Golf’s Oldsmobile Moment

51dDgnQre7L._SY300_Guess what year the powers-that-be at GM finally decided to retire the legendary Oldsmobile? If you guessed 2004, you’d be correct. And, the reason they did so was bleak, if direct: their aging target market was dying off in droves. So, there was no one left to buy an Olds.

Now, wager a guess what year golf will follow Oldsmobile’s tracks and disappear as a mainstream hobby? (Please note I did NOT use the word ‘sport’ to describe what is, in effect, nothing more strenuous than a walk in the park).

If you guessed 2050 to the second question, you may not be far off. That’s because, as the New York Times reported yesterday, and I confirmed with an informal, internal Peppercomm survey, Millennials are bored silly by golf. And, most Boomers will be gone by 2050.

The Times feature says all of the obvious things about golf and Millennials:

– Golf eats up far too much time (make that far too much precious free time.)
– Golf is a slow-moving game with few, if any, thrills (“Gee Thurston, what an interesting sand dune!”)
– Golf is a hobby that requires constant practice in order to master (think: backgammon.)
– Millennials do NOT want to devote their free time to walking around a park on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons hitting a tiny white ball and waiting for a group of Boomers on the next green to sink their putts.
– Millennials grew up in a completely wired world and, in order to play golf, one needs to be off the grid. That’s been known to cause severe allergic reactions in many a Millennial.

And, sure as a boring golf tournament being aired on a Sunday afternoon network, my informal survey of Peppercomm Millennials confirmed ALL of my suspicions (as well as those of the Old Gray Lady):

– Of the 33 people in our New York office under the age of 30, who replied to my query, only five played golf! Five! That’s 18 percent, and that spells trouble with a capital T, and that most certainly does not stand for tee (as in golf tee).

Like other embattled sports such as the NFL and NHL, in which parents are refusing to let their kids play those uber violent pastimes, the PGA and leading golf courses ARE doing their best to modernize.

Some, for example, are actually providing Wi-Fi on the back nine (“Um, like, just wait on taking your putt, Buffy, OK? I’m, like, getting a text from Curt about where we’ll be hooking up on the 18th hole.”).

Others are encouraging night golf for Millennial corporate outings in which the golf balls are lighted up. Wow! Still others are holding Frisbee-tossing contests on fabled courses.

And, others are dramatically lowering fees and introducing 3-D imaging for the few Millennials actually interested in improving their backswings.

None of it will work of course. And, that’s because golf is a SLOW-AS-MOLASSES game and the younger generation is replete with adrenaline junkies looking for the next, new shiny object to fill their next nanosecond (confession time: I’ve always hated golf, have likened it to watching grass grow AND have always been attracted to faster-paced, physically challenging sports).

I’m guessing it won’t be too long before spying  a golf course along the Garden State Parkway will be just as rare as spotting a vintage Oldsmobile rumbling along in the right-hand lane. And, I can just imagine the conversation in the car:

– Gen Z’er in back seat: “Mommy, why is there a big, back yard over there with nobody living in it and full of weeds.”
– Gen X mom: “That’s a golf course, Wyoming Cheyenne. Your great grandfather, Thom, and his friends, used to play a game on those fields called golf.”
– Gen Z’er: “Mommy, Did golf have all sorts of dragons and knights and princesses and animals like my games?”
– Gen X mom: “Nope. Just a bunch of middle-aged, overweight white guys who eventually died off like Bambi and dear old grandpa Thom. That’s why the courses are now empty, honey.”

I cannot wait to see what else professional golf has up its sleeve as it defends what was once a big-time business.

It strikes me that, like so many other vestiges of the past, golf will soon fall prey to the 24×7, social media world in which we live.

So, who’s up for a 6am tee-time this Saturday? Anyone? Anyone at all? Bueller? Bueller, Jr,. Bueller, III?

17 thoughts on “Golf’s Oldsmobile Moment

  1. I have treasured memories of playing golf as a kid in the Midwest. Long, leisurely afternoons with family and friends. I thought I’d always play. But life isn’t that slow anymore and for years, I’ve had very little time to play. Now I live on a golf course and STILL don’t play. Nonetheless, I think golf will remain, but instead of nine and 18 hole-courses, maybe it’ll be four and eight. And it’ll be easier to rent equipment on site rather than having to invest hundreds of dollars in clubs, bags, shoes and balls. P.S. Kids here in California are signing up to play in droves, so the future of golf may surprise us all.

  2. I have treasured memories of playing golf as a kid in the Midwest. Long, leisurely afternoons with family and friends. I thought I’d always play. But life isn’t that slow anymore and for years, I’ve had very little time to play. Now I live on a golf course and STILL don’t play. Nonetheless, I think golf will remain, but instead of nine and 18 hole-courses, maybe it’ll be four and eight. And it’ll be easier to rent equipment on site rather than having to invest hundreds of dollars in clubs, bags, shoes and balls. P.S. Kids here in California are signing up to play in droves, so the future of gold may surprise us all.

  3. Thanks for the additional comments. Btw, Bedrock, not to worry. I’ve never considered you the stereotypical Millennial, so your appreciation for golf (and backgammon) doesn’t surprise me in the least.

  4. One other thing. While Oldsmobiles continued to be made until 2004, GM announced the closure of the Oldsmobile division in November 2000. To show the brilliance of their long-term planning, that same week GM launched two 2002 product platforms with an Olds version of each, making those vehicles orphans before they hit the showroom.

