Tiger Woods is one of the very best things that ever happened to golf. A quarter century ago, he turned pro, and two simple words reshaped the business of golf. We’ve been asked countless times about Tiger’s impact on golf, whether it’s in terms of participation, eyeballs or engagement. Now, 25 years later, as I sit in the Jupiter, Florida, office that once was Tiger’s, it’s the ideal time (and place) to reflect on his profound influence on the game of golf.
Tiger’s biggest impact, by far, was on golf’s public awareness.
He became ubiquitous … TV ads, magazine covers, interviews and television appearances. His wasn’t just a sports story, it was a top of the “A List” celebrity news story. Is it any surprise? How many athletes get to come out with an advertising campaign titled, ‘Hello, world” and with the power of Phil Knight and Nike behind them? Tiger became, and remained for quite a while, the most visible athlete on the planet.
The game and business of golf got to ride along on his coattails. Everybody knew who Tiger was and what sport he played. Golf thus began to enjoy a level of public awareness that hadn’t been seen since Bobby Jones went on his run between 1923 and 1930. If New York was still doing ticker tape parades they surely would have had one for Tiger, the way they did for Jones in ‘26 when he returned triumphant from St Andrews with the claret jug under his arm.
Tiger’s impact on awareness and interest in golf was reminiscent of that created by Palmer and Nicklaus. The difference was they played together as their careers overlapped. Palmer fueled the public golf boom of the 1960s, and Jack increased interest in golf throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, until his final ringing of the bell at Augusta in 1986. When Tiger burst onto the scene a long 10 years later it was him alone. The attention on Tiger and his golf was not diluted. When Nicklaus was in his heyday, it was the Jack-Arnie rivalry, or it was the ‘Big Three’ with Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. With Tiger, it was just him against the field. He didn’t have to share the limelight.
Golf’s ultra-elevated public awareness was the headspring from which all of golf’s blessings flowed … more fans, more golfers, more golf courses, more equipment sales. As golf’s audience grew, so did the advertising and marketing dollars devoted to the game. Television ratings led to more sponsorships, which led to bigger purses and more money raised for charity. Tiger was directly responsible for much if not most of that growth. It was a fortuitus time to be in the business of conducting professional golf tournaments.
Another impact was his athleticism, his aggressive swing, his workout regimen, his overall fitness. Tiger didn’t just make golf cool, he made it athletic and because of that golf’s appeal became broader than ever. Today’s players … Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka … they are all following Tiger’s approach to the game.
Tiger also influenced the formation of the First Tee in 1997. His celebrity helped drive the creation of hundreds of First Tee sites and resulted in millions of kids, many of them minority and non-Caucasian, being exposed to golf and the values of the game at a young age. Again, it was awareness and interest in Tiger that drove so many kids to sign up for the First Tee. They wanted to be like Tiger, just like the kids before them wanted to ‘Be Like Mike.’ The First Tee wasn’t the only youth program to benefit. Many others, including those offered by the LPGA, the PGA of America and the USGA, were inspired by Tiger.
While Tiger definitely had a positive impact on golf participation, there’s a misperception that his influence was principally among minorities. It’s true that minorities were disproportionately influenced, but he actually influenced many more Caucasians than non-Caucasians.
Today, off-course participation is growing by double digits each year and interest in playing traditional golf on-course has never been higher. Much of this of this interest in on- and off-course participation is among non-Caucasians. So, yes, Tiger’s tale continues on. He got things started 25 years ago. Now there are others who are making golf cool, throwing logs on the fire he started.
Joe is in his 35th year with the NGF and has served as President and Chief Executive since 1989. One of the industry's leading experts on the business of golf, Joe has published a myriad of studies and reports about the state of the game and, as a speaker, is frequently asked to provide insight and information on consumer and economic trends affecting golf's present and future.