The National Golf Foundation’s annual report concluded something peculiar. The most first time golfers since 2002, but the overall number of golfers continued to drop. Conclusion? Golf needs to be more beginner-friendly. Golf as a whole needs to break away from tradition so they can bring in new fans and players who stick.

Tradition is a great thing, unless it gets in the way of innovation. Here are five ideas the PGA should adopt to grow the game.

1. Complete smartphone access for fans

Fans use smartphones relentlessly at sporting events around the country. Stadiums put fan tweets on jumbotrons and directly urge phone use. The PGA does the opposite. Only recently were mobile devices even allowed, fans can now have their phones if they’re on silent and if they do not take photos or videos. Calls can be made in designated “Cell Phone Zones”. The kicker is the egregious data use policy which allows fans to use data anywhere except for when a golfer is taking a swing – which is exactly when you want to take a video to share. There’s even a Mobile Device Policy Enforcement team dressed in neon bibs who monitor device usage.

The Fix: Universal use of smartphones may seem drastic, but it’s necessary to overcome what some publications have called, “The Death of Golf.” After all, the desires of people at sporting events are pretty simple.

  1. Watch sports
  2. Eat & Drink
  3. Take a picture or video for social media (to show you’re there and how cool you are.)
  4. Repeat.  

By not allowing No.2 , golf is cutting off a huge sector of possible fans. People have multiple social networks and check them more than once a day, every golf tournament is missing out on free promotion by disallowing mobile use. This “behavioral code” is designed to allow players to focus. But these are the greatest golfers alive. If college basketball players can hit free throws when facing the “curtain of distraction” – shouldn’t Jordan Spieth be able to get up and down when facing flashes and clicks?

2. Complete smartphone access for golfers

If fans having smartphones will make golf harder for the pros, even it out by giving the players a tech advantage. Smartphones and range finder devices are banned by the USGA for tour pros (not amateurs). Not integrating technology into the game is another distinct trait to golf. The NFL uses Microsoft Surface tablets on the sidelines. Every pitch, swing and hit in baseball is tracked in real time and analyzed.

The Fix: Not allowing range finders seems trivial when players get close distance approximations from their caddy. Improved calculations won’t cause record shattering scores, but it might speed up the game and cut a few strokes off everyone’s handicaps – both effects would be welcomed. Smartphones would also give golfers access to social media during play. Many players will leave the phones at home, but others already golf with smartphones. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson told Golf Digest he’s always on his phone when on the course, adding, “I’m always texting my friends and family, tweeting; it makes golf more fun.”

3. Go all in on social media.

Social media is a huge factor in the marketing and fan experience of sports. In it’s defense, golf has begun to head in this direction. The PGA of America has outfitted signature courses like Whistling Straits with free Wi-Fi and the PGA Tour used Snapchat and Periscope at the Players Championship and the Phoenix Open. Now they need to take the next step.

The Fix: Golf should learn from the king of sports here, the NFL. As rookies are drafted, they’re ushered to an iPad station for a photo that’s instantly shared. Broadcasts encourage viewers to tweet about a certain topic or answer a poll. Also, sports radio shows run contests and giveaways where entries are submitted through social media. Who could forget the infamous, #GolicButtPhoto, created by Mike and Mike on ESPN. With the butt photo a magnificent exception, the PGA can easily replicate these social efforts.

4. Embrace Wearable Tech

Wearable innovations have been developed regardless of golf’s lag to adopt new technology. Here are just a few of the many devices out there.

Zepp Golf – This device connects to your wrist and serves as a personal swing coach, instantly determining metrics about club plane, hand plane, tempo and backswing.

FocusBand This headband has three sensors that track brain activity. Golfers can use the information to improve their emotional level during high pressure situations.

GoPros, Fitbits, Smartwatches – Mainstream wearables and tech should also be used by golfers. This data can be shared and fans with the same devices can compare – a great engagement technique.   

The Fix: PGA pros are already using these devices. Zepp sponsors include Keegan Bradley and Michelle Wie, FocusBand has eight tour golfers using the device. Golf needs to get players wearing these devices even if it’s just practice rounds or special events. The shareable nature of the data would give fans insight about their favorite golfers.

5. Make Golf Events…Events

Nearly 600,000 people attended the Coachella music festival this year during the six day event. Festivals are hugely popular with the younger demographic. Golf doesn’t need to hand Rory McIlroy turn tables, but they could spice up events so there is something for everyone. David Pillsbury, a PGA Tour president, already has this vision. He wants to appeal to fans who are not familiar with golf but are looking for food, fashion and a “sexy” event to attend.

The Fix: Other festival aspects can be replicated besides the music. Food trucks can be ushered in somewhere near the course grounds. Activities like yoga, cornhole or virtual golf simulators can be organized. Lastly, using drones to capture footage would provide a more personalized spectating experience. Drones were already used by Turner Sports to capture video of Whistling Straits last year.  

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Photo Credit: Chatchai Somwat/Shutterstock.com