To help spur a dialogue around Millennial Golf, I recently published "Not Making the College Golf Cut" on Golf WRX. The feedback was mixed--some saying I'm another whiney Millennial with others fully supporting the challenges we face to play golf--but all indicative of the issues we face and how they are perceived. Among the most thoughtful replies was that of Neil Missling, a 28-year old architect residing in Minnesota whose story I wanted to share with you all.
I am in the millennial golf bracket (being 28) and sadly didn’t start playing until college. I was a terrible golfer at the start, but being a hockey player helped make the transition less difficult. I started to get better in my early 20s and in my mid 20s was a consistent high 80s golfer, which I think is a pretty decent score. However in the last 3 years I have been playing less, and this year has only played 3 times, when 3 years ago I would’ve been up in the teens for rounds played by now.
Over time I have had a few courses I really liked, but now cannot get a tee time without making a credit card commitment 7-14 days in advance for a decent tee-time. It is hard for me to schedule a frivolous activity that far out. If I call on a Friday to play the next day, Saturday, I can find a couple single slots where I would be paired with a 3 some, but if I want to play with a friend, oh we can get you on at 6:30am or 5:30pm. If I am willing to drive over an hour and spend $60 or more, I could probably get a tee-time, but my friends have kids, and I am an emerging professional, and it is hard to justify spending $60 on golf one weekend and then try and repeat that expense a short time after, let alone the cost of gas to get there, some food, a beer, etc. Some if we have an expensive round one weekend I am usually not playing again for about 3-4 weeks. Versus a $30-$40 round I could do twice a month easily and possible sneak in another 9 or a $25 twilight 18. Every year things become slightly more expensive and a weekend round at my favorite course has gone from $38, 5 years ago to $52 this year. If I am able to get a tee time 7-14 days in advance and know that I am free, good luck finding a friend who knows his schedule that far out as well. Here in Minneapolis, I am hard pressed to find a sub-$40 round on a weekend. Even twilight rounds are mid $30s and usually don’t start until a point where it becomes difficult to finish 18 holes.
Another problem I see is if I do get a tee time on said crowded course, I know it’s going to be a 5 hour + round. Plus the 30 minute drive, warm up time and I am looking at 6-6.5 hours. I just cannot being doing that often with so much else going on. Many courses near me do not allow 9-hole tee times during their “peak” hours even.
This year I have, as a single, been paired with people that absolutely ruin the sport for me. My first round I was with a Mr. I am going to have my Bluetooth headset in the whole round and take business calls during the round. My next round I was pair with quite a group; a club slammer/thrower and Mr. “what to know what you’re doing wrong?” This means I am probably not going to play another round this year unless it is with friends. Maybe people enjoy all the gadgets they have and it helps them, I get frustrated with people who constantly have their phones out, checking GPS for distance, 2 guys will stand next to each other and compare GPS distances that might be off by 3 yards and sit and talk about it. Whatever happened to finding a sprinkler head while you walk to your ball and walking off the distance? (I probably sound like a “back in my day” guy saying that. Then when some groups reach the green they play like they are on tour, everyone watches each other’s putt instead of lining up their own and reading all angles of their putt from off the green. Some guys treat every shot like there is $1,000 on the line. It all leads to slow play, and most courses around me no longer seem to be employing rangers (or starters sometimes even). Golfing on vacation or at a resort is one thing, but trying to squeeze in a round after work or late on a weekend, this stuff just kills any chance at it.
Another part of the problem is a double-edged sword I feel. Several courses are just too tightly packed, and you have golfers hitting driver onto the wrong fairway, looking for balls, groups waiting for another golfer to hit going the wrong direction on a different hole, etc. Other courses have such a distance in between holes it is not walk-able which makes them more expensive because you almost have to purchase the cart because of the distance. Some do it to try and “save time” and you end up spending extra money, and, for me, not enjoying the course as much, and still being stacked up at the tee box anyway due to slow players.
One course near me has done fast play Friday. Starting at noon, if you don’t make the turn in at or under 2 hours you are given a rain check for 9 holes and asked to come back another day to finish your round. I think it is an outstanding idea, and thus has made it very hard to get a Friday tee time there. It certainly isn’t keeping people away. Last year twice I played there, and the longest round was 3:45, I think once was under 3:30. However, I do realize this is not a way to bring new people out to learn the game, by trying to rush them. Their “rated” pace of play is 4 hours and 20 minutes. Playing in 3 hours and 45 minutes I certainly don’t feel rushed, but can understand how a new golfer might. It shouldn’t take over 4 hours to play 18 holes.
For me cost and pace of play are the biggest reasons I am playing less. Not cost of clubs, balls, etc. I can control that and certainly don’t need (or own) the newest clubs and tour quality balls. The cost of playing 18 is just too much, and I have to devote 6 hours to it and know a week in advance. Golf has become more of a hassle than enjoyable. I am still going to play probably 5-8 times this year, but I won’t be playing 25-30 rounds like I used to. Has my game gotten worse, yeah, I haven’t broken 90 yet this year, but I just do not have the time or cash flow to devote to it like I used to. A driving range near my office has a good deal; a medium bucket and a hot dog, chips, and pop for $9.00 around the lunch hour on work days. I try to get over there every other week to some something of a golf fix in.
As you’ve said one fix would be to join a country club. Yeah, I know lots of guys in their late 20s with an extra $10k initiation fee, and $1,500 a month in dues just lying around.
I don’t know of a simple solution, but things like Fast Play Fridays are certainly a start. You can enjoy a round in under 4:00without being rushed. A round of golf also shouldn’t cost more than my cell phone bill.
**Mike Belkin is a C0-Founder of Nextgengolf and wants to hear your opinion on what #GOLFIS for Millennials. Tweet @MikeBelkin11 or @nextgolfer