5 Golf Industry Trends to Watch in 2019

By Adam Schupak

Pinehurst – The Cradle (Photo credit: Graylyn Loomis)

It’s that time of year to stare into the crystal ball and make some predictions. Not an easy task after last year: We doubt you had Jordan Speith ranking No. 184 on the PGA Tour in putting from 3 feet or Tiger Woods with a chance to win not one, but two majors on the back nine Sunday. We sure didn’t. We’re much more confident betting on these five golf industry trends in 2019.

Gambling on Golf

Speaking of betting… Recent legislation has opened the path for sports betting, with deals already signed in most of the major sports. Golf leaders, including PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, have made it clear that golf will be no different.

The PGA Tour has tapped IMG Arena, a sports betting service and content hub, to distribute official Tour scoring data for media and betting use. Fantasy golf may have stirred interest in such data, but viewers having a little skin in the game takes that interest to another level. The Match between Tiger and Phil was the first to include statistical data to showcase the real-time odds of a players winning a hole or pulling off a certain shot, while promoting sponsor MGM Grand.

While it may take a little while, legalized golf gambling is going to become as synonymous with golf as the $2 Nassau.

New Distribution Platforms for Golf Coverage

According to the National Golf Foundation, 22 million people watched streaming coverage of a golf tournament in 2017, and more than 1-in-4 Americans (age 6+)—82 million people in total—consumed some form of golf media in 2017. Our golf consumption habits continue to change, and that won’t stop in the foreseeable future. New ways to consume golf media are on the way.

PGA Tour Live is now part of the NBC Gold subscription offering while the PGA of America signed a deal to be part of streaming service ESPN Plus. With the availability of tournament-specific mobile apps, a growing presence of digital content, and expanded hours of tournament coverage, live streaming is on the rise.

Of particular interest will be the PGA Tour’s deal with Discovery, which recently launched an over-the-top international platform called Golf TV.  Discovery is expected to invest more than $2 billion over the 12-year deal, including licensing of the tour’s international media rights. The company also struck an exclusive deal with Tiger Woods and relationships with the European Tour and LPGA Tour could be in the offing. With more than 2,000 hours of live PGA Tour action as well as a wide range of on-demand content, Golf TV is instantly a major player in the game. As Discovery Inc. CEO and president David Zaslav said, “We want to be Netflix for golf.”

With the PGA Tour’s domestic network and cable TV deals expiring in 2021, the future landscape for golf’s media engagement across multiple platforms soon could look very different than we currently know it.

Smart Technology in Golf Clubs Goes Next Level

While media companies and betting houses present data from professional players, other companies are working to gather yours. On-course data has long been the missing ingredient for club fitters and instructors because it is tough to gather, but that’s no longer the case thanks to products like Cobra Connect irons with built-in sensors from Arccos Golf, the tracking performance system.

Kudos to Cobra Golf for creating a first-mover advantage, but look for Arccos to expand its built-in availability in 2019. While it hasn’t been announced yet, retailers who’ve already placed orders say that Ping and TaylorMade will be the next equipment makers to do so, and they won’t be the last. Arccos’s Tom Williams says the company is rapidly expanding to the point that it predicts in 2020 more than half of all new golf clubs will have Arccos sensors as a standard feature. The sensors capture hundreds of data points throughout the round that can be used for instruction, strategizing, and more. The Arccos Caddie system uses that data in conjunction with artificial intelligence to suggest how to play each hole on any given course. The system knows your typical misses, your strengths, and more. The company says new users who log 10-plus rounds in a year showed a 3.79-stroke improvement in handicap.

The Return of the Short Course

I did a story earlier this year for LINKS on the short-course trend, which seems to be morphing from a resort-course staple to a point of differentiation at private clubs.

In September, architect Tom Doak announced he was taking the short movement in a different direction. Sedge Valley, the fourth course in Sand Valley’s resort lineup, will measure 6,100 yards with a par of 68. On the private side, Desert Mountain will soon open an 18-hole par-3 course, named Seven in recognition of being the seventh course at the Scottsdale, Arizona-based residential-golf community. It will join other recent openings such as nine-hole par-3 layouts L’il Wick at Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club and The Harmon Course at The Floridian.

L’il Wick at Wickenburg Ranch

Course architects and developers closely track the costs to maintain golf courses based on their length and, as you’d expect, it’s tough to be profitable with longer courses when you factor in labor, fuel, water, and more. Add that a younger generation doesn’t want five-hour rounds and short courses become even more attractive.

Beware the Golf Retail Giant Otherwise Known As Amazon

After several years of market correction, the surviving golf retailers are starting to rebound, due in part to equipment-makers cutting back on their streams of non-stop club launches. But the golf retail landscape is still shifting, and like all of the retail industry there is about more pain ahead. Credit Suisse estimated 8,640 U.S. stores across retail closed in 2017, and as many as 25 percent of U.S. malls will close by 2022. The elephant in the room is Amazon.

In 2018, Golf Datatech released a study of the overall effect of Amazon on the golf equipment and apparel markets. They found that the golf sector is being effected much the same as other consumer products by the e-commerce giant, and especially so by Amazon Prime members. “The Amazon impact is real and it needs to be watched closely,” Golf Datatech co-founder Tom Stine said.

Expect even more competition on price and additional OEMs to start selling directly to consumers through their websites to cut out the middle men.

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What trends are you watching for in 2019? Tell us in the comments below!

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