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A Publication of the National Golf Foundation

Questions, Answers and Insights for Everyone Interested in the Business of Golf

Millennials in Golf – as Business Owners
How Some in Golf's Next Generation Are Finding Success as Entrepreneurs

by Adam Stanley

December 2018

When Chris Solomon co-founded the popular golf blog No Laying Up in 2014, the goal was simple: he joked it would be cool to get a few free rounds out of it.

Almost five years later, No Laying Up is becoming a media juggernaut. Its podcast has featured everyone from Justin Thomas to Joe Buck to yes, Tiger Woods. It sells branded merchandise at an impressive clip. It’s grown from a three-man operation to five, with more waiting in the wings. They’ve gone from Australia to Scotland to the Middle East and back home to the U.S. creating content for their various digital channels. Along the way they’ve drummed up a robust following by spreading the gospel of ‘Tour Sauce’ (essentially this is when amateur golfers mimic the mannerisms of tour pros, from club twirls and crowd waves to No Laying Up’s increasingly recognizable logo – the directional point after a wayward drive).

The No Laying Up crew at St Andrews. Standing are Chris Solomon (left) and friend Tron Carter (right), with DJ Piehowski (left) and Phil Landes (right), otherwise known as “Big Randy.”

 

Not bad for a few millennials – long thought to be an entitled generation – who hoped to play some free golf.

“There was a huge gap in the market when we started out, but now it seems like there is a new golf podcast popping up every 10 minutes,” Solomon, 32, says with a laugh. “You need to stay on your grind, you need to make sure you stay ahead of things because things are always evolving.

“But that’s our goal: do something different and make sure it’s entertaining.”

 

While No Laying Up has been at the forefront of millennial engagement with the sport, there are no shortage of brands — Lie + Loft, Bradley Putters, Uther Supply, Swannies, etc. — that are run by the group born between the 1980s and mid 1990s that is 75-million strong in the U.S. alone.

This demographic is crucial for golf as the sport looks towards the future. According to NGF statistics, young adults account for 26 percent of all golfers and pump about $5 billion into the industry every year.

Social Media Success

Millennials remain critical, in general, of the sport’s culture and a quarter of golfers in this age group say the game’s dress code doesn’t always fit their style. They are also 15 percent more likely to check their phone on the golf course than older golfers.

Instagram is the fastest-growing social network used by young adults, so if that group is on their phones on the golf course, there’s a good chance they’re “liking” photos from friends and brands they can relate to.

Daniel Erdman is the founder of Uther Supply, a fashion-forward golf towel company based in Toronto. He dropped out of college in 2015 to pursue his small business dream (he started with a training aid, but quickly moved to towels), much to the chagrin of his mom and grandparents. They are now the first to proudly bring up what he does for a living.

Erdman, 23, sees the sport changing rapidly. Thinking about the next decade, he says, is “insane” as he ponders what golf will be like, from the kind of innovations that will shape the sport to how the game will be played.

“As a young person it helps to keep up and to stay on trend,” he says. “If you look on Instagram, a lot of (golf) brands popping up are non-traditional, and that’s what the consumer wants right now.”

One of those brands – whose founder admits it would have been more difficult to have the success he’s had without social media – is Bradley Putters.

Founded by Brad Converse in Oregon, the boutique company makes bespoke wood putters for customers around the world. His latest? An order that stemmed from a post he did on Reddit – a social news aggregation and discussion website – about his product that resulted in a customer sending him wood from her grandfather’s barn to build a putter. He’s also built a putter from an old ukulele.

Nothing is off limits, it seems.

“The average person is not going to want to spend $600 to $1,000 on a crazy, custom-wood putter, but people who know what I’m doing get excited,” says Converse, 30, who attributes much of his success to Instagram.

 

When he was just starting out, Converse spoke to fly-fishing entrepreneurs who spent upward of $30,000 on a magazine ad to “hopefully” get a few orders. It’s a totally different world now, he says, as Converse posts almost daily to a loyal network of 25,000 followers.

