due to Toptracer’s wireless component, it can be used in the middle of the fairway as well.  Virtual Eye allows for the viewer to see the course in 3D on the television screen. The combination of Virtual Eye and ShotLink did not just advance the visual representation of the course on the TV screen, but also has allowed for better analytics for the PGA to keep better stats as well as creating more stat categories.

  • Social Media

Before the rise of social media, not many people were willing to “follow” golf as they would for football or basketball.  Golf’s biggest problem is being unable to connect with the younger generation, but with the rise of social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram, the golf industry has been more easily able to target their younger audience.  It really all started when the Bryan brothers created a golf trick shot video that went viral. These brothers now have a YouTube channel called Bryan Bros Golf, which has over 30,000 subscribers.

Social media has allowed golf to seem more appealing to the younger generations as people started creating their own trick shot videos and younger professionals became more active on social media.  Rickie Fowler is probably the best example when it comes to a professional that can engage with the younger audience. His contemporary style and sense of humor allows males in their 20s or older to connect with him, and younger males to look up to him as some used to with Tiger.  Posts such as Fowler’s spring break trip with his squad (Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and Smylie Kaufman) resonate with the typical college frat boy.img_8364.png

Since we’re now on the topic of the college frat boy, Barstool Sports creating @ForePlayPod might have saved golf from dying.  The acronym, #SAFTB, has officially become Saturdays Are FORE The Boys. Their content, along with @GolfGods, might not be the most appropriate for such a proper rich person sport, but it solved the industry’s biggest problem that Golf Channel and/or the PGA would have never been able to solve themselves.

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For a old timer’s sport, golf has been revamped to seem calm, cool, and collected.  The technology does not stop here. The PGA tour has been testing virtual reality technology not just for consumers to experience content in a different way, but also for training purposes.  Thanks to technology and social media, golf may last well beyond Tiger Wood’s legacy.  

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10 comments

  1. danmiller315 · ·

    I thought this was a unique post, as you did a good job outlining some interesting ways in which golf is trying to brand itself. I think the big disclaimer with golf is that just because someone enjoys golfing, they are not necessarily going to sit down and watch the final round of a golf tournament, and vice versa. For me, I have never swung a golf club, but from time to time I will watch the final few holes of a golf tournament on a Sunday afternoon, especially if there are stars in the final pairing.

    This leads my bigger idea: the lack of marketable stars in the sport. For all of my childhood, the only golfer that everyone could recognize was Tiger Woods. End of story. While I do agree with you that some of the younger golfers today are breaking the mold of the “stoic golfer”, I think that for the most part, golfers just generally do not let their personalities take over out of respect for the sport.

    I think that social media has had a positive effect on the popularity of the sport, but I think it will be interesting if this translates into increased viewership and overall popularity, or if this is just part of a social media wave.

  2. mmerckbc · ·

    Great post, Katie! I have never played golf (unless mini golf counts!) and even I’ve heard of Jordan Spieth, which I think really speaks to your point of how social media has helped the sport capture the attention of younger generations. That said, I think @danmiller315 makes a good point when he questions whether the adoption of social media by pro golfers will actually lead to increased popularity. On another note, I found the Top Golf facilities to be particularly interesting. It’s really cool to see how they are using technology to transform the traditional driving range experience and it certainly opens up a whole new door for the sport.

  3. kikinitwithraf · ·

    @danmiller315 is spot on when it comes to “marketable” stars. Tiger is the poster child for bringing in a “new wave” of consumers to a sport, for a lack of a better word, is an old-timers sport. As reported by ESPN, just this past Sunday, Tiger drew nearly 4x more media attention, coverage, etc. than the filed of competition. Golf needs Tiger, and Tiger needs Golf. When that happens, everyone wins! Sponsors are more excited, fans are more engaged, and TV viewership sky rockets. But what happens when Tiger disappears into retirement? Young Stars like Jordan Spieth (who built a strong following post Masters win in 2015 & signing with Under Armour) must be properly utilized by the PGA and any other governing bodies to ensure longevity and sustainability among younger fans. Sponsors do a great job, but the same can’t be said of the organization. While social media is a huge asset, Golf can’t rely on just one platform to appeal to the masses.

