With Bubba Watson winning this year's Masters, more down-to-earth players are starting to hit their stride.
Watson's win at the Masters this year was refreshing, as he comes across with a relaxed country-boy demeanor. Since Woods' indiscretions made the news, Woods has been more withdrawn from fans, whereas Watson and McIlroy have come off as more approachable and viewers seem to be relating to them more than they are to Tiger.
However, while Watson's victory was fascinating to watch, it wasn't being watched by as many viewers as is typical for a Masters Tournament. The Masters' final day was the lowest-rated final day in the past eight years. Tiger Woods is still golf's main attraction, and he has underperformed this year. When Woods is able to perform well and is close to the lead, he attracts a lot of viewers. But when Woods underperforms, the viewership numbers underperform as well. In order for golf to increase viewership, either Woods needs to return to form or golf needs another superstar. Since Tiger's indiscretions were made public in 2009, Woods has lost his luster on and off the course.
Golf is also experiencing negative publicity in light of Augusta National refusing to allow women to be members. Although Augusta is not the only private golf club in the United States that bars membership to women, it's the one taking the heat now because it is home to the Masters Tournament that generates extensive national news coverage and spectators from around the world.
"Augusta has a mystique that cannot be truly put into words," said Michael Boyd, former PGA player and current head golf pro at Broken Arrow's Indian Springs Country Club. "A tradition unlike any other ... is definitely their marketing posture. It does back it up though. It is a wonderfully designed golf course that creates a stage for drama and excitement. Every year the tournament produces a hero, and dashes the hopes of others."
Back in 2002, Martha Burk, then head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, started a protest campaign -- but nothing came of it. Augusta National did take its time in admitting black and Jewish men as members some years ago, but is still refusing to admit women members. They may be facing a new era though. The Masters' longtime sponsor, IBM, has a new female CEO, Virginia Rometty. As history shows, the last four CEOs at IBM were men and they were all invited to become members, but only time will tell if there will be an invitation extended to Rometty.
Another recent downward change is in the number of people playing the game. From 2001-2007, 30 million people were playing, but that number dropped to 26 million from 2010-2011. Junior golfers, ages 6-17, account for just 2.5 million of the 26 million total golfers. The good news is that last season the PGA Tour began their "Establishment vs. New Breed" ad campaign, and the players delivered. The emergence of young players like Rory McIlroy and Bill Haas helped increase ratings by 7 percent after a down year in 2010. The general demographic for the Masters was 54, which is much older than the viewers for any other major sporting championship. They are working hard to engage younger athletes and fans, and this new campaign is showing promise.
With the emergence of younger players, golf has been able to acquire sponsorships to attract a younger demographic. With brands like Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy signing on, other new advertisers are finding their way onto the golf course. Another industry the golfing world is introducing to golfers and viewers is apparel styles that would put Payne Stewart's patterned pants to shame.
Ch ... Ch ... Ch ... Changes
Perhaps one day Augusta National will open its doors to women. Every so often, I'll drive by a golf course and see a little girl accompanied by her father learning how to play the game of golf. I hope in the near future that she and all women will be allowed to play golf at all golf courses, big or small. It'll be refreshing to see that people can put aside their differences and be able to play a sport together, as equals.
Hope for the future of golf can also be found in players like Bubba Watson. There's a saying in golf, "Drive for show, putt for dough," that probably every golfer has heard. During this year's Masters Tournament, Watson showed that he can do both and make it entertaining. He is what you might call today's Happy Gilmore. He's never had a professional golf lesson, and on the biggest stage in golf he made it look easy. Golfers have to be able to embrace what they can control, while battling themselves and the course. Watson reminded viewers that at the end of the day, it's just a game. "Golf isn't everything to me. If I had lost today, it wouldn't have been the end of the world. To win is awesome, but I'll go back to real life next week." Being a sports fan, those words are music to my ears.
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