Tiger Effect: And Now The Inevitable Golf-Can't-Attract-Millennials-Stories Begin To Roll In

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We didn’t even get a week of enjoyment out of Tiger Woods’ uplifting Masters win before writers and analysts had to remind us how the the only people who matter prefer E Sports and soccer. Newsflash!

Conclusion: golf is doomed and might as well just fold up the tent.

It feels like we’ve done these stories for over a decade or now. Sadly, the golf world listens and we’ve had to watch various businesses flush years of credibility, service and solid profits in a quest to reach this precious audience while neglecting others in the name of pursuing the previous M’s. Certainly there are issues for the sport, but you’d hope by now that the focus would shift from all that the sport is not able to achieve for the M’s and accept that golf is not the cause of issues preventing millennials from having the time or income to spend on a leisure activity. Or even pay their taxes.

So on the cusp of somewhat positive industry news released this week and signs that Topgolf has at least made the sport an aspiration for the M’s, we have the dreaded analysts telling us otherwise.

Lauren Silva Laughlin in the Wall Street Journal notes the lack of “contact and action that lures viewers” and the average age of golf’s television demo (65). She notes the usual stuff about course closures and M’s not taking up the sport. And even says Tiger just doesn’t have what it takes.

Sports’ star power is changing, too. The latest sports hero is a 27-year-old, blue-haired electronic gamer named Ninja, a player of the popular videogame “Fortnite.” He recently received his own figurine line and was named in Time’s 2019 list of 100 most influential people.

Even compared with athletes that move their heart rate beyond a resting state, golfers are old, relatively. The average player of baseball, another sport known as a less spry bunch, is 14 years Mr. Woods’s junior.

Looked at another way, the last millennial was born a year before Mr. Woods won his first Masters tournament in 1997, if Pew Research’s age benchmarks are used. When his extramarital scandal hit tabloids, they were rounding out junior high. Mr. Woods could be golf’s savior. More likely, though, in the eyes of a millennial, he’s just another aging putter.

Sheena Butler-Young was on top of the M’s narrative on Monday after the Masters and talks to various analysts who see no hope for the sport that dates to Mary Queen of Scots.

“There’s nobody in golf that’s totally capturing everybody’s imagination right now,” Poser said, adding that Puma athlete and PGA golfer Rickie Fowler has perhaps the biggest potential to draw in younger players. “The majority of the [sports’] fans aren’t the young fans. If you think about it, a lot of millennials don’t have the time and money to do it.”

Yes, we’ve known that a while but it doesn’t stop grown adults from making terrible decisions based on what their kids tell them at the dinner table.

Similarly, Powell counted a laundry list of reasons why millennials and Gen Z won’t take the baton from their parents and grandparents and carry golf into the future.

“The values of the game of golf just aren’t [akin] to the way millennials do sport: The rules are complicated. It takes a long time to play. It’s not inclusive. It’s not diverse. Representation of minorities is low. Golf courses smell like a chemical factory to keep them green. I could go [on],” he said, noting millennials and Gen Z aren’t likely to ditch their core values as they age and adopt the sport later.

Of course he’s not totally wrong on the values front, but we do know the industry has made huge changes in recent years on multiple fronts. Not time to play and probably not diversity, but golf courses are definitely not smelling like a “chemical factory” either.

The bigger question, how many more years do we have to endure these articles before we just focus on how Generation Z won’t take up or play golf? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready!

The Death Of Hazard, All Square, Dormie And Halve Not Sitting Well

Last week’s match play and next week’s Masters prompted a couple of pieces worth your time on the changing language in the game. While everyone was for simplifying the rules, increasingly folks are not warming up to the idea of simplifying the language of golf. Particularly since so many golf terms are part of the every day lexicon.

For example, to be living under par suggests you aren’t feeling well. But I digress.

David Normoyle in a special to Golfweek expresses his dismay at the death of the hazard and the timeless word now replaced with penalty area.

Personally, I’m not looking forward this April to the first time a player takes on the corner of the 13th hole at Augusta National, with its famous tributary lying in wait to capture the carelessly played shot, only to have the television commentator suggest the fate of the Masters may hinge on whether the ball finds the meandering “penalty area” to the left of the fairway or not.

