Golf is still baffled by millennials – but change is coming

The Scoop

The Lancashire Golf Conference highlighted just how alien millennial women seem to golf clubs, but things are already changing for the better, writes Harriet Shephard

“What on earth is social media?”

Was one of the first conversations I overheard as I arrived at the Lancashire County Golf Development Conference.

You could argue that it wasn’t a great start.

Particularly as the event was focused on how to get more young women, or ‘millennials’ as my generation are often referred to, playing and enjoying golf.

Held at Mytton Fold, Blackburn, the speakers included social media star The Jazzy Golfer and Medi8 Golf marketing manager Emma Ballard. Both working or heavily involved in the golf world, they were ideal candidates to comment on what young women want from the game.

However, it came as a surprise to find that the opening presentation was led by a middle-aged man. But Phil Harvey, Lancashire Golf secretary, immediately acknowledged that he wasn’t the person who should be commenting on women’s golf. He also pointed out that actually most things in the game are still controlled by men over 50.

Which is essentially one of the biggest problems.

He then set the audience the challenge of putting themselves in the position of a woman who has never played golf and has no family or friends in the game. He acknowledged that it would be ‘quite a difficult thing to do’.

However, this couldn’t have been easier for me. If I couldn’t excel at this then nobody could.

I was that woman before I first tried golf only 18 months ago.

Golf was never something I really thought about. Then when I discovered that it could actually be quite fun, I still had to learn what a tee and a fairway was and try to remember all the etiquette.

In fact I’m still learning new things about golf every day.

When they listed the hurdles that were stopping young women from getting into golf, the rules came up as one of the biggest problems.

Which is almost so obvious it doesn’t need saying.

How is anyone expected to know that changing your shoes in the car park or wearing a pair of jeans in a clubhouse isn’t allowed?

Generally beginners don’t, until they are reprimanded in a ‘how stupid are you’ kind of way. That’s enough to put anyone off the game.

The rule of not being allowed to hang your coat on the back of a chair was used as an example. This was new information to me and immediately made me panic about all the times when I had inadvertently committed this obviously heinous crime.

Another problem discussed was the fact that at many clubs, women didn’t have access to the courses at weekends, or permission to play in Saturday competitions.

As though the issue needed further explanation (it didn’t in my opinion), we were also told the statistic that 67% of women aged 16-64 now work.

Again this so obvious. Of course only being able to play during the week would be a problem for most women.

But as I looked around me, it seemed that for many this was quite surprising and new information.

What seemed common knowledge to me, just didn’t seem to be recognised by many of the representatives from clubs across the county.

This was a theme that continued throughout the day.

It was explained that millennials are interested in ‘experiences’ rather products. Basically saying that they aren’t interested in doing anything unless it involves going somewhere that will make a good photo on Instagram.

Which admittedly is quite an accurate description of my own philosophy.

Then came a series of photos of Starbucks’ coffee shops and fancy cocktails, demonstrating that millennials are happy to spend £4 on a coffee and £10 on a cocktail if it makes for an arty photo that gets lots of likes.

Largely accurate, but it was still strange to have my own interests explained to me.

Again the people around me looked shocked. The idea of spending that much on a drink was clearly as bizarre to them as the idea that young women don’t have four hours to spare to play golf on a Tuesday morning.

But the point being made was that golf clubs need to focus on the experience they are creating, and give the young people visiting them something to show off about on social media.

I don’t like the negativity that often surrounds women’s golf, but it was refreshing to see the game’s problems being addressed while also offering realistic solutions.

With afternoon speakers from the R&A and England Golf, there were so many innovative ideas being put forward.

Many of the suggested changes were simple, such as setting up a functioning Facebook page or updating the information on your website. But these small things that will make a huge difference to how a golf club is perceived.

Maybe many clubs don’t realise how unwelcoming they can be to beginners. Out of the 90 club representatives, everyone seemed enthusiastic and passionate about bringing more people into the game.

The closing talks urged people to create their own golf events and marketing strategies.

There was also the opportunity to sign up for various workshops to learn more about subjects like marketing and social media.

So really, although the event was about attracting people like myself into the game, the conference was actually aimed at older people who are still baffled by concepts like tweeting and what exactly a skinny matcha green tea latte is.

The conference will have introduced many of them to a whole new world.

While every club will have members who strongly object to any of the changes suggested, Lancashire Golf have already reported that several clubs have started their own women’s golf initiative after attending the conference.

Topgolf and Ghetto Golf are considered cool and fun. My friends don’t think that spending a Friday night at one of these places is an odd thing to do, but they do find the idea of me playing 18 holes at a traditional club hilarious.

However, there’s no reason why golf can’t become the next sport or fitness trend, especially if shorter formats are introduced.

While fitness bloggers are currently obsessed with posting videos of their latest yoga move or HIIT routine, this could one day turn into golf swings.

The change just needs to start at the clubs themselves, which is why conferences like this are so important to the future of our favourite sport.

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