Updated: Aug 25, 2019
An alternate version of this article originally appeared on the blog home of the private club consulting firm, RCS Hospitality Group.
I don't have a background in golf. My parents didn't play golf, and I had never played until just a couple of years ago. I found that I enjoyed the tradition of the game, the peace, and tranquility found on the course, and the idea of the challenge--but I didn't catch "the bug."
There were a handful of primary challenges to the game of golf that didn't particularly appeal to me:
Time: a round of golf takes a lot of time. I'm a busy professional with a dynamic work schedule, and finding the time to carve out 4-5 undisturbed hours is challenging.
Intimidation: for a complete newbie like me, golf was intimidating. It's a serious game with centuries of tradition behind it--and it's hard! That's why so many players develop a lifelong love for the game, right? The challenge. However, in my initial golf experiences, I found myself feeling stiff, uncomfortable, and anxious about making a mistake, whether in the game or the etiquette surrounding it.
Dress code: we live in a much more casual society today than in years past. I am, in some ways, a typical Millennial: I work remotely, so I don't go into a traditional office every day. I have casual clothes for my day-to-day life, and a small collection of more formal officewear for visiting clients on-site and attending conferences. That's it--very little that could be comfortably worn on a golf course.
These issues directly impacted the amount of enjoyment I felt during those early golf experiences. I appreciated and respected the tradition and challenge of the game, but I didn't have fun. My passing interest in golf dissipated quickly, and I didn't think much of it...until I went to Topgolf.
If you aren't familiar with any one of the 40 Topgolf locations around the world, I'll let them speak for themselves:
In 2000, the Jolliffe brothers envisioned a new kind of golf experience that combines competition with entertainment. Players hit microchipped golf balls at targets on an outfield. Just picture a larger-than-life-sized outdoor dartboard – but for golf. And for a little friendly rivalry, the high-tech balls instantly score each shot's accuracy and distance.
Fast forward to 2016, and Topgolf has evolved to become a best-in-class entertainment venue, complete with dynamic event spaces and a food and drink menu that would put any sports bar to shame. With golf pros strolling the tee line offering tips and climate-controlled hitting bays, Topgolf is flat-out fun at any age, skill level or time of year.
I found myself at Topgolf as part of a foursome of friends, only one of whom was a regular, avid golfer playing 50+ rounds per year. The rest of us didn't have much of a clue what we were doing--but as I discovered, it didn't matter!
In the bays around us, we were surrounded by people of every demographic group you could imagine. Towards the end of the row, I saw two gentlemen, clearly serious golfers, there to work on their swing. A little further down, I spied a large group of coworkers taking over several bays for a teambuilding work activity. The staff mentioned that on weekends during the day, the bays are stacked with families and children. There were also plenty of groups like mine: 20 and 30-somethings just out to have a good time and do something different than the usual bar scene.
No matter which group I was observing (in between my own swings) everyone looked like they were having fun. The music was pumping, and golf pros were walking around offering pointers and enthusiastic encouragement. When we got hungry, we didn't have to go somewhere else, order delivery, or wait for a beverage cart to come around.
Instead, Topgolf prides itself on a robust food and beverage program with something for everyone that reflects current dining trends. They feature local brews and a variety of wine (even Veuve Clicquot champagne!) and often highlight fresh, local ingredients. Fine dining this is not--but it's what you want when you're whacking some balls with your friends and a bucket of beers: high quality, great-tasting sliders, burgers, queso, and wings.
My point is this: I had FUN. It's a gamified experience using targets and technology to track scoring and encourage friendly competition, with great food and drinks available, Top-40 music, and a fun, low-pressure environment.
I'm not saying that Topgolf is the future of golf, by any means. However, it is hitting the points that deterred my initial interest in traditional golf: it's low-pressure, friendly, convenient (I can wear whatever I want without worrying about a dress code), fast (the average time spent at Topgolf is 2 hours), and it's FUN!
I'm not the only one that thinks so. In 2016, Topgolf hosted 10.5 million guests. 51% of them are non-golfers, just like me. 54% of their guests are between the ages of 18 and 34, just like me. That demographic also happens to conveniently overlap with the generation known as "Millennials": those born between 1982 and 1994.
Why are Millennials important to the golf industry?
It boils down to spending power. Many Millennials were reaching adulthood or hitting their prime income-earning years when The Great Recession hit in 2008. This generation is only now recovering and hitting their "spending stride," and is also well known to favor experiential spending as opposed to materialism.
Now, I'm a member of Topgolf and a fairly regular visitor. I often attend with that avid golfer friend, during hours he would otherwise be on his usual course. Topgolf is clearly doing something right, and I think traditional courses should consider taking note. Think about what elements of the Topgolf experience can be implemented to capture more of that Millennial market:
Revisit food & beverage: is it on-trend? Is it fresh? More than just the "basics"?
Consider night golf, glow-in-the-dark golf, or technology-based golf using targets at the driving range--how can you make golf more approachable?
Relax the dress code in the off-hours
We have dollars to spend...will it be with you?
Grace Everitt is a published writer & editor with nearly ten years of experience in both digital and print media. She is also the president of Grace Marketing Group, and spends her time bouncing between Florida and California.