Call me mad but the men in white coats (well, overalls) could hold the key to dragging golf into the 21st century

5th April 2017 by Dan Sherry

The Masters. A tournament that simply needs no introduction. The procession down Magnolia Lane, the dramas of Amen Corner and the presentation of the famous green jacket to mark the culmination of four days of glorious television viewing. Whilst these moments send an anticipatory shiver down my spine, those who don’t share my passion for the sport could well dismiss the pomp and ceremony of Augusta as monotonous and pretentious in equal measure.

These are the people who prefer golf when it delivers entertainment moments beyond a 350-yard drive or a 40-foot birdie putt. They want to see Niall Horan crumbling to a heap in his white onesie. They were desperate to see Playboy model, Lindsay Pelas, caddy for Grayson Murray at Augusta (unfortunately for him, he lost that bet!). They love nothing more than seeing a player delivering a good old rant at their caddy. Let’s face it, if we’re honest, we all find that kind of thing entertaining! It’s just not ‘GOLF’ and therein lies the problem.

Golf is suffering from declining participation rates and viewing figures but it still fails to embrace the mainstream in the way other sports such as cricket have pulled off brilliantly with concepts such as T20. Why can’t golf deliver the content people want? Will targeting the casual sports fan really dilute the sanctity of golf?

The unfortunate truth is that the powers that be (the PGA Tour) have set up such tight barriers to entry, as the PGA Tour Mobile Device Policy states that ‘devices may not be used to capture audio/video at any time during tournament week’. The PGA Tour is also the absolute owner of all video shot at any tournament site during tournament week, showing that the governing body is watertight on content control. Surely they, therefore, need to learn to relax their laws around on-course video content?

Golf has seen great success in social content away from competition over the last couple of years with over 150,000 views of the European Tour Mannequin Challenge, the topless on-course Spring Break Snapchats from the Spieth-Fowler-Thomas-Kaufman foursome and recently from the two Justins, Rose and Timberlake, at a Pro-AM. JT was mere inches away from an ace at Pebble Beach, with Justin Rose’s Instagram photo garnering over 18,000 likes. Imagine if that photo, instead, was a piece of video content. As a self-confessed golf nerd, I would love to see the reaction of both a pro and a celebrity side-by-side. What did they say to each other in that moment? Was the SexyBack singer thrilled by the shot or more disappointed that it didn’t go in? As a fan, these are the moments where you want to be up-close and personal with your heroes, to help show their human side. Knowing that a professional, celebrity and average Joe all react in the same euphoric fashion can only help people associate with golf as a sport. So how can we replicate the off-course content during Masters Week? How do we transform the same engaged audience of casual sports fans into tournament golf watchers?

As an agency here at Clifford French, a core part of our remit with the NFL for example, is to entice the casual sports fan with entertaining off-pitch content and then encourage them to experience a live game from either the comfort of their sofa or absorbing the atmosphere in-stadium. Much in the same vein, a caddy is Taylor-made (sorry not sorry) to help bring out the personalities that sometimes hide behind what can be perceived as a bland sport. They’re better positioned than anyone to capture these entertaining and personal on-course moments; the kind of moments that offer humour, personality and insight. Do the caddies hold the key to turning the social content consumer into an avid tournament watcher?

The men and women on the bags would help to bring out the personality behind the characters in the sport. Picture this scenario: Beef has a 10 shot lead with his second shot at 18 landing on the green on Sunday; that minute long walk would be the most insightful, fascinating and exclusive interview he would ever give. So why not just allow for it?

Yes, there are obstacles. Yes, the players would need to change their mentality and drop their guard but it’s happened in other sports. Who would have thought that golfers would whip up the crowd and actively encourage fans to cheer before, during and after an opening drive? That’s exactly what Bubba Watson did at the Ryder Cup and, as we saw, it turns out golfers can hit great shots without the need for deathly silence! Cricketers are interviewed whilst out on the field in T20 and they still manage to retain their focus when the next ball is bowled. In many ways, this is the closest parallel to a golfer being interviewed between shots. My point is that a change in mindset is possible.

PGA Tour Live was introduced in 2015 as a paid 360 broadcast service across television, desktop and mobile and the PGA Tour will feel no need to give away any element of exclusivity to their access. Golf may have to sacrifice some of its rigid identity in order to allow content capture on the course but golf clearly needs to look to target younger millennials through the use of video content. It has to make this kind of move to arrest the decline in participation.

With the announcement of the new rules of golf at the beginning of the month (set to come into play in 2019), it certainly won’t be this week that we see the caddy become the cameraman. However, don’t be surprised to see the men in white overalls this weekend become the next generation of content producers and social media influencers. When the laws of the game are next amended to (hopefully!) allow for on-course video content, we may finally see the birth of the 21st-century golfer.

Golf conformity suggests players and their caddies should stay ‘in the zone’ at all times and outside distractions will have a negative impact on performance. Fortunately, sporting history dictates that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Just ask Bubba!