Golf enthusiasts, like all other sports fans, believe that the game is interesting and can be enjoyed by all irrespective of their backgrounds.
They argue that it is both social and challenging and that it allows players with different abilities to share the same course when playing. These attributes, they say, should attract young people to take a swing.
But if you ask young people between the ages of 18 and 35 why they do not play golf and why interest in the game is low, they will most likely tell you that the game is “boring”.
The older generations value the game as a recreational activity, but questions linger as to why the game has been unable to attract the younger generation, something that might have a serious impact on its future.
The declining appeal of the game to millennials has made it hard for the game to connect to a new generation of fans as well.
The increasing number of people who are keeping off golf courses is causing headaches in the sport and now experts are calling for strategic readjustments to make the game more accommodating.
In an article in the Guardian, experts estimate that golf has lost “about 10 million players worldwide since 2008”. This is probably the highest any mainstream sport has lost over the last decade.
In Kenya, there are about 72 professional golfers.
David Waweru of Kenya Golf Union says the game is picking up in the country and 6,200 males and over 1,800 females have so far registered as golfers besides the 3,000 junior golfers.
Golf clubs in Kenya and globally are divided on how to make the sport more appealing to a younger fan base and players.
“The future of professional golf in Kenya is dependent on how fast clubs, organisations and the government can put in more resources and focus on growing untapped young talent,” said Peter Mwaura, golf captain at Ruiru Sports Club, who is currently a handicap 13.
According to Mwaura, tapping young golf talent has been a major project for clubs across the country. At the club, members have been donating kits as one way of supporting the new talent.
There are other programmes currently running in the country, which stakeholders in the sector believe will demystify the sport. One such is the Young Entrepreneurs Network-Africa (YEN), which has recorded some success.
Kamau Nyabwengi, founder and chief executive of YEN, is hoping to change some of the misconceptions young professionals and entrepreneurs have about the game. In the process, they hope to recruit millennials.
“We want to demystify the sport by creating more awareness about golf, overcoming the misconceptions and making it accessible to the youths from all walks of life. We are also about identifying the local talent and grooming it from a young age so that future international tournaments are not the preserve of old-timers only,” says Nyabwengi.
Started in 2015, the programme has so far trained 130 new golfers, mostly entrepreneurs and professionals in the early stages of their careers.
Nyabwengi says the programme comprises of eight sessions that include how to swing, use different clubs and techniques of playing on the different parts of the course.
The training ends with a mini-tournament where the participants get to test out the skills learned in a real game situation with fellow beginners. The eight week exercise is guided by a professional coach.
Rose Naliaka, Kenya’s first professional female golfer, has also taken it upon herself to mentor the new generation of female golfers.
Having spent several decades in the sport, she realised that there was a gap as young girls were not taking an interest in the game.
I would look around while we were playing and there were no young new girls coming up and I thought no,” she said in an earlier interview with BDlife.
Through her Rose Naliaka Foundation, she teaches golf to the less fortunate girls from Kenyan slums and rural areas, mentoring and training them to be professionals.
Since it was founded in 2007, the academy has produced more than 20 girls with official single-digit handicaps. Some of the notable names to have come through the academy’s ranks include former top female golfer Naomi Wafula, Mercy Nyanchama, Mary Monari and Agnes Nyakio.
Others are 2018 Sigona Ladies Open winner Serah Khanyereri and Ashley Awuor.
She also offers golf classes for children as young as 10 years, which, she says is the best stage to recruit them.
YEN hopes to attract the interest of young people in the same manner as other sports such as soccer and rugby or even athletics.
“Golf is the best sport for business networking. This is enhanced by the etiquette and environment associated with the sport and it is good for exercise. It involves a lot of walking around, which is good for the heart,” says Nyabwengi.
Their goal is to roll out the programme to other parts of the country and the region.
While the efforts being made by people like Naliaka and Nyabwengi might increase diversity in the game, there are still obstacles to boosting its popularity.
The trainees enrolled in the programme agree that the sport will be critical in helping them expand their network and build respective professions.
Michal Waga, a student in Nairobi, has finished the eight-week training. She is of the opinion that the sport is good and can help mold young professionals.
“I am particularly drawn to golf because it is a quiet, sweat free leisure sport with a beautiful play field. Golf ranges are beautiful and very calming. I love the exclusivity of the game and that I am able to network while playing,” she explains. In a fast paced and very competitive environment, golf lovers believe that it is a sport that can equip participants with life skills while giving them an opportunity to exercise.
“My long term goal is to start a business. Golf will help me grow my personality and developing traits like being patient and punctual. The game itself is a very disciplined sport,” says Lydia Wanjiru, a Geographic Information System (GIS).
Because of golf, Waga says that she has been able to meet people who share her views and challenge her on the path she has taken. I have met amazing professional mentors and people who share my love for giving back to the society in various ways,” says Waga.
She adds that programmes such as YEN could potentially increase the number of active players in the country. Waga states that more than just training should be done to promote the sport. Adding that stakeholders in the industry should work to subsidise golf membership for young people under the age of 35.
Some experts point out that it is the rigid and out-of-date rules that make it less appealing to youth besides being very expensive.
For instance, closing golf from the changing social trends and gadgetry in some ways is limiting tech-savvy youth who might be interested in teeing off. Phones and other electronic gadgets are not allowed within the course. This is just one of the many sets of rules that participants believe bring discipline into the course and distinguish it from other sports.
Expensive and unsustainable
Millennials, burdened with limited incomes and debts, are of the view that the sport is expensive and unsustainable.
“As you start off in your career you have limited funds thus golf may not be a priority,” explains Annemarie Kiplagat, a YEN golf trainee who works with an NGO based in Nairobi. She adds that even though there are clubs that offer rates that youth can afford, one still needs a huge investment to get the kits.
According to Nyabwengi, green fees-the money participants pay to access the course- in Kenya ranges from Sh800 to Sh10,000. In addition, one has to pay an average amount of Sh3,000 to play in a tournament.
A starter golf kit costs about Sh45,000. Better equipment could cost more. A training programme like the one being run by YEN costs at least Sh20,000.
Memberships to golf-clubs around the country costs a minimum of Sh10,000 and in some cases one can part with Sh1 million or even more annually.
A full 18-hole game takes hours, more than other popular sporting activities and costs thousands to play depending on the club.
“What they do not know is that with the equivalent of what they pay for a gym membership (assuming an average monthly subscription of Sh10,000) they can access membership in some of the best golf courses in Kenya, which would include gym subscription, golf, and other facilities,” says Nyabwengi, dispelling the fear that golf is very expensive.
There are also those who believe that the exclusivity of golf is contributing to its decline. However, some young trainees attending the YEN training programme are of a different opinion. “It is exactly the reason why it is appealing to me. I see it as a tool of motivation. A lot of the people I have interacted with at the golf club have a very different mindset from the norm especially regarding life, money and values,” says Waga.
If something is not done to change the perceptions and attract more people into the game, experts warn that golf courses and equipment manufacturers might soon go out of business.