Golf is having its God moment.
Or, to put it another way, its Blockbuster Video moment.
And it’s happening with the same generation of people that the church has been struggling to engage with in the West – the Millennials.
22-37 year olds have lost interest in the game. Golf courses, which are expensive to run, are shutting down as memberships drop off.
Who has time for six hours of golf on a Saturday or Sunday? Who has the focus for six hours of golf -of anything – on a Saturday or Sunday? Certainly not the average Millennial.
According to an article in The Australian newspaper today, golf participation in the US peaked in 2001, when nearly 30 million people played more than 500 million rounds; in 2017, that figure dropped to nearly 24 million people playing about 450 million rounds.
And that’s reflected in the Australian statistics, with houses on golf course estates dropping in value. The courses they circled are being sold for further real estate. You’d be dark if you bought a home there a decade ago, because your market value is plummeting.
Golf club director, Danny Betros from Cairns in Queensland, says this:
“Try getting a millennial to focus or be passionate about something for six hours; it doesn’t happen. Everyone is looking for quicker entertainment.”
“I can’t imagine anyone building a new golf course in Australia today.”
Probably right. There’s been a 4.6 per cent decline in the past decade in Australia. Millennials would be ticking the “no golf” box on the census if there were one.
My confession. I used to play golf. Every weekend. It was fun. But what a time sucker! Was it more expensive than my current hobby of running? That’s a line call. But when you can go for a run and be back in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up, it’s a no brainer as far as family life is concerned.
Never mind the Millennials, this X-Gen lad found that family life and golf didn’t fit. You’d be feeling guilty four hours into a round that was supposed to finish half an hour ago, except for the fact Happy Gilmour in the group ahead of you just won’t sink that darned putt.
Intriguingly, the future of golf – and golf estates – is still retirees. There’s a spike in buying houses around some regional courses, as Boomers make the tree change and use all that spare time they now have to walk straight out onto a course from their doorstep.
But that’s not the future for golf anymore than it’s the future for church, or for Blockbuster for that matter.
It’s a false spike that reflects the end of a trend, not its reemergence. Larger churches in Australia are filling up, and setting up, but that’s often at the expense of the hundreds of small churches that are struggling and shutting.
It would be easy to sit on your verandah on your golf course estate house, sipping coffee, and watching as group after group tees off on the 1st in front of you, and assume golf is in a good state. That there’s a resurgence. But you’d be wrong.
Just as you’d be wrong if you sat in a big warehouse church week in week out and thought “Hey this church crisis in Australia isn’t really a thing any longer.”
The fact is many a big church is filling up with people who, like the Millennials with golf, haven’t got – or won’t give – the six hours a week that is required for smaller, local churches to survive. Those smaller churches are the spiritual equivalent of a nine hole course in your average suburb.
And maybe they don’t matter that much in the mind of big church. But they’re the canary in the mineshaft. Once they start shutting down, it’s only a matter of time until the bigger ones start to suffer. Once the message is not going out from them into the nooks and crannies of life, then the message is going to get lost.
Why? Because like golf, if Millennials aren’t taking up church now, they’re not likely to be taking it up at 65 when they hit retirement. If church leaders, who are ahead of the curve on this one, could say anything to golf leaders it would be this:
“Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t assume if we build it they will come. Don’t assume the top end of the market golf estates are indicative of what is going on at literal grassroots level. You’re going to have to invest time, resources, and a deep sense of urgency that you are one lagging interest among many other options, and that unless you are evangelistic about golf, it will die.”
That’s what I’d say anyway. And then I’d say, you need the one thing that the church has, that you don’t have – prayer. Mind you, I probably said the odd prayer or two back in the day; first for deliverance as my drive sliced off into the trees, and then for forgiveness when I muttered something I should not have when I missed that one foot putt.