With the prestigious Ryder Cup teams tournament fast approaching, fair-weather golf fans are touching up on their golf knowledge and readying themselves for a weekend during which golf breaks from tradition. Raucous crowds; a match-play format; and an electric atmosphere aren’t commonplace on the US PGA Tour, but that’s exactly what makes the Ryder Cup so special.
The only problem is that it only takes place every two years. And it only appeals to fans in the US and Europe – the traditional continental heartlands of the ancient game.
The biennial tournament is living evidence that golf can be exciting and it can attract new fans. But instead of focusing on growing its global footprint, the sport is instead grappling with internal politics and a public relations crisis. The fallout from the potential merger between the PGA Tour and LIV continues to drag on, and it hasn’t been a good look for the sport.
When PGA Tour players were threatened with expulsion if they chose to join the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund-backed competitor, LIV sued the PGA Tour, who then proceeded to countersue. The announcement of a merger between the two months later was met with as much confusion as it was surprising.
But there’s also room for positivity. Golfing legend Gary Player has been a supporter himself, having suggested golf has been flagging financially for years and that “it might not have gone on forever”.
I also fall into the optimistic camp, and I think the sport has a great opportunity to reshape the prevailing narrative by prioritizing spectator engagement through the introduction of a brand-new golf festival, backed by the $3bn that will reportedly be pumped into the sport.
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Whether the golf community likes to hear it or not, golf is a declining sport and needs a revamp to bring in new fans. The stats don’t lie: the median age for a PGA Tour viewer is reportedly 62, while viewers for the 2022 PGA Open final fell by 5% compared to the previous year.
Furthermore, even though the introduction of LIV has taken positive steps to improve the live viewing experience by incorporating elements such as music and condensed rounds of play, it has also struggled to reach any real success.
So, both the PGA Tour and LIV should take a leaf from the Ryder Cup’s book and introduce an annual spectator-first golfing event that brings players from both tours together and celebrates the game they love – not divide it.
This would be the perfect way to kick off the merger in style while also bringing in new fans.
The Hundred (a carnival-like cricket tournament) is a shining example, having helped cricket diversify from its image in the UK as a sport for the pale, male, and stale. Ticket sales for this year’s The Hundred have risen by 14% since 2021’s inaugural event, attracting a mixed audience, with 30 percent of ticket holders being women, 23 percent kids, and 41 percent families.
Replicating this in golf could also help make golf a sport that’s well-suited for families. It could feature significantly downsized, perhaps even temporary courses, into urban environments to make the sport more digestible and accessible. If the streets of Singapore or Monte Carlo can be made into an F1 circuit for the weekend, who’s to say Rory McIlroy can’t drive a ball over the Thames or the Hudson?
Interchangeable hole layouts would be an ideal solution to make smaller courses work while keeping in touch with the need for variation in different holes. Meanwhile, new expansive grandstands encircling the grounds would provide much better vantage points for the action the sport has long been missing. This would also create a much more intimate atmosphere, bringing fans together and closer to the game.
The festival could also bring a new level of fan engagement, which golf sorely lacks, or even utilize celebrity involvement. Why not have Gareth Bale feature as a wildcard?
I’m not suggesting that this festival eclipses the golf we all know – the sport’s rich heritage is what makes it so special. The event should take place periodically, separate from the PGA Tour and LIV’s calendars – perhaps before December’s winter break.
A new city could play host to the event each year to maximize global engagement – burgeoning sports markets like Asia and the Middle East should be the priority.
Bringing in new fans to golf is in the best interest of all parties – but it’s too often overlooked. Diversifying the events that take place in the golf calendar and the demographic of fans who watch the sport would help safeguard golf’s future and shift the narrative away from the controversy surrounding the Tour and LIV’s merger.
Alexey Milovanov is a global executive who specializes in delivering stadiums and temporary infrastructure for some of the world's largest sporting events. He led the construction of seven stadiums in Qatar for soccer's 2022 FIFA World Cup, as well as all the stadiums for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.