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  • Steve Baker


I was listening to Johnny Vaughan on the radio and he made a very salient and erstwhile point about golf. In particular about how hard it is for young golfers to get into golf. OK, he wasn’t talking about golf. Johnny, as far as I know, doesn’t play golf. The point he made was about how smoking and drinking, or as he put it, “accessing your Dad’s gin stash”, isn’t a difficult ‘in’.

His argument is equally valid when looking at how to get more kids into golf. Highlighting the impotent attempts of the R&A and USGA in attracting new people to the game.


Advertising Offers Kids An Easy ‘Gateway into Smoking & Drinking’

It all kicked off when Johnny was a discussing a recent news item regarding young people and E-Cigarettes and the increasing trend of their conversion into full-time cigarette smokers within a year.

E-Cigarettes, Johnny said, was clearly a ‘Gateway into Smoking’. And he likened it to how the drinks industry also had an easy ‘Gateway into Drinking’.

Not only is there an increasing variety of soft, hard and bizarre alcoholic concoctions, all ready to serve any newbie-drinker’s palate a suitable choice, there is also the age-old option of liberating a few swigs from the 15 year old Warninks Advocaat you found in the Christmas Cupboard while Mum and Dad weren’t looking.

It’s surprising that two of the biggest health problems we face today have relatively easy (and encouraged) gateways into them. And golf, which offers exercise, fresh air and social interaction, doesn’t!

Drink, Smoke or Playing Golf?

Which leads us into the problem of how to get more of these alcohol-drinking, ciggie-toking youngsters out from under the flyover and onto a golf course. Perhaps we need to borrow from the drink and tobacco industry to get the next generation hooked on golf.

According to the Australian government alcohol is a major contributor to violence, which would suggest encouraging our young to get into golf whilst clutching a can of Fosters and a bagful of fighting sticks, isn’t such a good idea.

But, dig a little deeper into the bunker of advertising influence and we could well be on to something.

How The Drinks & Tobacco Industries Advertise

These two industries are absolutely spot on when it comes to marketing. Despite health and placement restrictions being in place for the tobacco industry and the ‘drink responsibly’ mantra looming ever larger on the drinks manufacturers, they are still thriving.

Drinks adverts are becoming increasingly glamorous, one of them actually includes David Beckham quaffing whiskey with his equally stylish mates in front of an uber-cool Scottish castle whilst donning a green jacket (A. GREEN. JACKET. The irony!).

Then there is that enigmatic dude waltzing his way through a bar and restaurant, clearly on the best date ever, which just tells us that everything in life is better when you’re drinking Heineken!

And don’t even get me started on the vision of satanic worship that is Casillero Del Diablo from the wine cellars of Chile or the ‘If Carlsberg Did Haircuts‘ advert. I love that dog!

And then there was the cigarette advertising in the 1980s and 90s.

Back when golf magazines were still popular (remember those days?) I used to cut out the cigarette adverts from my Golf Monthlys and pin them up. Especially memorable were the Benson & Hedges ones. There was something so very alluring about the image of a cigarette pack in situations you needed a degree in post-modernist art-history to understand.

This artistic nuance was a reaction to the change in tobacco advertising laws in the 1970s. It meant the tobacco industry could no longer get away with a picture of someone smoking, so they found a fresh way to market their product.

Their adverts were unique and groundbreaking and became far more influential in converting non-smokers to smokers than ever before. The adverts were subversive, offering an intriguing glimpse into something surrealist, incongruous and let’s face it, arty. They were tobacco advertising’s equivalent to a Wassily Kandinsky.

Golf Advertising Can Be Influential

For me golf and smoking are indelibly linked. One of my fondest memories is spending my Sunday mornings practicing on the golf course whilst my Dad and brother played in their Winter League.

I’d have a pack of cigarettes in my bag and would experiment my smoking style. And yes, you guessed it, they were Benson & Hedges! And, until a few years ago, the last vestige of my smoking would also be played out on the golf course.

Cigarette companies used to sponsor golf when golf was in its heyday. Do you remember the Benson & Hedges International? For me it was St Mellion with bright red or electric green golf trousers sported by the likes of Seve, Christy O’Connor, Ken Brown and Gordon Brand Jr.

Golf may well be missing a big trick with advertising.

Should the golfing authorities be putting their content out there too?

Content that actually encourages our kids to pick up some bats and head to the nearest golf course?

Because I for one have never seen an R&A advert anywhere that says:

“Play Golf. It’s Fucking Awesome!”

And that’s what every other advertiser out there is doing for their product. And guess what? It works!

If the R&A or USGA created adverts, they certainly wouldn’t be presenting golf in the way the drinks industry presents itself, or for that matter how the tobacco industry used to successfully influence its audience.

And that is the biggest shame. Golf needs to look a bit edgier, cooler and more inclusive. If Rickie Fowler’s alter-ego Dick Fowler PI has anything to do with it, golf has been given opportunities.

It won’t surprise you that there are more young people smoking than there there are young golfers right now. In fact there are more underage drinkers than there are under-18 golfers. So they must be doing something right to encourage such an embrace of bad habits.

What Is The Gateway Into Golf?

So what is the answer for the ‘Gateway into Golf’ question? How do we get children to embrace the game of golf?

According to Rory McIlroy, it’s as simple as pro golfers hitting the gym and becoming role models for the next batch of superstars:

If more golfers look athletic, it portrays a much better image for the game.” said Rory, but that really doesn’t encourage the junior Brendan de Jonges, the mini Colt Knosts or the next Kiradech Aphibarnrats does it?

And then we struggle to appeal to those kids not who don’t want to play football, rugby, cricket, tennis or any of those other more-popular-than-golf-sports in schools. Hell, even cross-country runner magazine has a bigger circulation than Today’s Golfer.

What golf needs to do is call in the advertising executives of the 1980s.

Unfortunately those creative types have moved onto to bigger projects, the likes of Ridley Scott, Charles Saatchi and David Puttnam are testament to what offering your brand to free thinkers can do.

What golf needs is some wider advertising, perhaps during the Open Championship coverage on Sky Sports, that says, without irony:

“Golf is the greatest, coolest, most inclusive game in the world”

Because it really is.

Unfortunately, until golf’s marketing people get their asses into gear it will remain, for our kids, as sterile and boring as ever. It doesn’t have to be.

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