Just two days after getting this assignment to write on millennials’ love of golf, I got this text from my son, Connor, who is 25:
I just shot a 79 at Heather Ridge Golf Course. It was a goal to shoot under 80 once in my life and I did it. Didn’t have to take one drop, didn’t lose a single ball. Unbelievable. Best I’ve ever played. Still can’t believe it.
During his teens, Connor played a couple of times a year, but after college he started playing more regularly. Today, he and his buddies – all born in the 1990s – play several times a month at different courses in and around Denver, Colorado. So I checked in with him to learn why the sport captured his interest and what courses can do to keep him playing.
He tells me golf has been a good way to “get outside, to stay social and to bond over beers, bad golf shots, and hot dogs at the turn.” But he’s also quick to add that it’s an outlet to be competitive. “We push to not only beat each other, but get better ourselves.”
One of Connor’s golfing buddies, Andrew Russell, 26, agrees and adds, “The addiction stems from a combination of wanting to always be a more consistent and better golfer as well as the social aspect of playing with friends on a regular basis.”
Connor adds, “I think golf is in a great spot. Now guys – and girls – my age are getting addicted fast. I think our generation is creating a bright future for the sport.”
Some analysts of the sport believe that’s true. Michael Gregory, managing director and partner at GGA Partners, an international consulting firm for courses and clubs, says course owners and operators would be wise to pay attention to millennials and the younger groups of Gen Z and X because those groups are “aging into prime golf years.”
Surveys from GGA Partners and Nextgengolf, the PGA wing that holds team golf tournaments and experiences for young adults, have found some interesting tidbits:
Nearly half of Nextgengolf millennials play more than 40 rounds a year. And three-quarters keep an active handicap, averaging 8.8 overall.
The average spend per round among millennials rose from $34 in 2017 to $51 in 2022. “Don’t assume that millennials won’t spend money on golf,” Gregory says. “Millennials will pay more if it means better course conditions, better pace of play and better service.”
Pace of play was the lowest-rated satisfaction area of golf courses by a significant margin. Less than 50% of millennial golfers are satisfied with the pace of play. “Focusing on improving pace of play will make a big difference in millennial satisfaction with your course,” Gregory adds.
So what else can courses do to make playing even more appealing to younger golfers? Connor and Andrew say they like specials.
“Any specials are a big pull for me,” Connor says. “A four-pack deal that includes the round, cart, range balls or a sleeve of balls, or drink vouchers are huge incentives. Just feeling like you’re being treated with extras gives you a nice feeling.”
Andrew says the “number-one thing” he looks for is “a high-quality course at a reasonable rate.
“Punch cards, young memberships, pace of play, clubhouse amenities, overall atmosphere and organized tournaments all play a factor in where I want to play and have a beer and food before or after the round,” Andrew says. “I don’t mind driving an extra 10-15 minutes for a course that is well maintained at a reasonable price.”
And another factor: the practice facility. “Golfers tend to get to the course earlier or come more often – even without a tee time – when they can warm up on a nice driving range, and a large putting and chipping green,” Andrew says.
And millennials, like most golfers, know that practice doesn’t hurt.
Connor told me that shooting the 79 definitely added to his addiction. “It keeps you coming back,” he says.
In my reply text, I congratulated Connor and told him to enjoy that 79, and then added: Time for a new, lower goal!
He replied: Thank you, can’t believe it. Yep, gotta stay hungry.