INDIANAPOLIS – A strong understanding of exactly how each generation was introduced to both life and golf, then applying that to how courses, PGA Professionals and the entire industry talks to those people will help grow the game.
That was the key message from Anna Liotta, who spoke to a large group of PGA Professionals at the PGA 2014 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis Thursday.
Liotta is one of 19 children and grew up in a household of six generations. Her passion for the sport is evident in the name of her dog – “Golfing.” As a child, she dug up golf balls from the frozen dirt of a driving range.
Liotta outlined four key -- and familiar -- generations, but defined how those generations came to golf and what they typically want from the sport. The result: Try to find out “what makes each generation tick, and what are we doing on the golf course that’s pushing them away.”
Interim PGA President Derek Sprague said Liotta’s perspective on this generational disconnect can help PGA Professionals lure people to the game. “We need to translate,” Sprague said simply.
The Traditionalists, born 1927-1945
A familiar player in his or her 60s and 70s, and entered the game in hard times, so golf was a privilege, a “huge accomplishment,” Liotta said. The golf leaders – such as Arnold Palmer – were legends. And those legends were emulated. They have strong feelings about the tradition of the sport.
Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964
A huge part of the population and golf population, estimated at 80 million born. Liotta calls this group incredibly competitive, based on what they faced in the workplace with so many peers. Golf matched their life well. “They could schmooze and make business contacts,” she said. Golf was status and golf was access. “Baby Boomers weren’t just good,” she added. “They were great.” Liotta cited Jack Nicklaus and Nancy Lopez as player examples. Another interesting thought: This group doesn’t like words that make them sound old. So this group likely is intent on staying competitive on the course.
Generation Xers, born 1965-1977
Now in their late 30s and 40s, this was the first wave of kids of Baby Boomers and Liotta says that shaped their entry to the game as well. Their parents were busier, and they weren’t introduced in the same way to the sport. More generally, this generation was subject to divorced parents and fending for themselves after school, Liotta said. Because of that, they look for ways to include their families when they play golf. They want their children to be seen, heard on the course – and programs like First Tee and PGA Junior League golf are crucial to this group, she said. Players in this generation – Tiger Woods, for example – started enjoying rock-star status.
Millennials, born 1978-1999
A group larger than the Gen Xers at 76 million, this generation is represented by players such as Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie. They are global athletes (see this Rory example), and they share everything (see this Wie example). Liotta said these players are sometimes “mulligans”, a later generation of kids to Boomer parents, shaping their outlook and access. Because the parents were further along in their careers, and maybe had the benefits of a first crack at parenting, they are far more involved. On the golf course, this is a group that wants to be seen as athletes, and they want inclusion because they want to share all experiences with everybody. Also competitive, and perhaps because of its size, Liotta calls this group a hot target for the growth of the game.