What would Herbert Warren Wind say about his beloved Amen Corner being defined each year not by the players who fell victim to the confounding hazard that is Rae’s Creek but rather those who cautiously negotiated the yellow penalty areas on their way to victory?

Golfweek’s Alistair Tait points out that during the Sky broadcast of the Dell Match Play, the announce team did not acknowledge the preferred new match play terminology. As Tait writes, “he language of golf is part of its allure” and with a history of some words dating back to Mary Queen of Scots’ day—caddie for instance, some are not ready to say goodbye to several terms.

Sadly, there is no mention of all-square in the new rule book. It’s been quietly deleted in the supposed attempt to make the game more accessible to new players. Maybe the governing bodies think the game’s going to become populated by morons incapable of understanding simple terms like all-square and halved.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that wonderful, unique to golf term “dormie” is edited out of the next edition of the rule book even though it’s been in existence since Mary Queen of Scots pondered the benefits of an overlapping grip over a ten-finger one.

USGA Looks At The Threat Against Lions Muni

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Longtime readers know my feelings on Lions Muni and the greed-driven University of Texas’ desire to plow the place for development, so it’s wonderful to see the Save Muni movement here is strong. And emboldened by many high profile supporters, including the USGA. The course was granted another one-year reprieve as supporters look for a solution.

Mike Trostel writes the backstory of the course and its incredible history.

Lions is the course of police officers, bartenders and school teachers, but on any given day you might see former University of Texas football coach Mack Brown playing nine with his buddies or actor Matthew McConaughey on the driving range with his son. It has also hosted some of the biggest names in the game, including Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sandra Haynie, Betsy Rawls and Tom Kite.

Lions has long been one of the city’s most popular courses, logging about 60,000 rounds per year. It also hosts Texas' oldest amateur tournament, the Firecracker Open, played annually over the Fourth of July weekend. But the course’s significance goes far beyond the golfers it currently serves.

And of course, it’s still about the money, as always…

The core issue is money. Currently, the city of Austin pays approximately $500,000 per year for the use of the land. UT, however, values use of the land at roughly $6 million annually. The question is whether a compromise can be reached.

Defining what constitutes “advancing and promoting University education” is also a significant uncertainty. On one hand, the land could be viewed as a much-needed solution to UT’s student housing problem or allow the school to expand its academic resource centers and laboratories.

But the cost of developing the land where Lions sits isn’t solely measured in dollars.

The piece is accompanied by this short feature:

Tiger: "Look at these heads, 460 cc's, you hit the ball anywhere on the face and have it go 300 yards."

Just my read from his comments yesterday, which were similar to remarks made at The Players. But it sounds like he’s inching closer to thinking a de-skilling has occurred at the top level with 460 cc drivers.

From hjs pre-WGC Dell Match Play press session outside the Austin CC clubhouse:

Q. How would you describe the level of competition now in 2019?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that equipment has made it smaller. The margin is much smaller than it used to be. Now look at these heads, 460 cc's, you hit the ball anywhere on the face and have it go 300 yards. Before it put a premium on good ball-strikers to hit the ball in the middle of the face each and every time. And there was a distinction between the guys who could do that and the guys who couldn't. And that's no longer the case.

It promotes people swinging harder. Teeing the ball higher, swinging harder and hitting the ball further. And the old shot of hitting just a squeezier, low, heelie cut in play, that's no longer the case. Guys are trying to maximize distance off the tee, to try and carry that number 300, 320, 330 in the air. And it's become a game that's played more up in the air than it ever used to be.

Any day now we’re going to have teh 360 cc Driver Open…

The Real Reason Nothing Is Done About Slow Play: Players, Executives Don't Ever Pay To Watch Pro Golf

Eamon Lynch explored the lack of movement on the slow play front even Rory McIlroy called it an epidemic last week. Furthermore, the 2019 Players was not able to get the field around Thursday and the broadcast ran 20 minutes long Friday to show the conclusion of a star group.

He writes:

Like a persistent rash, pace of play was again an irritant at the Players Championship. When the first round was called for darkness — despite daylight saving time — Anirban Lahiri still faced a short putt on the final hole. He had to return Friday morning to finish up. The Tour’s invariable stance is to insist there’s nothing to see and that everyone should just move along (at their own pace, of course).

