GOLF SURVEY KEY QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Eric Brown, Global Turf Business Manager of Syngenta, answers some of the key questions raised by the company's detailed market research into 'Growing Golf in the UK', first presented at the Golf Business Forum in St Andrews. He offers some insights and analysis on the significant latent demand for golf, which could see the number of players double in the UK:
What were the key findings of the research?
To our knowledge this is the first time there has been such an extensive piece of research among non-golfers and lapsed golfers, as well as regular players. In total we canvassed the opinions of more than 3,500 UK residents, including 2,145 non-golfers and 1,477 golfers. The UK population is currently approximately 63 million, 38 million of which are physically active or participate in sport, with approximately 4 million playing golf. The findings revealed a huge latent demand for golf with an estimated 8.5 million people interested in taking up the sport.
Did you identify specific groups of people interested in golf?
Of the non-golfers we interviewed, 65% said they were looking for a new or additional sport or hobby, with 55% saying they had enough time for golf. What we found particularly interesting is that just under half of the people who said they would be interested in taking up golf are in the younger 15-39 years age group. That shows there is great potential for golf, but golf has to find ways to reach out and engage with this age group.
What would attract new people into golf?
We asked non-golfers and lapsed golfers about a number of initiatives we know golf courses are already trying. Our research showed that the ability to sample or try golf without an immediate long-term commitment could be an important first step or entry point into the game. Of those who expressed an interest in taking up golf, 63% said they would go to a free golf morning at their local course, while 53% said they would be interested in a 2-month trial period. Others said they would be encouraged to take up golf if there was easy access to affordable golf lessons (61%).
Are non-golfers discouraged by some aspects of golf club culture?
Rules and regulations regarding clothing was an issue for both non-golfers and golfers, supporting the view that golf may not be attuned to customer expectations around leisure and sports activities. More than half (54%) of the non-golfers we interviewed said they would be encouraged to take up golf if there was a relaxed dress code.
Click here for a news summary and commentary on key findings of 'Growing Golf in the UK' and the latent demand for family-friendly courses
What about golfers? Why do clubs face challenges in retaining existing members and customers?
There are many reasons why golfers may leave a specific club, course or even stop playing golf altogether. Of the golfers we interviewed, 65% said they would consider leaving their club or regular course. That's a significant proportion of golf's customers who are questioning their commitment to the sport. One statistic that stands out for me is that 25% of golfers recall no experience of being treated like a valued customer. Also, up to 50% of golfers feel intimidated by club rules, regulations and members of staff. These responses may give some indication of why golfers might question their loyalty to a particular club or course.
The proportion of females playing golf in the UK is significantly lower than in Scandinavia and Germany where golf is also popular. What did the research find in terms of the potential to generate higher female participation?
What the research showed clearly is not only the potential for more female golfers, but also the importance of women in introducing young people to the game. Of the female golfers we interviewed, 48% reported that their children also played, this is significantly higher than males at 37%, suggesting that there is a strong link between junior golf and female participation. Women were also very clear about their golfing preferences - 67% like to play with family and friends. Nearly a third (31%) said they feel intimidated by other club members.
What would encourage more women to take up golf?
The importance of family and friends is a key factor for women. Nearly half (47%) of the non-golfing females we surveyed said they would take up golf if friends and family played. And more than half (55%) said they would give golf a go if they had easy access to affordable lessons.
Clearly, social aspects of golf matter to golfers and non-golfers alike. But what about the facilities, both on and off-course?
From research we've done previously, we know that while clubhouses are important, the reputation of a golf business begins with its golf course. The feedback from golfers in this survey were clear. They expected smooth rolling greens, good course design, courses with visual appeal that blend into their natural environment - and they want well maintained turf so golf balls sit proudly on the fairway and can be found in the rough.
What was the purpose of this research?
As a business we are committed to golf and want to be part of the growth of golf in the UK and around the world. We also wanted to better understand the sustainability of the UK golf course industry, from a social, business and environmental perspective. What we've found is that there is very significant latent demand for golf that could be realised if clubs and courses were able to promote themselves in a more friendly, flexible and family-orientated way.
What messages might the UK golf business take from the findings?
Ultimately, people want to relax, be treated as a valued customer, share time with friends and family and enjoy a healthy sport on a well-maintained golf course in an appealing, outdoor environment. Clearly, the research points to a significant opportunity here for golf to both retain existing players and attract many new people into a sport that offers health and social benefits to all. I think this deeper understanding of customer wants and needs can be used in a positive way to shape the future of the golf business.
This interview first appeared on the Golf Business Community website. Further information on the findings the Syngenta UK golf consumer market research will be published on GreenCast over the next six months. Look out for further details.