SBJ/May 4 - 10, 1998/No Topic Name

Push being made to diversify the game

Golf may forever be dominated by 40 year old white males making $60,000 a year, but industry leaders expect the rest of the demographic pie to shift dramatically – mainly because, for the first time in its history, the game is trying to change those demographics.

To push change – and stimulate industry growth that has been static for years – golf organizations are pouring millions of dollars into junior, minority and women’s programs that in the past have been operated by grassroots groups.

The highest profile effort comes this year when some of golf’s major organizations, including the PGA, the LPGA and the US Golf Association, kick off The First Tee program, which is designed to introduce golf to the inner city by building facilities; that run the gamut form driving courses where juniors can play for free.

The First Tee is one of golf’s first major unified efforts to expose the game to untapped markets, an overdue effort, according to Steve Hamblin, executive director of the Georgia-based American Junior Golf Association.

"Junior golf in America has always been organized on a local level compared to other countries like Sweden, where it is organized under one umbrella," Hamblin said. "But in the past few years, the LPGA, the PGA and the USGA have stepped up support."

Efforts like The First Tee program and those of other grassroots organizations signal golf’s interest in becoming more diversified, but industry leaders wonder if the new crop of players will stick with the sport.

"It’s one thing to say that Tiger Woods will attract more golfers, but will these new golfers still be playing in five or six years?" asked Jim Baugh, chief executive officer of Wilson Sporting Goods Inc.

Annually in the United States, nearly 25 million golfers play 477 million rounds on 16,010 courses, according to data from the Florida-based National Golf Foundation. Females account for 21 percent of that golfing population, just behind seniors (age 50 and over), who account for 26 percent. Juniors account for 8 percent and members of minority groups make up 3 percent.

Those percentages have held steady for the past few years, but by the year 2000 golf’s demographics likely will be reshuffled, industry experts say.

The NGF hasn’t finished compiling its 1997 statistics, but spokeswoman Judy Thompson said there are early indications that the number of female, junior and minority golfers increased dramatically last year. Other industry experts already are seeing a new breed of player.

"Golfers are younger, more female, more ethnic, more diverse than in the past," said Linda Berman, executive vice president of California-based MGM Consumer Products Inc.

A January study by the PGA of America classifies golfers into eight "clusters" depicting age, sex, income and number of rounds played annually. Notable in the PGA study is that females account for 26 percent of all golfers, 5 percent higher than the NGF study and up 5 percent from the PGA’s 1995 numbers.

Although golf is traditionally a country club sport, 70 percent of the nation’s courses are public, with 66 percent of all rounds played on public courses, according to the NGF.

But it’s junior golf that is seen as the market of the future as the heroics and subsequent marketing of Woods draw younger golfers to the sport.

"It’s too early to tell what impact Tiger Woods will have on golf," Thompson said, "but I suspect there will be changes."


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