  4. kennedy__bc · ·

    Katie I loved this post since I am such a huge golf fan! I’m of the opinion that the PGA needs to largely focus on a younger audience in order to solidify consistent viewership for the coming years. The only way to do this is by younger pro golfers attempting to create large social media followings early in their careers. Players such as Spieth and Fowler are perfect examples of young guys who enjoy using social media to attract a younger audience to the game (this is actually why I got into golf in the first place). Although the older generation of current pros have attempted to enter into the social media space they will never have the spark and youth that younger players have in order to attract millennials to the sport. It is certainly going to be an up hill battle for the PGA but with the right goals in mind I am confident they will succeed.

  5. Great post. I do confess that my golf game has fallen off from about 20 years ago, but I do think things like TopGolf provide an intersting opportunity to rethink the game. The simulators are also supposed to be decent.

  6. kseniapekhtere1 · ·

    That is a very interesting post. As someone who have never played or followed golf, it was interesting to read about the challenges the industry is facing and the steps they take to combat it. I think TopGolf is a very cool concept that transforms combines golf and entertainment industry. It also makes golf more affordable and accessible since people who live in cold climate can now play golf year round. I was actually thinking of trying TopGolf for a while and I am sure I will try it eventually. This can also be the case for many people in the future – that their first experience with golf will be through TopGolf just for fun. At the same time many people will may get into golf after and go play on the real field.

  7. tylercook95 · ·

    I think the younger generation of stars like Jordan Speith, Rickie Fowler, and Rory Mcllroy are doing a really good job bringing in a younger generation to watch golf. In recent years golf players have become a more fit group as compared to 10-15 years ago. I think this push with the younger stars is making a good push for a younger audience. The younger stars have a stronger social media presence and ideally will help us follow the sport. I think one hard thing about the nature of golf is how slow the sport can be, and the time commitment to watch. This is something baseball has been struggling with a bit on a smaller scale. The younger generation needs to be constantly stimulated with action that baseball and golf kind of lack.

  8. tuckercharette · ·

    Katie I am a massive fan of this post because it not only evokes my love for the game of golf but drew me to some new insights which you brought up. First off, absolutely spot on for the difficulty of the game of golf (having played since I was about 8 years old and I still can’t seem to break a handicap of about 18 but that’s also for another time).

    Top Golf is a great addition to the world of golf but it does make me wonder if the days of hitting the links and leaving the smartphone in your bag are gone. Laser range finders flood courses which give players the ability to read yardages at the press of a button and seemingly my friends don’t even realize half the time what “pacing it off” means or how to do it. I will also admit though that the 3D coverage of certain courses on Television does bring a bit of light to the contours of a course that a normal camera just can’t do justice to. When I visited Congressional for the US Open years ago, the hills and undulations of the fairway just weren’t properly shown through the replays that we watched each night after returning from the course.

    Lastly, social media. I’m a massive fan of the Smiley, Fowler, Spieth, Thomas spring break because any 21 year old boy who watches golf has to be right? Similarly though, I think golf has been revitalized in a way through Social Media because there is something somewhat nostalgic or genuine about a day out on the course with friends. Sometimes people forget that teenage guys actually do things other than play video games and watch football on Sundays…

    Interestingly I actually saw when 2 of the Barstool employees went on the Golf Channel to talk about the “Saturday’s are FORE the boys” campaign they put out and your analysis was spot on. They realized that they could bring fun to golf and make it more modern. Specifically mentioned in the interview, one employee said he loves the jeering of athletes on the course and that there should be more rowdiness on the golf course. Unsurprisingly, the Waste Management Open, famous for its loud 16th green, was their favorite spot.

    If this wasn’t one of the best posts all semester, I don’t know what is.

  9. Loved this post, Katie! People always recommend to write about what you know, and you definitely know golf! I was actually able to experience VR golf and found the collide between technology and the sport fascinating. Although VR can have hefty upfront cost, it does tackle the issue of repeatedly buying a round of golf at a country club.
    I find your notes about Toptracer in regards to tracking the ball on TV very interesting. I saw on Instagram one of my friends tracking a ball that he hit although he isn’t a pro and it wasn’t on TV. I’m not sure what app he used to do so, but I find it to be a cool way to visualize the game for an average player, not just the pros! (I’ll inquire with him about the app and get back to you with a name!)

    1. I’ve seen some of the guys on the golf team use it! Not sure what it is either, but let me know!

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