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Whether it be the stigma of dress codes or draconian rules disguised as ‘tradition’, golf has long had the reputation of being an ‘old man’s game’. If you turn on the TV however, it couldn't be further from the truth. There are only two players over 30 in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking. One is Dustin Johnson, who is described as a ‘veteran’ at the age of 37; he was the oldest on Team USA's Ryder Cup team. The other, Rory McIlroy at just 32. The average age of the top-10 is in fact just 28.
It's a similar story on the LPGA Tour. Inbee Park, at just 33, is the oldest in the top-10 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking and there is an average age of just 25.
As you watch more and more young guns competing for Major titles and ever increasing prize purses, whilst looking like they're having the time of their lives along the way, it begs the question - has this been felt at grass roots level? In a recent survey by accountancy firm Hillier Hopkins LLC, it found that, for the second successive year, memberships have risen. On face value, that is of course positive. There are now 49% of clubs reporting more than 600 members, up from 43% in 2020 and 38% in 2019. Growing the game, right? It doesn't seem that way.
Whilst the total number of members might have risen, the age demographic continues to be of concern. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of members are over the age of 50, with a third older than the age of 61. Age aside, it also found that three quarters of members were male.
Whilst the Hillier Hopkins survey suggests an ageing membership population, that isn't necessarily reflective of the game of golf. In May 2021, the R&A published its participation report which revealed that, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, participation was on the rise. It reported that 5.7 million people played golf of some form in 2020, up from 2.3 million in 2019. Female participation also saw an increase, with 25 per cent of all female players new to golf. It also revealed that the majority of new golfers within the UK are aged under 55, with the average age dropping by five years, from 46 to 41-years old. Golf clubs now face the task of attracting those new to participating in the game into its membership schemes, which is key for long-term success.
Afterall, golf is a game for all ages. Tom Watson was a firm bounce away from winning the Open Championship at the age of 59 and best of all, he played with 16-year old Matteo Manassero, then Amateur Champion, for the first two rounds. Jordan Spieth won the 2013 John Deere Classic at just 19, becoming the first teenager since 1931 to win on the PGA Tour. Lydia Ko was the youngest of either gender to reach the top of the world ranking, at just age 17. Golf clubs need to figure out how to attract younger people to the game, and fast.
More from the Hillier Hopkins survey:
James joined Golf Monthly having previously written for other digital outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – from tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with items from the likes of Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Francis Ouimet, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Adam Scott and Ernie Els. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7. His favourite films are The Legend of Bagger Vance and Tin Cup.
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