Slow play, the cost of the game and the time it takes are usually the three main culprits associated with hindering the growth of the game, but a new study suggests that the key to improving participation may just lie at the heart of the home.
The world we live in is used to instant results and has ever decreasing leisure time, so when it comes to encouraging those to take up a challenging and time consuming sport like golf, it can at times feel like a losing battle.
Here at Today's Golfer, we're the champions of the sport, but it's no secret that the governing bodies are concerned about a decrease in popularity. The European Tour's Chief Executive Keith Pelley has pioneered several new forms of the game this year to gauge interest from a new audience, while the R&A and USGA announced a complete overhaul of the rules - trying to make it more simple to understand, and with eradicating slow play in mind.
But what can we really do to improve participation? The Golf Foundation commissioned an independent study to be carried out by Sports Marketing Surveys INC., and what they found had nothing to do with the complexity of the rules.
The comprehensive research involved quantitative surveys during which parents and guardians, junior golfers, club officials and coaches were surveyed across England and Wales.
The results highlighted the fact that 99% of parents see golf as providing a very safe environment for their children, and that 95% also believe the sport can teach their children valuable life skills.
Perhaps most revealing, the Golf Foundation said, was the confirmation that the vast majority of junior golfers (71%) would like to play more golf with their parents.
“The results of the survey prove that golf can have a hugely positive impact on a child’s upbringing,” commented Brendon Pyle, Chief Executive of the Golf Foundation.
“We know that we can provide safe environments for children of all ages but it was particularly pleasing to see that younger children also have a real appetite to play the sport with their parents.
“Golf is perhaps the only sport where multiple generations of the same family can play together over decades and even compete. The fact that 71% of children surveyed expressed a real interest in playing with their parents proves that if clubs can provide an environment in which all ages feel welcome and comfortable, the sport will grow!”
A key catchment for attracting youngsters to the game of golf is between 6-12 years of age, during which 67% of the UK’s participating junior golfers first take up the game.
So with that in mind, should parents be trying to actively spend more time on the course with their children?
The report also questioned junior golfers on what it was that kept them interested in playing golf, and it turns out that the list was quite extensive.
The Golf Foundation reported that juniors questioned confirmed that factors including availability of junior courses and academies, tolerant members, the ability to bring friends along for free and topically, more varied team formats, are the primary factors in retaining junior members.
Varied team formats? We can almost hear Keith Pelley rejoice at this news as his inagural GolfSixes team event debuted at the beginning of May and was confirmed as an official event for at least 2018.
So what happens now?
With European Tour support, The Golf Foundation is also going to be testing the GolfSixes format in 32 golf clubs this summer - something that no doubt was agreed upon as a by-product of this survey.
As part of the wider Get into golf campaign, they will also be focusing upon golf and family over the coming months - supporting England Golf's official Family Golf Month; a national campaign targeting family participation through digital advertising and social media during July.
Moreover, the Foundation has made a commitment to distribute HSBC Golf Roots Family Kit Bags to over 300 UK golf clubs to enable them to offer free taster sessions to families. The bags will include child-friendly fun-oriented golf equipment, adaptable tee markers and ideas on playing formats for all generations of families to play together.
About the survey
Between April and October 2016 SMS INC. conducted an extensive programme of research. The aim was to extrapolate information designed to establish what the ‘Ultimate Junior Golf Experience’ looks like. Parents, guardians, junior golfers, club professionals and PGA Professionals were interviewed in order to establish the factors that are important to junior participation. Further research delved into the impact of retention of junior members in order to ultimately assist the Golf Foundation in their commitment to creating the ‘ultimate experience’ for young people.