Steeped in tradition (since 1454), golf needs to make a (hasty) move into the 21st century.

Much of the appeal of golf is its history and traditions. But interest in the game has been rapidly declining in recent years.  While the sport is by no means in crisis, lowered participation rates, memberships, equipment sales and media coverage are cause for concern. In 2013, Golf Australia named ‘growing golf’ – raising the level of interest and participation in the sport – as one of their top strategic priorities for the next four years.

Clubs need to look how they can adapt to players’ needs to remain competitive.


Lack of club growth

Australia has the third highest number of golf courses per capita worldwide. In 2013, half of the country’s 1,591 clubs reported being under financial duress due to rising costs, a lack of resources, limited access to expertise, and declining memberships and golf shop sales. The struggle for clubs is to cater to the golfer of the 21st Century, while providing value for money. Many have had to sell off land to developers, merge with neighbouring clubs or simply shut up shop.

“We’ve seen clubs face challenges, we’ve seen costs continuing to go up and revenues not really growing to meet those costs.” Steve Pitt, Golf Australia Chief Executive

Membership and participation

Since the Global Financial Crisis, the number of golfers worldwide has fallen by around 10 million – in the US – 16%, England, 2.2% in the last year alone. Even in Scotland, the birthplace of golf, 0.8%.

St Andrews Scotland birthplace of golfImage: The Royal and Ancient St Andrews Golf Course Scotland, the birthplace of golf

While the game is enjoying some growth in some parts of Asia and South America, Japan – traditionally been a haven for golfers – numbers are down by an alarming 40%.

A report by Golf Australia in 2015 revealed the same worrying trend in Australia, with an overall decrease in memberships of 50,000 since 2006.  Some 83% of clubs have less than 500 members, over half of the members aged over 55.

The changing golfer

Interestingly, the same report showed that social golf numbers doubled between 2011 and 2015, indicating a change in the nature of the game for club members.

On a player level, golfers aren’t the golfers they used to be. As a society in general, we are time-poor, dollar conscious, tech-savvy and saturated with options for sport and leisure. At an average of 5 hours for 18 holes, golf is neither quick nor cheap to play. Combined with its reputation for being difficult to learn and rigid with respect to rules and etiquette, it can be off-putting for beginners and old hands alike.

Increasing participation and memberships among younger generations is a massive challenge for clubs. Junior players (u18) constitute only 3.6% of the industry.

Family of golf players walking at the course

Junior Golfers are on the decline too, accounting for just 3.6% of players.

So what can clubs do to attract new players and convert them to paying members that spend not just on green fees but on food, beverages and apparel too?

Embrace technology and give golfers a better experience

Although history holds part of golf’s charm, bans on mobile phones, strict clothing requirements, resistance to technology and a perceived elitism are not doing clubs any favours. Golf needs to be quicker, easier and more relaxed – acknowledging the social inclination of casual and new players.

Technology is key to improving the game for all players – and may be one answer to adapting to the modern golfer – attracting new players and increasing the viability of golf as a game.

We love the idea of mobile apps to improve the golfer’s experience and increase the bottom line.

Raising revenue through on-course food, beverage and golf gear delivery

On-course delivery apps are a massive opportunity not just to engage with the younger population, but also to improve the golfing experience for all players while tapping into an additional revenue stream.

The Fetched on the Fairway app allows golfers to order food, drinks and golf items from their mobile devices and have them delivered directly to their location on-course, via the GPS.  With beverage cart operations accounting for an average of 30% of food and beverage revenue and some carts bringing in $1,000 a day, adopting this strategy is a no-brainer.

The benefits of using an app for food and beverage delivery are many:

  • Players get what they want when they want – no waiting for the cart to circle or for the turn
  • No wasted wages – drivers can circle for hours, and may not make a sale
  • Quick and easy – orders can be made whilst waiting or driving (as a passenger of course)
  • Cashless – payment is made through the app
  • Undisturbed play – delivery drop offs are quick and unobtrusive 
  • Access for all – walkers as well as players with cart

For clubs without a cart service or courses that are just too long to deliver, players can order on the go via the app and pick up their order at the turn or at the end of their game, saving time for players and staff alike.


In cart GPS vs mobile delivery App?

Incorporating technology into strategy will help to attract more and younger players to your club and engage and delight the ones who are already there.

While in-cart GPS systems offer course navigation along with a menu and direct ordering from the kitchen, they don’t work for all clubs as they require a huge initial outlay for installation and maintenance, plus they exclude walkers from the picture. Apps, on the other hand, are quick and cheap (free) to get up and running and service your entire player base.

There are always going to be the nay-sayers clutching at the straws of tradition and ‘the good old days’ but who says you can’t have both? The golf industry is not dying; a few smart choices by clubs will have golfers flocking back to courses.


Find out more about Fetched on the Fairway

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