Television viewership for golf tournaments has not changed over the last decade. According to Nielsen’s Year in Sports Media Report, the audience is white (87 %), older (63 % aged 55-plus), and affluent (27 % household income over 100K). Almost two-thirds are male and 35 percent female. Such findings appear grim for belligerent advocates seeking to grow golf. But is change as challenging as it seems? The solution could rest on the clubs of Rory Mcllroy, Jordan Spieth, and Cheyenne Woods.
The trio of golfers, all under 25-years-old, has the potential to grow the game. Each exhibits vitality, charisma, and commitment. Mcllroy already has two major championships (U.S. Open and PGA Championship) under his belt. Spieth was a back nine of decent play away from becoming the youngest Masters winner ever. Woods, the sole female of the consortium, won the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters in February.
As inconceivable as it might sound for a few 20-somethings to grow golf and shape a new vision for the sport, we’ve seen it in other professional sports. The NBA was inoculated with new life with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the early 80’s, and it was able to recuperate again during the post-Michael Jordan era when LeBron James burst onto the scene in 2004. A similar situation occurred in tennis with the rise of Rafael Nadal several years after legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi had hung up their rackets.
With the rise of Mcllroy and Spieth on the PGA Tour, so could a new rivalry. And as we know, fans adore rivalries. Their youth gives the duo the prospect of vying for golf supremacy for at least a decade. Such a scenario can grow golf. This could easily mirror how the “Big Three” competed against each other during the golden age. Audiences not familiar with the game, specifically Millennials, could become intrigued. They could suddenly find themselves a fan of the game.
Woods likewise can have the same influence on the LPGA tour. She has the advantage of being related to arguably the most dominant golfer in the history (Tiger Woods). Woods also brings in a following from her days at Wake Forest University, where she won the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship. The niece of Tiger has an opportunity to grow golf by connecting with both Asian and African American demographics, as well as young women.
This is all important because as Christine Brennan of USA Today Sports recently wrote, the game of golf is in serious trouble. The sport must evolve beyond its elitist perception. If Mcllroy, Spieth, and Woods reach the ceiling that analysts have projected, their play will be the catalyst to grow the sport. For the sake of the game, let’s grow golf.