“They don’t do anything about it. It’s become somewhat of an epidemic on Tour,” Rory McIlroy said after his second round, which took more than five hours to complete. “Look, it’s our livelihoods and people are going to take their time, and as the course dries up and gets firmer and gets tougher, guys are going to take their time. But the fact that someone didn’t finish yesterday … I mean, that’s unacceptable.”

“Honestly, I think they should just be a little tougher and start penalizing shots earlier, and that would be an easy way to fix it,” he added.

Even easier? Make executives and players pay to watch golf in person. They’d learn the art of standing around watching others stand around and other tedious acts like not-ready golf.

The conclusions they would reach are summed up in this Tweet from Steve Flesch, who attended last week’s Players:


Furyk Laughs Off Flagstick Putt Rejection, New Rule Appears Safer Than Ever

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The first big flagstick rejection of a putt has taken place, and as I write for Golfweek, Jim Furyk’s reaction suggests that players won’t be backing down off the dramatic change in how they do their (putting) business.

PGA Tour Is Not Going Into The Rulemaking Business Anytime Soon

While we had another bizarre rules moment Thursday at The Players, Harold Varner’s troubles had little to do with the new rules, just a complex and freakish run-in with an old rule related to club adjustability.

But it’s worth noting that even after a bizarre violation we are not seeing the usual outpouring of grief over the change. That’s a direct result of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan reiterating and expanding on a recent memo making clear the PGA Tour has no desire to make golf rules.

My Golfweek story on that, and the key kumbaya quote after a two hour five familes meeting.

“We have two fantastic professional governing bodies of the game,” he said Wednesday. “We have always played by their rules and we will continue to play by their rules. And we are not going to be playing by our own rules. We think that the game is best served with everybody playing by the same rules and the same standards. We think it’s a source of inspiration for the game.”

Tiger On Technology, Training, Distance

Before we go deep on the 2019 Players, I just wanted to highlight these comments from Tiger Woods earlier this week.

Nice to see him explaining for those not necessarily able to understand how much the weight of clubs and size of clubheads changes how people swing. Not that we would go back to heavier clubs, but the driver head size?

Q. And everyone was sort of talking about the longevity you can get that now that modern technology, training, etcetera. But do you have concerns for guys like Jason Day and others that have had injuries sort of popping up a bit more because of this force you talked of?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I would think that the younger kids now that are involved in the game that are coming into the game are -- put it this way, that are coming on to the TOUR now, by far hit it harder than what we did when we came on TOUR. And that's due to technology and that's also due to the training and also due to the fact that I -- in my opinion, the drivers have gotten so much bigger and you have so much more surface area to miss it and hit the ball well. When I beat Davis in that playoff in '96, he had a persimmon driver. You laugh, but that was -- they were still around. So you had to hit the ball absolutely dead flush, and the guys didn't really hit it that hard. But now you can.

These kids have been training. They're stronger, they're more physical. You look what the college programs are doing, how many times they're lifting, five, six times a week. They're so much stronger now and they're able to handle the force, but also they're generating a lot of force, so there's going to be a give and take.

It will be interesting to see. These kids are hitting it so much further now and it's cool to see. We thought that Dustin was long and Bubba was long, and then we have Cameron Champ out here. It just keeps propping up. I thought I was pretty long, and then John Daly would hit it by me.

Q. So I guess we'll know when they're 40, right, how that works over time?

TIGER WOODS: It's going to -- we're going to see how it goes over the next 15, 20 years, see how the sport evolves. When you're swinging clubs that are 15 ounces and things, what we used to, to where now it's like as light as a feather. I remember, I mean, geez, my driver shaft was 121, 122 grams. Now they're 60 and 50, 60, 70 grams. So, yeah, they're lighter, and hence you're hitting it further.

But these kids are swinging so much harder, but they're so much stronger, and we'll see how that evolves. There's no reason why you can't play longer with the way the training is. You also have to be lucky, too, not to have injuries. Some bodies just get more dinged up than others.

State Of The Game 90: Old Course Rough And The New Rules Mess

Rod Morri, Mike Clayton and I convene for State of the Game 90 to discuss news out of St. Andrews—using rough to enhance strategy—and the various rules related fiascos of recent weeks.

Here is the John Huggan Golf World story referenced regarding new rough to enhance Old Course strategy.

And the Road hole during the 1984 Open referenced by Mike Clayton.

