Golf Panel a Welcome Addition to SXSW

"Sharks Gotta Swim" panelists spoke for over an hour on golf an innovation.

“Sharks Gotta Swim” panelists spoke for over an hour on golf innovation.

In a festival known for its music, film and innovation, there was a noticeable addition to this year’s slate of South by Southwest panels — golf.

The panel, “Sharks Gotta Swim: Golf Tradition and Millennials,” focused on the innovations that are being made in golf – specifically, how to engage millennials and diversify the demographics of the game.

“Brands must evolve and sports brands are no exception,” said a press release from the event. “But sports traditions are sometimes the most sacred of customs and golf may be the most brutal of masters.”

The panel consisted of golf communications and marketing strategists from all corners of the industry. Preston McClellan, a digital communications manager with the PGA Tour, moderated the panel and shared his experiences managing and curating digital golf content.

TopGolf, one of the newest forms of golf, was represented by Jeehae Lee. Lee is the director of business strategy for the company and she spoke about the ways TopGolf has shaped its business strategy and marketed golf in this era of innovation.

“We (TopGolf) stand to bring people together over a social occasion,” Lee said.

Kris Hart and DJ Piehowski represented some of the less traditional aspects of the golf industry. Hart is the president and CEO of Nextgengolf. The company caters to college-aged and young adult golfers in hopes of giving them ample competitive golfing opportunities in their post-junior careers. Hart said his company hopes to retain the young adult (18-34) demographic of golfers.

Piehowski is the director of content for Skratch TV, a company focused on “innovative and exciting new content about golf from the PGA TOUR to your backyard.” He playfully acknowledged the challenges that come with toeing the line between serious and satire in a game so deeply entrenched in tradition.

“There’s edgy,” Piehowski said. “And then there’s golf edgy.”

Throughout the Q&A portion of the event, questions surrounding the theme of diversity within the game were brought up. The panelists talked about the ways that their companies are innovating to stress inclusivity.

McClellan spoke about the international audience that the PGA Tour embraces and the ways they are curating content to cater to this demographic. Lee said that 3 to 4 percent of TopGolf consumers cite their experience at TopGolf as a reason for them taking their talents to more traditional golf courses.

It is no secret that golf has numerous barriers to entry, and in the past it has been regarded as an elitist sport. But how can the game of golf break down these barriers to entry and become a more diverse game? That is the million-dollar question.

There are various organizations and initiatives that seek to promote the game and diversify the demographics of the sport. For 20 years, The First Tee has made an effort to expose children to the game of golf and the benefits it can provide them off the course. And just recently, the USGA’s revealing of the proposed changes to the rules of golf illustrate the push to make golf enjoyable for a larger number of people.

But unfortunately, no one person or organization can alleviate these issues. It has to be an industry-wide effort to broaden the demographics of the game and make it more accessible to a wider range of people. This panel acknowledged this phenomenon, and that’s a step in the right direction.

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