    It cost GM $3 billion and three model years to shut things down. By contrast, Chrysler shut down Plymouth and Ford closed Mercury in one model year and for considerably less money.

  5. Lance LePoer is right. In the late Nineties, everyone who thought they were a marketer wanted to get involved with golf because of TIGER. Most regretted it, even before the 2009 meltdown, because the ROI just wasn’t there.

    The only times I could ever enjoy golf was playing on public courses near the beach with a few friends and more than a few Rolling Rocks. Otherwise, I’d rather get on a bicycle.

    I have personal issues w/golf. I grew up across the marshlands from a golf course. We lived on Links Drive, next to Golf Road (clever developers). Even if my dad — not the most social guy to begin with — could afford the outrageous fees of the Oceanside Country Club, he had no interest. I caddied there for money until I was caught trespassing one night, but the scene NEVER appealed to me. It was middle-aged white guys and largely still is. Even for those of us past Millennial age, that’s hardly something to aspire to.

    On the other hand, my uncle loved golf and used it for business. Sometimes he played there and would call out to me while I was on my swing set. He spent a lot of weekends on the links. His son, a Baby Boomer, lives in Florida and is a busy entrepreneur. He never took up golf. That should tell you something.

  6. The issue with golf making a come-back involves more than just renewed interest. As it’s popularity wanes, golf courses are closing. So, it’s not going to be really simple to reclaim all that land and re-build. I think golf has had it’s 15 minutes of fame with the general populace. It will soon be back where it started- at the country clubs and exclusive resorts that are not open to those without money or clout or both.

  7. I like miniature golf, if that matters. I’ve never played a round of “real” golf, though, and am trying to keep that streak alive and well. I am at the very beginning of the Millnennial “category”…but talked to an older 30-something the other day. We both joined the same club recently, but both of us opted for “social memberships” rather than full memberships because we had no interest in stepping foot on the golf course. In fact, we both seemed to share a similar worldview that was not only uninterested in it as sport but also that is reacting against what golf has come to stand in for symbolically…

  8. Interesting piece, Steve. I am one of the 33 Millennials who does not play golf. However, it’s not for the reasons you and the NYTimes think they are. I grew up in a musical family, so I studied ballet/other dance techniques and a few instruments. My dad thought it was weird when I started watching sports on my own. My mom also hates sports. With. A. Passion. I’ve gotten to enjoy things I wasn’t necessarily exposed to by my parents. I do enjoy watching golf and like playing mini golf. The times I have been to a driving range have been great. I also enjoy walking around parks and practicing games of skill. Now that I have more time to enjoy a game like golf, it’s one that I have considered trying out (I need some serious lessons first), but I oftentimes find myself walking around Central Park instead.

    Oh, and I did grow up playing backgammon.

  9. The back and forth between Gen X mom and Gen Z kid is hilarious.

    I found it interesting that no one has mentioned price as a deterring factor for Millennials. Green fees, club fees and various equipment do not come cheap. I know back in high school I wanted to go with a friend and his dad and simply could not afford it.

  10. Great comments, one and all. I tend to agree with Lance LePoer that golf’s best days are in the past. Unless the PGA adds some version of Mortal Kombat to the interactive experience, I can’t see Millennials or Gen Z’ers even considering the game.

  11. This article had two of my favorite things in it, Oldsmobile and Golf! My first car was a 1990 Olds Cutlass Supreme! I remember that summer of 99’ driving all my friends around in that “couch on wheels!” I wish the survey that went around said “were you UNDER 30 when you started playing golf” because I know a few “Millennials” that work here that are in their early 30s (like yours truly) who did. I played my first 9 when I was 28 years old, and fell in love immediately! I will agree that it is very time consuming, but it’s not the game that takes up all the time, it’s the practice. It is the hardiest SPORT I’ve ever played and with the longest learning curve, but I still enjoy it. I have come to learn, while playing with my buddies, that you can make golf anything you want it to be. For us it’s 20% driving the cart, 20% breaking chops, 50% drinking beers, and 10% playing golf! I play golf recreationally though. I understand that there are many that only view golf on a professional level. I think, with players like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Speith and Ricky Fowler finishing tournaments in the top 10, and being more relevant in golf than Tiger Woods right now, I think we’re going to see a rise in the interest of golf among young adults. See you Saturday for a 6am tee time! With the way I play, and assuming you don’t play, we should finish the round in about seven hours!

  12. Golf was fooled by the big TIGER Boom…I got addicted back in the 1970’s…the first US Open that I went to was 1974 at Winged Foot…Golf will go back to those times when it was a stuffy elite game played only by the wealthy. It will survive but not at the levels of TIGER Mania.

  13. I started playing golf in college, and loved it – particularly the nighttime game with glow-in-the-dark golf balls. However, it was likely the alcoholic beverages we consumed that I liked most! I, like you, Repman, also enjoy more action-packed sports, like running. But golf to me was always a way to slow down, have a drink, and enjoy your friends. You’re just on the course having a good time and enjoying life.

  14. Bryant Gumbal just had a real sports episode on this exact topic. They showed how 125 courses fade every year for the last 10 and how the PGA is trying to remedy it. They are now making the holes on some courses 15 inches in diameter and also playing a form of soccer golf on certain courses. They have the driving range under neon lights with a full bar so now you can get drunk and see how far you can hit the ball.