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As a sport, golf is one which is steeped in history and cultural significance, dominating business conversations and interactions, and providing an out of office location for businessmen to impress each other and drive bargains and partnerships to fruition. As an industry, golf is a concept built around prestige, with clubs all over the world offering high level membership packages to those who wish to play, with only a handful providing pay as you play options for those not enlisted into the members club.
Meanwhile, as a retail sector and player in the sports and fitness industry, golf is an activity which very much operates within its own niche – offering little crossover with other industries and sports in relation to the equipment required and the apparel worn. And while the industry as a whole is constantly adapting in line with its changing consumer attitudes and priorities, the fact is that the high level prestige of the golf world is such that keeping up with trends is becoming increasingly challenging for clubs and brands which value the upper class qualities associated with the sport and are thus typically regarded as unwelcoming to new beginners and those outside the sector.
What this does mean for consumers, however, is that as the golfing industry shifts to become more mainstream and more on trend with modern demands and behaviours, so prices are wavering and new brands and retailers are catching on to creating and providing equipment and golfing accessories which extend the breadth of the sport into new and previously untapped demographics. Through the use of seasonal deals and the rise in vouchers which include golfing apparel shops under the sporting apparel headline, golf is gradually becoming something with a wider target audience – and thus an industry with more room for growth and expansion.
Golf as we know it today is a sport which was born in Scotland in the Middle Ages, and which developed locally until it finally found international prominence in the late 19th century. While games with a similar concept – taking turns to hit a ball onto a target, with the winner hitting the target with the least number of rounds – had been around since as early as 1297, it was in Scotland where the game played over 18 holes was formed, using a stick and a ball to move around the course.
Despite these early origins, golf hasn’t always had a smooth ride, and was banned by King James II of Scotland in 1457 as he believed it was a distraction for those who were meant to be engaged in archery and target practice for military purposes. Since then, golf has been banned nationally on several occasions, mainly for being an unprofitable and pointless sport – however it has always bounced back and in 1681 James VII of Scotland was said to have played in the first ever international tournament against two British players as part of a bet.
The late 19th century was when golf really found its place in the sporting industry, tied in with the Queen of England’s linkage with Scotland in the form of the Balmoral Estate, and her subsequent interest in Scottish sports and cultures. This period is also when golf balls began to be mass produced as Gutta Percha was found to be cheaper and more durable than the leather bound feather balls used before. The London Scottish Golf Club was founded in Wimbledon in 1865, and by 1914 England had over 1000 courses across the country.
While the history of the game itself is important in establishing its connections with the upper classes of society and its prominence as a game of status, the real evolution of golf from the wealthy families to the mass market can be seen through the development of equipment – particularly with regards to the golf ball itself and golf clubs. As golf balls and clubs have become gradually more sophisticated over the years, decade and centuries since the games conception, so the industry around golf has become more accessible to the masses through the affordability of such tools; meanwhile the game itself has been elevated in quality due to the development in equipment and standardised rules, making it a sport worthy of international recognition, growth and competition.
Today, the biggest golf championships and tournaments take place on a global scale with sportsmen competing from all over the world. The entry lists for these tournaments alone show how the sport has grown to international status, however it is the mainstream media following that golf now enjoys which really solidifies its position as one of the top sports in the world.
The main products linked with the playing of golf are the golf club and golf balls, however it is only when you start to break down the ways in which consumers interact with golf as a sport that you start to see just how wide the industry product list really is.
For one thing, the status of golf is such that a uniform of sorts is required by many clubs – with the most expensive members clubs being those white impose a dress code, while others simple recommend user follow specific dress suggestions. This uniform consists of a collared shirt and pressed trousers – nothing too strict, but still enough to already limit the user list to those who own and wear the appropriate attire.
Beyond that, golf accessories are a product sector which has grown in the last few years, featuring golf bags and hats as well as the items needed to maintain the golfing equipment and the course itself – for example mower parts and club cleaning products.
