Nike’s withdrawal from the golf equipment market is a signifier of the declining popularity of the game. Nike Golf announced in August that they would stop making Golf equipment, leaving Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in sponsorship limbo. The company has been one of the figureheads of world golf for almost a decade, being the primary sponsor of Woods since 1996 and McIlroy since 2013. This news was far from expected, with both players being informed by Nike’s decision just a few hours before the press release. The official statement from Nike stated that the company will “accelerate innovation in its golf footwear and apparel business.” It goes on to say that with this new focus, “Nike Golf will transition out of equipment – including clubs, balls, and bags.” The statement is avoiding the major issue here, though: less and less people are buying Nike golf clubs.
Nike was a brand that arrived late to golf and it may just have been a case of entering an already specialised and overcrowded market. Phil Mickelson famously had a jibe at the quality of their clubs; talking about his bigger distance off the tee in comparison to Woods, stating, Tiger “has a faster swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he’s stuck with.” It may just be that Nike clubs have failed to match the level of quality and technology of the other leading brands but this seems unlikely. Instead, with Nike’s global reach across different sports, they have fled a declining industry, where the other brands can’t.
Golf has been on a steady decline for years. 2016 was the eighth year in a row were there were more golf courses being closed than opened in the USA and this is a trend that doesn’t seem to be stopping. Sports Marketing Surveys confirmed that the average number of rounds played has decreased by 12% in the second quarter of 2016, in comparison to the same period in 2015. The fundamental issue with golf is the pace of the game. With the exception of us St Andrews students, disappearing for four hours on the golf course regularly is not compatible with the modern day lifestyle. Furthermore, whilst golf may have eradicated some of its elitist stereotypes, many golf clubs price out perspective member due to exorbitant joining fees and yearly subs. The price has become extortionate for members only wanting to play a few social rounds a year around their busy schedules. For example, if membership to a golf club was £1,500, a member who played the course 10 times in a year would end up paying £150 a round. To put this figure into context, that sum of £150 is comparable to the cost of playing the famous Old Course once.
It has also become increasingly apparent that the ‘Tiger Woods effect’ is over. The scandal of 2009 exasperated the steady decline in the interest for the sport. When Woods was publically shamed for his marital affairs, golf lost not only its best player, but also the face of the sport; Woods has never been able to re-find the form that made him almost unstoppable for a decade. This fall from grace has been a disaster for the game. When Nike signed a deal with Woods in 1996, Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University reported that 4.5 million customers were brought in as a result. Business Insider also recently reported that during Woods period of leave from the game in the aftermath of the scandal, the golfing industry saw a drop in sales of 15%.
Golf’s steady decline will continue unless something changes. Whether we need shorter courses, bigger holes, cheaper fees, or no draconian clothing rules, a big change is needed to stop this declining golf trend.