Equipment manufacturers are starting to develop eco-friendly products – but the trend will have to ramp up for the sport to remain relevant for Millennials and Gen Z, says Aubrey McCormick
When you think of golf products – such as equipment, apparel and golf balls – which brand comes to mind when considering environmental or social sustainability, if any?
In an industry trying to align with Millennial values, there is an opportunity to invest in the development of more sustainable products. Millennials and Gen Z consumers are more inclined to spend their money on brands that promote social well-being, are transparent about their manufacturing practices, and have ethical business standards. Sustainability is becoming a top priority for major brands around the world because of pressure from consumers, finite natural resources, and changing demographics.
According to an international study by Nielsen, 66% of global consumers are willing to spend more money on sustainable goods, with 73% of Millennials citing sustainability as the primary reason for purchasing from specific consumer brands.
“Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too,” said Grace Farraj, senior vice-president of public development and sustainability at Nielsen.
Golf is a lucrative industry, funneling more than $84 billion into the US economy. In 2018, there was a surge of 2.6 million newcomers to the game, 70% of which were under 35, 35% were women and 26% coming from non-Caucasian backgrounds, according to the National Golf Federation.
These figures would have been unfathomable to the founding fathers of golf – a game that was started in 1457 by players using feather-stuffed golf balls and clubs shaped from tree branches. Equipment in those days looked very different, was manufactured using different raw materials, and never with a full understanding of what their impact was on the physical environment.
Modern golf products are undeniably disruptive to the environment, while advancements in technology can only go so far. This begs the question: is sustainability the next megatrend that golf must embrace to grow the game?
A report published by the National Golf Foundation has stated that there is an estimated 6.3 million golfers between the ages 18-34 playing an average of 14.7 rounds per year (approximately 93 million rounds) and spending an estimated $5 billion a year on equipment, merchandise and playing fees. The report listed the “10 key considerations for golf brands and companies to keep in mind as we chart a way forward with millennials,” and sustainability was not one of them.
The question is, ‘where can golf go from here?’
There are a handful of companies in golf that are paving the way for more sustainable products. Golf balls and tees seem to be the low hanging fruit currently. However, there is more opportunity for development.
The consideration of sustainable progress isn’t only in developing new products, but an opportunity to create circularity in the consumption of these products. Many people entering golf may not want to pay top dollar for premium equipment and apparel, making the secondhand options much more viable and less of an impact on the cycle of product manufacturing: take, make, use, waste.
Two out of the top five golf product companies promote their commitment to environmental stewardship by manufacturing goods in more sustainable ways. PING showcases its Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Policy and Supplier Code of Conduct that features transparency in its supply chain, while Callaway Golf sells two golf bags made out of 600D CORDURA© Eco Fabric – a polyester made from recycled plastic.
Other companies leading the charge include Dixon Golf, which created the world’s first 100% eco-friendly golf ball. Dixon’s mission is to lead the golf world in generating “green” initiatives to help eliminate the estimated 300 million golf balls discarded each year. The core of the golf ball is compounded of heavy earth salts, as opposed to heavy metal fillers with a polymer cover that can be broken down. In addition, with every purchase from Dixon Golf, they pledge to plant a tree.
The Eco Bio Ball was created by AlbusGolf, a Barcelona–based company that’s dedicated to designing innovative products with ecological and biodegradable features to improve the sustainability and biodiversity of marine life. It’s goal: to satisfy the sporting and leisure requirements of its customers while improving their environmental awareness. These golf balls are biodegradable within 48 hours of hitting the water. They are 100% safe for marine flora and fauna, and even release fish food contained in their core once broken down.
And the Eco Golf Ball and Eco Golf Tee are respectively made from wood (that is biodegradable within six months) and recycled materials (produced to outlast bamboo or wood by 50x).
Innovation will need to continue – and at a fast pace – if golf wants to align with the lifestyle and purchase behaviours of the Millennial and Gen Z demographic. A lucrative opportunity is there for manufacturers able to read these trends and create the products and conditions to keep golf relevant for the younger generation.
Aubrey McCormick is an entrepreneur, LEED-accredited sustainability professional, media personality and former professional golfer