The golfer's substitute: Exploring what might replace the traditional business-meeting sport
College Contributor Network
If any sport seems dated now, it is probably golf. Everyone knows that the game is declining in popularity, but no one seems to realize why this is so important. Golf seems superficially irrelevant, but when we look at the sport, we find a lot more than green grass and white sand -- we find a place in athletics where people could do business. As golf disappears, it will be tough to replace that.
According to the golf-specializing consulting company Pellucid, the sport lost 1.1 million players in 2013, and the number of U.S. golfers has dropped 24-percent since 2002. The reasons for this are complicated and multifaceted: Some might say this is the product of a societal trend away from old-school, traditional, crotchety values, and others might cite the short attention span and gratification-focused attitude of "millennials" as being antithetical to the patience, practice and perseverance required to commit to a round of golf. Looking ahead, it just seems unlikely that one demographic is going to sweep in and rescue the sport.
From a younger perspective, it might not be obvious why golf's disappearance matters in the first place. Isn't this a sport for old people in ugly pants? Not exactly. One of golf's main functions (aside from being perhaps the most discipline-intensive sport on the planet) was to serve almost as a pseudo-business meeting. Groups would meet up, play a round, talk some shop as they competed, and then head back to the clubhouse for food and drinks and more talking.
By the time people were back in the parking lot, there was a good chance that a deal had been struck. Golf was essentially this domain for people to make stuff happen all while playing a sport. Nowadays, we look back and feel like that domain has been white-washed and male-dominated, but it still matters. Golf really used to impact business, and it probably still impacts business, just to a lesser degree.
That will be the biggest blow to the sports world if golf falls by the wayside -- that avenue for production and partnership and cooperation will fall by the wayside too. Something needs to come in and replace golf as that hub for business, but what? That's the Big Question. We'll explore some options:
The Poker Table
I see where this is going, you have a little "business" to take care of, then you gather together your "associates" and take care of things over some cards and chips. Yeah, seems like if we did this we would have miniature versions of Goodfellas happening in each of our basements.
Plus, there's not a lot of cooperative play going on in poker, and it might not be the best idea to negotiate business terms while you're in the midst of taking somebody else's money.
The Fishing Boat
Ah, now here's something that can really bring a few people together. Time alone near a body of water, taking in the nice weather, sipping some adult beverages, and wrestling slippery wet fish. In all honesty, this would be a fine arena for business between long-term partners, but with anyone else, you're talking about some long hours crammed into a boat with someone you barely know. Plus, if things go awry on the financial end, you have nowhere to go.
Come on, this isn't a sitcom or a cop show. Nothing is accomplished in bars except intoxication and rejection, which are both bad for business. Dingy lighting, thumping music, loads of other people inches away from you -- none of it is going to help you close the deal. This is a far cry from the open air and competition you would find on the links. Plus, there is not even a sport involved. Try again.
The Sports Bar
No. Stop it.
The Basketball Court
Woah. Bold move. Are you sure you can stop hacking people in the lane, calling touch-fouls, and trash-talking long enough to negotiate out there on the court? That's a tough ask for anyone.
This has high-risk, high-reward potential, because for every pair of players out there who start going off on one another, there's another pair who forge that inexplicable telepathic bond and start predicting each other's movements in the pick-and-roll game. Indeed, you could either strike out or hit a home run with some pickup hoops, to mix our sports metaphors.
Just make sure that things in the locker room stay business-like. A first-time meeting does not warrant a trip to the Jacuzzi or sauna or steam room -- that makes things a little too personal. Just be sure to shower at least -- I shouldn't have to tell you that. Come on.
Well, shoot. That was pretty bleak. The best we could come up with was fishing or basketball, and we know from pop culture that both of those are terrible for business (shout-out to Godfather II and White Men Can't Jump). So what do we do? Where can we find hope for golf?
The answer might be surprisingly simple. As a young sports fan, I clearly remember why I ever thought golf was remotely cool: Tiger. He was on all the magazines, in all the commercials, and he won and won and didn't stop winning until, well, you know.
Golf used to have a bonafide superstar. People watched golf because we never knew when Tiger was going to bust out one of his uber-clutch, freak-of-nature, bonafide-brilliant, best-of-all-time shots. Tiger drew golf ratings single-handedly. We watched every major for him, we followed the FedEx Cup for him, and we cared about out Ryder Cup teams for him. He was a new-school guy breaking into an old-school game and tearing his competition limb from limb. The Sunday red will forever be a cultural trademark. Tiger Woods made golf matter, not the other way around, and now that he has faded away from hero-status, we need another golf superstar.
Looking at the field right now, a clear mega-star does not seem present. Dustin Johnson never saw the dominance we demanded, Rory McIlroy was not different enough or exciting enough (he either blew everyone away or was a quiet top-10 guy; he never had "The Chip"), and guys like Luke Donald or Adam Scott felt like cookie-cutter golfers. We need someone to break onto the scene like Tiger did. We need a common guy to cheer for. We need someone to hold our attention and force us to wonder, 'What will this guy do next?' When that person arrives, the links could be redeemed.
Golf is in a weird spot. It feels like it is going to be caught in this strange place of sports limbo for at least another decade before its final destination is decided upon. If golf does decide to go, it will mean big changes on the business front. That new venue will have to rise up and be that catalyst for deal-making. We might not be sure what that is yet, but it is important to remember that while competition drives the market, it also drives cooperation when it comes to golf. The sport is not irrelevant yet, and if we can understand its professional significance, then its impact can remain relevant for years and years down the road.
Golf's reach goes far beyond the green, and that is something we want to maintain, even if that's not where we want our balls to go.
Tyler Daswick is a junior at Northwestern University. He is a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, Indiana Jones, and writing stories about cowboys and banditos. Follow him on Twitter: @AccordingtoDazz