Instant Poll: Higher Priority For Tournament Golf: Pace Of Play Or Protecting The Field?

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The recent backstopping incident in Thailand was arguably the worst case yet in terms of optics and in helping a player save a stroke. I wrote about it here for Golfweek.

My colleague Beth Ann Nichols defended the players because of their pure-hearted nature.

Brandel Chamblee and Mark Rolfing were pretty tough on the players involved and you can see the latest incident here if you haven’t already.

Randall Mell agreed this was ultimately an effort to speed up play (on the 18th green?) even as he’s written about the perils of backstopping.

The LPGA issued this statement absolving the players of any wrongdoing.

So I ask, even though Ariya Jutanugarn could have tip-toed to the ball in 20 seconds, walked in 10, and marked, is that time saved more important than the shot lost to the field in the name of faster play?

Higher priority for tournament golf: pace of play or protecting the field?
 
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Just One Player Laid Up At Riviera's 10th Hole Sunday, Zero Yesterday

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Longtime readers know I’ve tracked the gradual shift of the ShotLink scatter chart at Riviera’s 10th toward the greensite.

The great risk-reward short par-4 is now officially a one-shot hole given that only one player appeared to intentionally lay up Sunday and only 40 over four days of Genesis Open play at Riviera. The rest—400 attempts—”went for the green”.

That, my friends, is a par-4 in name only.

The round 4 scatter chart:

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When the hole played shorter Saturday, no one laid up.

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And over four days, almost no one is even bothering to try to use the lay-up options once so revered before, you know, kale, high-fiber diets and agronomy conspired to shorten the hole.

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Why Have Golf's Better Athletes Only Picked Up 1.3 M.P.H. In Clubhead Speed Over The Last Decade?

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The USGA and R&A have released their annual driving distance report and the pro tour’s saw a 1.7 yard increase on top of last year’s 3 yard increase.

Given how much we’re told the recent spikes are a product of increased athleticism—not equipment innovation or launch monitors or instruction—the gain of just 1.3 mph in swing speed since the players started traveling with foam rollers, eating raw cauliflower and taking their core work more seriously seems paltry.

From David Dusek’s Golfweek story on the report:

Compared to the earliest radar data available, which came in 2007, ball speed is up almost 4 mph, drives start 0.3 higher and with almost 200 rpm less spin. At the same time, the average clubhead speed on those drives has increased from 112.4 mph to 113.7 mph. This would indicate that while the pros on the PGA Tour are swinging faster as a group, their equipment and swings are becoming more optimized and efficient.

Athleticism nice, algorithms nicer.

Meanwhile in his Golf World assessment, Mike Stachura attempts to downplay yet another increase in driving distance across the board by ascribing a percentage decline to the increase.

According to the report, the average increase in driving distance across all professional tours in 2018 was 1.7 yards over 2017. While that number is significantly higher than the trend from 2006-2016, it is more than 40 percent less than the gain seen in average driving distance from 2016 to 2017.

More than 40%! Nothing to see here!

Finally, the most interesting thing I saw in the report—besides huge spikes in drives over 320 yards powered by that 1.3% clubhead speed increase—was a yellow color coded admission that “stability through regulation” ended in 2016. Translation: our rules stopped working the last two years. Interesting choice of words.

Honma's Mark King: Pro-Bifurcation And Lamenting Multiple Driver Launches

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Adam Schupak talks to ex-TaylorMade CEO Mark King about his role at Honma USA and more.

A couple of noteworthy quotes include his admission of abusing the annual driver release with multiple drivers unveiled in one year. But he stands by the approach of a new driver every year for the 20% who will pay.

MK: That we went so fast. My last 2-3 years at TaylorMade I don’t think the model was wrong. I think we abused the model a bit. Every time sales dipped a bit, we launched a new product. I wish we had shown more discipline. If you don’t have anything that makes the club different, you should probably wait. That said, I think one-year lifecycles when done properly is still the best way because I do think 20 percent of the golfers buy 80 percent of the equipment. Those 20 percent want to buy something unique and different ever year.

Mark him down for bifurcation, still!

AS: Where do you stand on the great distance debate going on in golf?

MK: You still have to think about the masses. I’m in the business of selling clubs to them and it’s the hardest game in the world. That’s why anything we can do to make it easier, I’m all for. That’s why I’ve always been OK with bifurcating the Rules of Golf.

