Modern Golf: Inclusion Through Technology
Luke Elvy, Vice President of Media at aboutGOLF, is a passionate golfer and sports broadcaster with 25-plus years of experience. Elvy has commentated and hosted for an impressive number of sports networks including CBS Sports, PGA Tour Entertainment, TEN Sports, Fox Sports Australia and US, and more. Notable tournament coverage includes CBS Commentator at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia since 2010 and is the voice of the PGA Tour’s Esports game.
On Modern Golf
Brett Campbell, CEO of aboutGOLF, mentioned the term “Modern Golf” early on in our conversations. I thought to myself, Golf is golf. We play the game nearly the same way people did when it was first introduced centuries ago.
But Brett is right. The game is evolving around technology.
Golf is no longer just a leisurely stroll around a pretty course or seaside links hitting a golf ball. Technology has introduced new ways to play the game.
In the early 1990s, John Daly was the longest hitter in the game, and people were stunned. At the time, he was averaging around 270 yards off the tee. But recently, 300 yards has become the average distance on the PGA Tour. The next generation of stars is driving closer to 350 yards. By today’s standards, Daly’s distances would be considered on the lower end of the spectrum. Golf technology has changed the way we play the game over the last 20-25 years, and the impact extends well beyond golf clubs.
Modern Golf creates opportunity where it didn't exist before.
Barriers to the Traditional Game
Golf is a wonderful sport. A group could be made up of a grandparent, the parents, and a young child. The handicap system gives them equal footing, enabling all four to compete against one another regardless of age or sex.
Recently, golf has gone from being exclusive to more inclusive. Moves by the governing bodies and elite private clubs to include women and children have opened the doors for more people to be exposed to the game. Women and young golfers are finally being celebrated as an integral part of the sport. But technology has opened up the doors for mass expansion.
Time is the most precious commodity of the 21st century. With technology always within reach, we’re constantly bombarded with new information and demands for attention. Our work week now averages 50-60 hours. We’re never really far away from the office thanks to smartphones.
When you consider 18 holes of golf takes anywhere between 4 to 6 hours, it’s not a surprise that people avoid the game. We just don’t have that kind of spare time anymore. Cost and accessibility are also major detractors.
Technology: The Great Equalizer
Technology solves many of the problems people face with golf. On a simulator, I can play a full round of golf in 30-35 minutes. If I have friends join me, it takes less than two hours to play all 18. You simply can’t do that on a golf course.
People can go to an indoor golf center as 4 friends, and at $50 per hour, 2 hours will cost the group $100. Total. That’s $25 per person to play a round of golf. Find me a golf course where you can play a round of golf for that price and in that amount of time. With a simulator, you can play indoors in bad weather and at any hour, day or night.
Technology has revolutionized golf instruction. People instantly receive data to help them improve how they play and can verify they’ve improved over time. Technology lifts recreational players’ spirits, and, quite frankly, it's kept a lot of people engaged who may have otherwise been lost to golf.
There’s data to back up my observations. While on-course golf participation has declined or remained flat in recent years, the segment of off-course players has been growing at double-digit rates. According to the National Golf Foundation, only 23% of on-course golfers are women. Women account for 44% of off-course golf players.
The Future of the Game
Tiger Woods won the Masters in April of 2019. It was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport. He took home just over $2M. A few months later, a sixteen-year-old kid from the U.S. won $3 million dollars by winning the Fortnite World Cup in New York. I couldn’t believe a gamer won more money than the greatest athlete of our time.
Online competition is only going to increase the popularity of golf because it’s one of the few sports that can be fully simulated. It’s easy to imagine global tournaments with substantial purses within the next decade. For example, people could play the Ryder Cup in a simulator. Players would represent the two teams and compete under similar rules in simulators at the venue.
While it will never completely replace major championship golf or the elite level of the game, online competition will allow people more opportunities to play than ever before. That's why I'm excited to be a part of the Modern Golf movement at aboutGOLF.