By Thomas Calhoun
Golf began and had always been an old man, country club game, and nothing more. But in 1996, a kid came along and changed golf from a game to a sport. A kid named Tiger Woods. Tiger brought youth, style, and athleticism to golf, and people all over the world took notice. No one had ever trained their body like Tiger or prepared like Tiger, and people all over the world became obsessed with being just like him. According to a press conference hosted by the PGA Tour, Tiger used to wake up in the morning and run four miles, then he would go to the gym to lift weights. After that, he would hit balls for 2-3 hours, play a round, and then work on his short game. Finally, to wind down he would run another four miles and if he was feeling up to it, play some basketball or tennis. No one golfer had ever taken this much care of their body until Tiger did it.
Tiger’s influence spread across golf and is the reason that players like Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Brooks Koepka ever picked up a club. Players like Bryson, Brooks, and many others take great care of their bodies, and it shows on their scorecard. With fitness and nutrition being a huge focus of PGA players now, golfers can hit the ball further and have longer careers. Yes, technology helps players hit each shot a bit further, but fitness and nutrition have become essential to keep pace in the PGA.
Now let’s look at where the game has evolved for everyday players like you and me. Just like cars and phones get more advanced every year, so do golf clubs and balls. This can be tracked statistically by the distance of drives in professional golf. According to the PGA, the tour average for drives in 1980 was just over 256 yards compared to 295 yards, which is what it is today. This is because shafts are getting lighter, the driver heads are getting bigger, and the balls are getting softer. All of these advances in technology are making golf more appealing and honestly a little bit easier for the younger generations.
One more huge technological advance on tour is the implementation of Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS and the Tour are partnering to transform the way golf content is created and provided to fans with the goal of higher fan engagement. This artificial intelligence technology will use statistics, live footage, and individual player tracking to give fans an almost video game-like experience while watching a tournament. According to Amazon, “this will allow fans to change their viewing perspective with alternate camera angles, navigate the course, view speed rounds, and display shots on demand.” This experience will help golf grow its fanbase and allow people all over the world to engage with players they support.
The pandemic was a tough time for all people worldwide but gave golf an unexpected jump. According to the National Golf Foundation, the sport reached a 44% increase in play in April 2021 compared to 2020 before leveling off at 5% at the end of the year. This statistic also shows that there were about 20-25 million more rounds nationwide in 2021, that is a lot of green fees and golf balls. It also gave people the chance to exercise when there were no gyms open and a chance to safely socialize with friends and family. COVID–19 may have helped the golf industry in the long run by getting newer players on the course and encouraging existing players to go play more.
Another way that the game of golf is becoming more popular among younger crowds is the use of social media and special broadcasting. We all know that social media can help bring attention to just about anything, but what about actually watching golf live. Every Thanksgiving weekend since 2018, TNT has hosted “The Match”, a celebrity golf event that has featured matchups such as Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, Phil Mickelson vs. Tiger Woods, and most recently Brooks Koepka vs. Bryson DeChambeau. These are fun for sports fans to watch because all of the players are mic’d up and there are always special announcers like Charles Barkley to chime in when the time is right. These live events have drawn viewership as high as 5.8 million viewers and they will continue to grow as the years go on.
A few weeks ago, there was another live tournament that took place in Orlando, Florida. The PNC Championship is the last tournament of the golf season and is a two-day family event. The only tournament that allows PGA professionals and their sons or daughters to play with them. This past tournament captured the hearts of sports fans everywhere because it was the first time Tiger Woods had returned to a golf course since his near-death crash in February, and he was accompanied by his son Charlie. According to an article by Golf Digest, the PNC Championship drew its largest audience in over two decades and delivered a whopping 2.3 million viewers, up 53% from 2020. This tournament showed all golf fans that the future was bright with talent as kids like Charlie Woods and John Daly II lit up the playing field. There were times where Charlie would put it closer to the pin than Tiger, and bail dad out if he missed a put. From what we saw in this tournament, Charlie Woods will be better than his father by the time he hits his 20’s. The fact that there will be another Tiger Woods in just a few short years means that golf will continue to blossom the way it did in the early 2000s.
Golf has come a long way over the past two decades, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make the game one of the major sports in the world. The future is bright with emerging talent at all ages, the improvement of technology for both players, and the level of engagement for the fans. Golf is becoming more accessible than ever before and is giving fans a reason to pick up a club and try it for themselves. Again, we have a long way to go, but I would say we are off to a pretty good start!