Another area of the industry and one which is intrinsically linked with the product range is the rise in golf industry services which specific retailers and brands are now offering in order to elevate their status and drive additional customer sales and engagement. These kind of services not only enhance the consumer experience on purchase, but also create customer loyalty, with examples including:
For consumers looking to purchase products within the golf sector, one of the major things you will notice is how golfers are just as likely to buy from their own club as they are from a major sporting retailer or ecommerce store. For the most part, golf clubs have a certain prestige about them, and members are able tot benefit from exclusive club deals and discounts on all manner of products and services provided by contractual agreements and partnerships.
For those who are not member of golf clubs, luckily the industry has shifted over the past few years to become more accessible and more welcoming to those outside its inner sphere. What this means is that golf products are available across a wider range of price points and can be found across more retailers, each offering consumers different deals and discounts, and a whole variety of vouchers. Some of the top names in the retail industry which stock and sell golfing products include:
A number of these retailers and stores are online exclusive and operate ecommerce businesses, thus consumers should be aware that they will not benefit from the consumer engagement techniques used by golf specialist stores which offer fittings and trials.
Meanwhile, some of the top brands which are associated and linked with the golf industry include:
When you look at this list, only one brand name stands out as being part of the sporting industry as a whole – the rest are exclusive to golf, focussing on the creation of new and improved products which use innovative and technical materials in order to create and design success for players across all manner of different environments.
One of the major trends which is driving the golf industry forward is the expansion of the industry into new and previously untapped demographics, as the golfing world finds new ways of appealing to a younger audience which approaches sport and social activity in a completely different way to previous generations.
A sport built around tradition, the development of the golf industry in a more modern direction is one which encompasses not only the game and products themselves, but also the ways that clubs provide experiences to members and consumers. Younger audiences are far less likely to respond to the antiquated traditions and rules laid out by previous generations, and so the golfing industry has seen significant shifts in the way that clubhouses work; creating bars which cater to after-play drinks for users, allowing members to bring guests onto the courses for business play and leisure play, and finding new ways of innovating the golf game by creating concepts such as night golf and fundraising golf days. Another aspect of this lies in the marketing of golf as a sport, using more mainstream social media and tournament streaming to highlight the sport as a competitive and fun game which users of all backgrounds can enjoy. In essence, this particular trend dealing with the broadening of the golf industry into other demographics requires a focus on modernising the game and making it a more welcoming community for new consumers.
Another trend which has seen the golf industry as a whole reach a much wider audience is the development of crazy golf – not only relaxing the rules around formal golf and making the game easier and more accessible for players of all abilities, but also turning golf into a family game which can be themed and designed around all manner of different obstacles, characters and locations. Cities and rural destinations all over the world have taken hold of the mini golf and crazy golf trend, delivering everything from children’s courses to courses lined with bars for adult socialising and group parties. By introducing golf to potential consumers through this stepping-stone concept, users can understand the concept of the game in a fun environment before potentially upgrading to a full course.
And of course, there are the courses which are new developmental trends and feature less holes than the traditional 18 – again, making golf a slightly less time consuming and constrained sport, instead giving users the freedom to choose how long they wish to play for and how many holes they would like to complete. Many existing clubs have created shorted courses and even established mini golf courses onto their existing properties in order to meet these two growing demands and expand their repertoire to the wider audience.
And finally, we have the influence of professional golfers and the inspiration that is presented to consumers through the streaming of big tournaments and matches which showcase really high quality golf play. As is the case with many sports, there is a very distinct difference between the consumers who watch the sport and those who play it; however, both groups are responsible for the growth and development of the industry, as each demonstrate their commitment to the sport and become part of the growing trends which help to shape the future of the sport.
For those looking to break into the golf industry either as consumers or suppliers, the main trend around making the sport more accessible to a wider audience offers a huge opportunity for new and innovative products and accessories, gifting items and novelty gadgets – especially across marketplace sites where consumers and gift buyers are increasingly narrowing their search for specific gifts down by hobby and recipient – with golf being one of the top searches for father’s day and dad’s birthday gifts.
And as the industry expands into more retail sectors and industry, from apparel to accessories, gifts and beyond, so the industry will become subject to more vouchers, deals and discounts for the benefit of the consumers.
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