It’s no secret that the game of golf is in trouble. Declining participation numbers have led to massive drop-offs in television viewership, golf course closures, and plummeting numbers in golf retail stores.
That being said, not all news about the industry is bad. Initiatives like HackGolf, TopGolf and FootGolf are all making a difference, trying to grow the game by reaching out to the younger generation.
You can also add Nextgengolf and GolfMatch to the list of game changers. Now, these two companies aimed at accomplishing the same goal — growing the game amongst the millennial generation — have teamed up for a Ryder Cup-style competition between Boston and New York.
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This won’t be your typical Ryder Cup, however, in the sense that not all 32 players will be A-level. Instead, the teams will evenly incorporate players of all skill levels. With eight players making the squad from each sectional qualifier, the ratio of great, good and beginner players will vary.
“It’ll depend on who shows up,” said Kris Hart, CEO of Nextgengolf. “If there’s 32 players, qualifiers will depend on how many A, B, C and D players participate. Only up to eight players will qualify in each event, but it won’t necessarily be the top eight players.”
Boston’s first qualifier is already in the books, but there’s still a chance to make the team for those interested. Aug. 2 is the last call for players hoping to represent Boston, and the event will take place at South Shore Country Club in Hingham, Mass. Folks looking to represent New York will have the opportunity to qualify this Sunday at Tallgrass Golf Course in Shoreham, N.Y., and two weeks later, on Aug. 17 at Middle Bay Golf Club in Oceanside, N.Y.
“Nextgengolf was just planning on doing events in Boston to understand what young adults and millennials want,” Hart said. “With GolfMatch, we were able to have some fun and put this event together.”
“It’s great because you can engage people on Twitter and social media about the rivalry,” said Peter Kratsios, CEO of GolfMatch. “You can take jabs at your friends who are New York fans or Boston fans — that’s always good fun.”
The final showdown is set for Sept. 13 at one of New England’s best public courses — Shining Rock Golf Club in Northbridge, Mass. — for the first Annual City Championship.
Hart and Kratsios agree that when it comes to growing the game, there is a huge need to bring in young adults. More specifically, millennials age 18-34. Both of their initiatives are aimed at attracting that demographic to the game by providing opportunities to play with more golfers like themselves (GolfMatch) in an affordable, competitive fashion (Nextgen).
“It’s good to work with GolfMatch because they’re trying to match people of similar abilities,” Hart said. “We’re doing it differently, but there’s definitely some synergies.”
Hart, who played golf at Bryant University in Rhode Island, said the idea to target college golfers and young professionals began following his junior year.
“That’s where the idea started, to provide more affordable golf for college kids and non-varsity level golfers,” Hart said. “If you were a varsity golfer, you got free Pro-V1’s, free equipment, you got to play all of the nicest courses for free. There are only 12,000 or so varsity players in the country. What happens to everyone else?”
Now, everyone else can be part of the National Collegiate Club Golf Association, the collegiate tour within Nextgengolf or use the GolfMatch app.
“GolfMatch focuses on solving the biggest needs of golfers, and aims to alleviate the barriers to entry for new golfers,” Kratosis said. “Our goal is to create the best possible golfing experience by helping people find the golfers they want to play with, at the courses they wish to play at. It is the improved golfing experience that we feel will help grow participation in the future.”
“We created an app to help golfers organize or discover their ideal matches. We’re taking a bit broader approach in regards to the demographic we attract, but we [and Nextgengolf are] both trying to better golf and grow the game amongst millennials which is why it fits perfectly.”
“We have a small staff in Boston,” Hart said of Nextgengolf. “If we had more capacity, we’d be doing [events in] Charlotte, Austin, D.C. The goal for next summer is 10 cities. Then 20, then 40 as as we grow.”
Perhaps the best part of Nextgengolf is that signing up is easy through its mobile membership. If you are just interested in sharing your opinion about golf, you can become a Golf 20/20 ambassador and tell the industry what golf is to you by sharing your pictures and stories on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #GolfIs. For those who love the game of golf, it offers a truly unique user experience that allows you to be fully engulfed in the movement.
“For young professionals, it starts with a city leader,” Hart said. “There are a lot of young professionals, some with better golf markets, looking for affordable golf competitive matches — our goal is to provide that.”
Some believe that golf is just not a game for millennials since it tends to be expensive and time consuming without being inclusive or diverse. That doesn’t scare Hart or Kratsios. They believe the game can grow if it’s accessible and players can have a positive experience on the course.
“Like anything,” Hart says, “if there’s a will, there’s a way.”
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