“A lot of people buying my putters are excited because they see my face every day. They see my family. They see what I’m working on and they feel like they’re a part of what I’m growing here,” says Converse. “There is such a shift right now. People are listening to music on the course and wearing different clothes. My product appeals to all ages but especially to younger people who want something different and cool.”

Connecting with Consumers 

Luke Davis is the 30-year-old founder of Lie + Loft, which creates art and home goods that celebrate golf. Davis originally planned to be a PGA professional, going to school to study golf management, but decided that wasn’t the long-term career path he wanted to pursue. He sold software for about five years, yet missed golf and being around the game every day.

“At the time, I was starting to invest in how my house looked. I wanted it to have a golf presence, but a little more contemporary and not as traditional,” says Davis. “There wasn’t really anyone out there trying to celebrate the brand and make the game feel like home through art. Even when I was working in the golf industry in college, I wanted to have maps, posters and memorabilia from the places I worked. I always thought the maps on scorecards were especially cool.”

At Lie + Loft, the mission is to find home in golf, adventure and design.

 

Now with two full years under his belt running Lie + Loft, Davis relishes the opportunity to grow the game in a different way than he originally anticipated. In addition to its growing product line, the company also runs unique golf trips and events intended to foster engagement. Those outings include night golf, a golf bike trip from Portland to Pebble Beach and an outing called “Home on the Range” in which participants camped out on the golf course at Tobacco Road in North Carolina.

“It’s been really cool and I get to see first-hand how the game is evolving and growing,” says Davis. “The experience has been really rewarding.”

Swannies, co-founded by 27-year-old Adam Iversen, is targeted toward Millennials not because it’s the trendy thing to do but because that’s what he and his friends were looking for.

Swannies sells lifestyle golf gear – flip-flops (with soft spikes), hats, and polo shirts that can easily be worn on the golf course or off – and started hosting party scrambles last year.

“Starting out and still to this day we’re not paying a marketing agency to put together a plan for millennials and figure out how to use different lingo and (sell) products they want,” says Iversen. “We started as a fun, silly, sandal company and we were able to do things in golf that people hadn’t seen before.”

The party scrambles – dubbed ‘the most fun you’ll have on the golf course’ – are nine-hole scrambles with three party games played along the way. Some participants spend more time drinking beer than hitting shots, but Iversen says it’s all part of the fun.

“It’s been really cool to see traditional golf skew a little more casual and social. Topgolf has helped explode this new golf/entertainment and gamification space and it’s an incredible time to be at the forefront of that,” says Iversen. “The party scrambles were a brand extension for us. We took our peer group and our demographic and what they were looking for in the game and gave them a truly unique experience.”

Swannies founder Adam Iversen

 

Whether it’s media, accessories, events, or even club design and management, the under-35 group in golf isn’t just a disruptive force. They are changing the game for a whole generation.

Much in the way many golfers don’t know how their next shot is going to look until it comes off the clubface, millennial business owners can’t predict the future of the sport. But they are sure having fun in the present.

“Anyone can start something, like the way we did,” says No Laying Up’s Solomon. “We were fortunate with the timing and it’s worked out great for us, but it’s a challenge to stay ahead of the game now. There is a lot more going on in the online golf landscape than there was five years ago, but it makes everything better.

“We welcome that, and we’re really excited about where things are going in golf.”

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Adam Stanley

Adam is a Canadian-based golf journalist who has written for a multitude of outlets including PGATOUR.com, the Canadian Press, Globe & Mail, Sportsnet.ca, SCOREGolf Magazine, Golf Canada Magazine and the Golf Channel. A golf analyst for CTV News and CBC News, he’s also director of communications for the Golf Journalists Association of Canada.

NGF Takeaways

Young adults remain a major part of golf’s participant base, with a pool of about 6.2 million golfers. It’s a figure that’s unchanged the past few years and contradicts some claims that golf is losing these “Millennial Golfers.” Some in this group are also making waves as golf business owners within a competitive market.

No Laying Up has been at the forefront of millennial engagement with the sport from a media standpoint, while companies like Uther Supply, Swannies and Bradley Putters are among other golf companies founded by the younger generation.

NGF research shows that young adults (18-35) account for 26 percent of all golfers and pump about $5 billion into the industry every year.