October 20, 2014 – Tradition-bound golf and screen-obsessed youth – there’s a connection there somewhere.
Greg Norman has called on the golf industry to “get outside the box” and “think like a kid” to attract missing young players to the game.
Norman joined those sounding alarm bells about low participation rates for young players in the US, where a downturn is leading to frequent course closures.
He believes there are lessons from the American experience for other countries.
The Australian great was speaking at the opening of his acclaimed The Bluffs, Ho Tram Strip in Vietnam – the 87th Norman-designed course worldwide.
In the US there are about 27 million golfers and only about 17 per cent of those are under 40, said Norman.
“When you start dropping below (age) 30 and below 25, that number goes down to single digits,” he said.
Norman said the game needed to “get rid of the navy blue suits” and “think like a kid” to connect with the young generation.
“I like the idea of bringing social media to the game in a big way,” he said.
“Having golf carts connected through social media where, if I am playing in Florida, I could be playing you in London and we could be having a competition on a screen in our golf carts, having fun and you have this continual competition going.
“That’s what kids want – they have got their devices and they are on them all day long, so why don’t we tap into that somehow?
“If they want to listen to music on their golf cart or have their headsets on playing golf in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, bring it on.”
Norman didn’t suggest such radical change should happen across the board, recognising private clubs had etiquette and codes they may want to maintain.
As a course designer, he talked of offering options to make the game cheaper, faster and more accessible – including building 12-hole courses that could be played as 18 holes using different tees.
He cited the example of the between-match entertainment and fan-player interaction at the US Open tennis as an example for tour golf to consider to attract younger fans.
Norman believed there were several factors in the US golf decline including fallout from the 2008 economic downturn, courses from the 1980s and 90s that were too expensive to build and maintain, and governing bodies forgetting about the younger generation.
“It gets to the point where there is such a massive void that it is hard to ignore it.
“I’m just going to make sure I talk about it.
“I’m not saying my thoughts and answers are all the right ones but it may stimulate people to think about how we can do this.”