Middle-aged men are swapping golf for cycling

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham January 27, 2015 12:04

A new report that looks at global leisure trends has found that middle-aged men are increasingly swapping golf for cycling, because cycling is seen as a more welcoming and fun activity.

The World Travel Market (WTM) Global Trends Report 2014, in association with Euromonitor International, found that in the USA the number of golfers dropped by 24 percent between 2000 and 2013, while the number of cyclists rose by nine percent in just one year from 2012 to 2013.

This follows figures last year from Sport England that found that there are now about three times as many regular cyclists as there are regular golfers – a massive change from just 20 years ago.

“The net result is that cycling appears to have become a strong contender for the leisure time of middle-aged men, the traditional mainstay of golf tourism,” states the report.

There is no doubt that cycling is a growing sport but some within golf believe that the industry is pushing people away.

“When I stopped playing cricket, I toyed with the idea of getting really into golf,” said Sean Balmford, a 50-year-old derivatives broker from Essex. “But golf takes too long. It’s a five or six-hour thing and I’ve got three kids, so it’s not fair to be disappearing for that amount of time on a weekend.

“What appeals to me about cycling is that you can go out for as little or as long as you like. You can go out for a 40-minute hard ride on your own or, on a nice, sunny day, you can go out with a couple of mates for a couple of hours.”

“I got disillusioned with golf,” said Adrian Markham, a 39-year-old project manager from Lincolnshire. “I was putting in lots of time at the driving range, playing competitions, reading psychology books and getting so little reward. Because it became all about the score, I wasn’t enjoying the game itself. Golf is so difficult, so it’s difficult to enjoy it.

“Cycling is more inclusive. I’m not beating myself up every time I get on a bike. I did a sportive last week – started in Clitheroe, went up through the Forest of Bowland. It was brutal at times but the sun was out. I took in the scenery. I wasn’t trying to beat a time. I was just out to enjoy it.

“Sportives are social events, occasions in stunning places that bring a good mix of people together.”

“Since my daughter arrived I’ve had less free time and the golf clubs haven’t left the shed,” said Chris Nash, a 45-year-old from Salford who works in customer service. “Modern men can’t get away with disappearing for seven or eight hours on a Sunday like our dads might have done. My missus would be a lot less tolerant than my mum was.

“And the golf clubs I used to play at weren’t welcoming environments for children. Golf has always had that feel about it. But cycling feels inclusive. It’s something we can do as a family, which never would have happened with golf. My wife never got golf, whereas now she’s talking about maybe getting a bike as well.”

Neil Sjoberg, the owner of Epping Golf Course, believes the handicapping system is to blame. He said: “Three years ago all of my 12 ‘pub mates’, aged 45 to 65, played golf and two were golf club members.

“Now only the two golf club members play, yet all cycle regularly and are members of small clubs. They say cycling is more rewarding than golf.

“The clubs have a system for rewarding regular riders on a health or loyalty basis, accepting the read-outs of every ride as a reward for their effort, however small. In contrast, in golf we do have the scorecard that can be discussed but a handicap system that actually penalises you the more you play and discourages competition entry.

“If someone achieves their average score it goes unrewarded, on the occasions they go over their handicap they are immediately penalised and the handicap goes up, when they play a dream round their achievement is scaled down and their handicap only moves down by a feeble portion of their true score. Some reward!

“Recently one of our juniors, who had been practising hard, won a Stableford with 54 points. He wanted his handicap to come down to 12 from 26, but was only allowed a five plus two reduction. Despite the fact his win had put off many others from entering the next competition.

“It really is not surprising golf is losing aspiring golfers to cycling and other sports that mark achievement rather than penalising endeavour.”

However, researchers said that the golf industry is responding to this trend.

Euromonitor International’s head of Travel and Tourism, Caroline Bremner, said: “Cycling may be on trend at the moment but the golf industry is responding, creating genuine choice for consumers.”

According to a 2013 Sports Marketing Surveys report, 20 percent of golfers who gave up the sport in the previous six to 24 months did so to take up cycling.

According to England Golf chief executive David Joy, the trend towards cycling over golf will stop if clubs start offering more six and nine hole membership options.

“We need to address the time issue,” he said. “That means offering six- and nine-hole options, so that you can leave the house, play and be home again in a few hours. If we do that, more people will be choosing golf over cycling.

“The 25 percent of golf clubs that are enjoying membership growth have realised the needs of potential members have changed. They offer flexible memberships – Sunday memberships, twilight memberships, 10-15-rounds-a-year memberships.

“Golf clubs also need to be modern places, friendly places, places with relaxed dress codes where you can use the internet and families are welcome.

“Our research shows that club members play more often – 65 percent of members play every week – so our strategy is to get more golfers into clubs. But a recent survey showed the average number of members recruited by clubs in the last two years was 77, but the average number leaving was 84. So quite clearly the product that’s being offered in too many clubs isn’t right at the moment.”


Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham January 27, 2015 12:04
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  1. pensioner pete January 29, 18:49

    I recently read an article about a company in USA who were making a course friendly bicycle/club carrier that would be an ideal combination – golf speeded up by cycling around the course. Got to be the answer to the problem hasn’t it

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