"Golf-Home Owners Find Themselves in a Hole"

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While the PGA Tour Commissioner sees golf as “growing and thriving,” the Wall Street Journal’s Candace Taylor details a growing crisis in the golf course real estate community world. (Thanks reader JB for sending.)

As younger generations do not take to golf or have little interest in golf course-fronting homes, values are plummeting and closures are commonplace.

“There are hundreds of other communities in this situation, and they’re trapped and they don’t know what to do,” says Peter Nanula, chief executive of Concert Golf Partners, a golf club owner-operator that owns about 20 private clubs across the U.S. One of his current projects is the rehabilitation of a recently acquired club in Florida that had shut one of its three golf courses and sued residents who had stopped paying membership fees.

More than 200 golf courses closed in 2017 across the country, while only about 15 new ones opened, according to the National Golf Foundation, a golf market-research provider. Florida-based development consultant Blake Plumley said he gets about seven phone calls every week seeking advice about struggling courses, from course owners or homeowners’ associations. He said most of those matters end up in court, and predicted that the U.S. is only about halfway through the number of golf-course closures that will eventually occur.

Growing and thriving…

PGA Tour Commish: "Hard to argue you should be changing anything right now because the sport is growing and thriving."

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It’s hard to get past the above quote from PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made in a 2019 Sentry TOC media session and reported here by Golfweek’s Dan Kilbridge.

The Commissioner’s views on distance are no secret: he wants to hype younger and longer players because he believes that’s why people watch the game despite all of the grandstands being at greens and not tee boxes.

You can take your pick of reasons for a short-sighted stance that even his youth-obsessed predecessor never went so far overboard to make. But more alarming is the view that the sport is growing and thriving, so why change a thing?

“We’re gonna be a party to all these discussions,” Monahan said. “We’re going to understand everybody’s perspectives as the USGA and R&A move forward with their Distance Insights project, but it’s hard to argue you should be changing anything right now because the sport is growing and thriving.”

If it’s growing and thriving, why do we have all of these expensive grow the game initiatives to jumpstart participation?

Why is the golf course industry fearful of a recession and a new tax code eliminating entertainment deductions if the game is thriving?

There is also the PGA Tour as a product. He should be hoping for a variety of players and a variety of playing styles to make the game thrive, not a one-dimensional power game. No sport that’s gone all in on technology and power has come out better. As a fan of sports, Monahan should know this. And he should know better.

State Of The Game 87: Golf On Instagram With Ru Macdonald

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Scottish Golf Podcast host and European Tour social media correspondent Ru Macdonald joins us to consider the impact Instagram is having on golf travel and architecture. If you’re not on Instagram we’ve got a few tips and accounts to follow, too.

I feel like we just touched the surface on how exactly Instagram is changing tastes and how people plan trips. But hopefully this chat with Ru, Rod Morri and Mike Clayton gets you thinking!

Rod has posted some of our suggested Instagram follows in the show notes here, though somehow he left out my suggestion of Walter GeoffreyThe Frenchie.

As always, you can listen below or via all of the usual podcast sources.

More Evidence That Par-5's Aren't What They Used To Be

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Christopher Powers compiles a list of the 14 “most telling” stats from 2018 and while they’re all worth your time, Tiger’s 4.57 scoring average on par-5s stands out.

Powers writes:

The number matches the worst mark in Woods' career; in 2013 he also had a 4.57 average. However that year it was good enough to tie him for fourth on tour. This year, that mark tied him for 24th, by far the worst standing of his career in the category. Prior to this season, Woods had never finished worse than T-6 for a season in par-5 scoring average.

While it may stand out to Tiger as something to consider, the notion that the same number this year was only good for 24th compared to 4th just five years ago is yet another remind kids to do your Wall Planks!

State Of The Game 86: Richard Gillis And The PGA Tour’s Dance With Discovery

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Richard Gillis, sport business writer and consultant joins us to discuss the PGA Tour’s new partnership with Discovery to deliver international audiences GOLFTV, launching in select countries January 1.

Rod Morri, Mike Clayton and yours truly break down the potential ramifications with Gillis, who has joined the pod before upon publication of The Captain Myth, which also comes up in the show.

As always, you can listen wherever podcasts are streamed, download or listen on iTunes, or below: