Golf is a Game Filled with Contradiction – in Reality and Perception

Swing easy to hit it hard. The tighter you grip the club, the less control you tend to have. Hit down on the ball if you want it to go up. The harder you press, the poorer you play.

Most golfers can relate to these odd, yet true contradictions in the way the game of golf is played. A recent NGF survey of golfers and non-golfers with varying levels of exposure to the game showed that while some perceptions of the game are similar between the two groups, golfers and non-golfers were clearly of different minds on others.

It wouldn’t take a Ph.D. in sociology to suggest that golfers focus on the positive aspects of the game while non-golfer perceptions might be more negative on the sport. However, since the U.S. golf participation rate is approximately 8.5%, there are significantly more non-golfer perceptions out there… so if golf is viewed negatively by the larger group, the prevalence of a poor view of the game is indeed an issue that needs to be managed by everyone who works in the industry.

Let’s look at some of the more interesting perceptions revealed in the NGF study.

Click here to enlarge the chart.

Perhaps in conflict with expectations, golfers and non-golfers are aligned on some of the game’s positive perceptions

Let’s start by looking at how the two groups (golfers and non-golfers) view golf in relation to the factors that drive recreational decisions. Make no mistake about it, golf is competing for time and money with all other forms of recreation… and the game has some very compelling selling points. Eighty-five percent of golfers said golf was a good way to enjoy the outdoors, and nearly three out of every four non-golfers agreed. The two groups also agree on golf’s fitness benefits. More than 70% of golfers said golf was a good form of exercise, and 60% of non-golfers aligned with that opinion.

The survey results also reinforce the perception of golf as a nice way to socialize and meet new people. Nearly 85% of golfers enjoy the social aspects of the game, and 70% of those not currently teeing it up agreed. There’s similar agreement about golf as a challenging pursuit and its attractiveness as a competitive activity. Instant gratification is something nearly everyone can agree on (in all aspects of life), yet engaging in more challenging/competitive pursuits has its own type of addictive appeal… ask any golfer.

Negative Perceptions Persist – Why is a game played primarily on courses open to anyone (75%) viewed as exclusionary, stuffy and unwelcoming?

When it comes to the negative perceptions of golf expressed by the survey respondents, several of them focused on the atmosphere around the golf facility rather than the actual game itself. First and foremost of concern is that 40% of non-golfers (and 44% of all golfing and non-golfing millennials) consider the game exclusionary and elitist, and nearly as many view the golf environment as stuffy. Along those same lines, one-third of non-golfers say the game’s dress code doesn’t fit their style, and nearly an equal number say course rules are too restrictive.

Despite their participation in the game, a surprising number of current golfers agree that these are issues. One in every five golfers objects to golf’s dress code, and almost 30% say the game’s rules are too restrictive. Sometimes perception does in fact reflect reality, and facilities looking to attract new players clearly should focus on a less serious, more welcoming and approachable environment. Multiple NGF studies over the past decade have reinforced the position that a golf course’s ability to attract and retain new customers hinges on their ability to create a welcoming and unintimidating environment, especially as it relates to women, juniors, minorities and all novices.

The game of golf attracts between 3.5 and 4 million new players virtually every year, but yet the number of players isn’t growing. One big reason is that the golf course environment is keeping new players on edge… discomfort in the golf environment and discomfort with other golfers is a massive barrier to golf being perceived as FUN. When it comes to feeling welcome at a golf facility, only a third of non-golfers feel that current players are welcoming to them on the course. This is in direct conflict with nearly half of golfers feeling that they welcome novices to the course just fine.

Feeling uneasy or unwelcome isn’t much FUN. If golf isn’t fun for those taking up the game, then they’ll choose a different form of recreation.

Of course, the ultimate decision of whether or not to play golf is a personal one, but operators and industry leaders should be encouraged by the knowledge that many of the positive perceptions of golf remain universal. The power of the game pulls in millions of those interested non-golfers NGF calls Latent Demand. On last measure, there were more than 32 million non-golfers who are “very” or somewhat” interested in taking up the game. Three-to-four million of those take up the game each year because they perceive golf as something they’d like to do. Let’s reinforce that perception with a great experience.With the broken record-ish references to time, money and difficulty as the primary barriers to golf’s growth… it’s time to change the narrative. NGF data supports the idea that people prioritize activities in their lives that they enjoy.

Article by the national golf foundation

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