Are Millennials more interested in lattes in the lobby and video games in the sports bar than birdies and bogeys on the golf course?
Unlike golf-loving Baby Boomers, Millennials aren’t heading to the fairways with as much enthusiasm.
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) survey data, the golf participation rates of people age 18 to 34 fell roughly 13 percent in 2013 from 2009.
“We understand that golf has to adapt to the Millennial lifestyle,” says Steve Mona, CEO for the World Golf Foundation, an organization that focuses on initiatives to grow the game of golf around the world. “We don’t think there’s a rejection of the game of golf, but Millennials definitely want to consume the game in a different way than Baby Boomers.”
Moreover, Millennials approach the golf experience differently than the previous generation, and meeting planners and golf resorts are adapting in a variety of ways to repackage golf as an attractive and productive pursuit on an itinerary.
“Millennials are not continuing the tradition of doing business on the golf course; golf is mostly recreational to them,” says Gail Wargo, director of sales and marketing for Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa in South Carolina. “Golf requires patience and the ability to cope with idle time and these are two characteristics not necessarily in abundance among this group today.
“Millennials associate golf with an older generation for the most part,” she continues. “When they’re together networking at a business conference, we’re seeing they prefer to mingle in a different setting, such as an energetic nightspot or by the pool under the palm trees.”
Another profound difference from Baby Boomers is that Millennials don’t necessarily want to escape or disconnect while they’re on the back nine.
“There is little doubt that social engagement is a large part of the Millennial golf experience,” Mona says. “They want shorter-duration experiences on the golf course and desire to enjoy technology, such as cell phones, while they’re playing in or attending a golf event.”
Millennials desire a diverse, multi-sensory experience that transcends the traditional and oftentimes unimaginative golf event.
“They don’t like staring and waiting at the tee, so organizers must adapt to their wants and needs by offering interesting entertainment elements and methods for social media engagement,” says Dawn Donahue, president and CEO for Go Golf Events Management in Vancouver, British Columbia. “At our events we encourage interaction on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin and other platforms. We even put photo booths on the golf course so it makes it easier to post.”
Some resorts are responding by adding Wi-Fi and charging stations, providing golf apps and installing speakers on golf carts.
While Baby Boomer golfers and traditionalists might frown at the Millennials’ need for electronic interaction, resorts are realizing they must change to encourage more participation.
“Many Millennials don’t have the same emotional connection to golf and they turn to digital platforms to engage each other in the game,” says Tim Booth, general manager for the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort in Mexico.
Booth suggests that presenting opportunities for dramatic photos and selfies on the golf course is important to Millennials.
Appealing to Millennial sensitivities increases the chances of hosting a successful and enjoyable golf outing.
“I believe laidback events with a focus on team scoring rather than individuals is more appealing to Millennials,” says Joe Lewandowski, head golf professional for Mission Inn Resort & Club near Orlando. “You need less stuffiness and silence and more character, flair and volume to get them involved.”
Many Millennials were introduced to the game of golf by playing the hugely popular Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game on their Playstation or Xbox.
Elaine Macy, senior vice president of group sales for the Preferred Hotel Group, which has a collection of 650 hotels and resorts around the world, believes planners should capitalize on Millennials’ fondness for video games, apps and other electronic gizmos.
“A good idea is to create a format where there’s a winner on each hole just like in a video game,” Macy says. “The participants can then record scores and stats using one of the many golf apps on the market.
“New electronic technology is such a huge part of the Millennial life experience and it makes golf more interesting to them,” she continues. “Incorporating activities like contests using launch monitors, swing analyzers and golf apps makes it easier for them to relate to golf.”
Donahue also suggests putting emphasis on creative food and beverage choices for a Millennials golf event.
“Many Millennials are foodies who grew up watching the Food Network and they’re enamored with creative cuisine on and off the golf course,” Donahue says. “Providing chef-inspired delicacies, healthy and gluten-free choices and craft beers is a lot more tempting and exciting to them.”
Time management is an extremely important issue to Millennials, and planners should consider offering shorter events such as three-hole, six-hole and nine-hole tournaments, putting contests, golf simulator competitions, night golf with glow-in-the-dark balls, trick shot demonstrations and ballroom golf competitions.
“Regardless of what golf event you select, make sure it ends on time,” Donahue says. “Millennials have jam-packed lives with lots of multitasking and time commitments, and they don’t want to hear excuses about why their golf outing won’t finish on time.”
Fitness is an integral part of the Millennial lifestyle and the new concept of Footgolf was created with them in mind.
“Footgolf mirrors golf’s basic model and is much more aerobic, takes less time and is more team-oriented and less individualistic,” Wargo says.
In Footgolf, the hole on the green is expanded to 21 inches in diameter to accommodate a soccer ball, players tally up their score like golf and it only takes about two hours to complete a round. Resorts offering Footgolf include Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, N.J.; French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind.; TreeTops Resort in Gaylord, Mich.; and the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa’s Port Royal Golf club in South Carolina.
The traditional golf cart is evolving to appeal to Millennials, also. In Scottsdale, Ariz., the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa offers specially designed Segways to ride and transport clubs on their golf courses.
Resorts such as Tetherow in Bend, Ore., and Princeville at Hanalei on the island of Lanai in Hawaii feature Golfboards, an easy-to-ride electric board equipped to carry clubs that allows golfers to surf the fairways and feels similar to snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding.
For an off-site golf experience, Topgolf entertainment complexes appeal to tech-addicted Millennials with point-scored electronic golf games that anyone, regardless of skill level, can play. In a plush sports-bar-style environment, players hit a golf ball containing a personalized microchip into a series of targets ranging from 20 to 240 yards away.
Topgolf, which has an upscale food and beverage menu and can host group events, has locations that include Scottsdale, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas, and Alexandria, Va.
“You must be very innovative and work diligently to make golf appealing to Millennials because they won’t just show up like Baby Boomers,” Donahue says.