Spend a little time surfing the web to see what’s new in golf these days and you might be surprised by the results. Most-viewed stories include reviews of rapper Tyler, the Creator’s Golf Wang fashion line (clothes so cool they made Kanye West smile at a runway show) and roundups of golf apps, sensors and high-tech clubs. Then there is the fact that golf recently regained its status as an Olympic event, returning in 2016 for the first time since 1904.
The game is reinventing itself for the 21st century, embracing a new generation of players and coming up with exciting ways to retain its traditional base. Eye-catching, high-end fashion has replaced plaids, while glamorous celebrities enjoy and promote the game. Even golf’s unapologetically old-school demographic has come to accept the refresh, with pro players now sharing the course with families.
Malbon Golf boutique carries trendy kids’ and adults’ designer gear. Praised by Vogue, the store even offers technique workshops for little ones in its Swing Studio.
“If you wouldn’t wear it off the course, you can’t wear it on,” GQ magazine once ruled in its style pages. Malbon Golf, a trendy boutique located in West Hollywood, embodies this advice. It offers functional-yet-fashionable golf apparel and accessories for men, women and kids, alongside items co-branded with Nike, Jones and Ecco. Because the shop, which was recently featured in Vogue, is so style-centric, it’s getting “a lot of non-traditional golfers, a lot of diverse people, coming in,” says Stephen Malbon, the store’s co-owner. The small shop – which reflects golf’s big change – supplements its retail space with an indoor putting green and an 18-hole range simulator where anyone can play a round, book lessons with a pro or just hang out. “Justin Bieber comes and hits balls sometimes,” says Malbon. “Immediately after, there’s a bunch of kids who see him here on Instagram, [kids] who didn’t want to go take lessons with Grandpa, suddenly telling Grandpa they want lessons.”
Clubs now cater specifically to families, recognizing the sport’s popularity with younger fans.
According to the Dow Jones & Co. website MarketWatch, nine-hole games and driving ranges are increasing in popularity due to changing family and work dynamics that leave less time – and money – for leisure activities. The R&A, Golf Canada and the USGA have recently relaxed penalties and reduced time for lost-ball search to speed up the pace of play, and clubs know that getting kids interested in the game is essential to golf’s future. Savvy courses are “promoting to families and young kids by having events where kids play with their parents in a competition,” says Billy Horschel, a 31-year-old four-time PGA Tour winner and Fairmont Brand Ambassador. “It may only be a nine-hole competition, but the kids love it and parents enjoy spending time with their kids.”
Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego has many options for younger players. Teens play for half the daily rate while kids 12 and under golf for free. The Grand Golf Club’s junior tees measure a fair yet challenging 4,824 yards and at the Grand Junior Golf Academy young golfers learn how to putt in atypical environments. At night, the club offers glow-in-the-dark golf balls and a variety of events that change the state of the green entirely. Fairmont Southampton, Kea Lani, Orchid, Jasper Park Lodge, and Zimbali Resort, to name a few, also offer family-focused golf bookings, with instruction from PGA pros. At Fairmont St Andrews, Director of Golf Amy Yeates – Scotland’s only female golf director – supports the inclusion of families with school holiday golf activities.
Golf memberships are on the rise in countries such as Morocco (pictured here at Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech) and India, giving the game a bigger international fan base.
For hip adults, 19th-hole golf-themed happy hours, which are taking over the coolest clubhouses across the world, have changed the game when it comes to players socializing off the green. Drink and appetizer specials bring together amateur and pro players to create a newfound après-golf culture. These types of events are also inspiring mixologists to create post-tee drinks such as the delicious Talk Birdie To Me (a drink making waves in Palm Beach Garden’s The Cooper Restaurant in Florida).
Golf ’s hardcore base isn’t being left behind in the chase to capture a new generation. Business still gets done on the golf course, and organizations like Boardroom Golf, based in Cardiff, Wales, connect business owners and partners, allowing them to bond over games. Yet no matter how much golf seeps into our collective professional worlds, the game is intent on finding new ways to entertain.
“I think golfers are looking for a great time on the course, a fun time,” says Horschel. “New players want to listen to music while playing with friends, but also play a very fast pace… I think the amount of time that it takes to play has hurt our game and caused new players to quit or not take the game up at all.”
Modern players add a travelling soundtrack to their game with Ultimate Ears WonderBoom Ultra-Portable Wireless Speakers.
Golfers are also, arguably, living in a golden age of equipment and technology. Horschel says, “There is technology to tell you everything about how the swing works, why a ball curves, the different types of clubs and shafts and how each one performs.” Clubs like the TaylorMade M3 and M4 drivers, with a new Twist Face design that reimagines the traditional bulge and roll, are helping players hit the ball better than ever. Tracking systems like SwingSmart, Zepp and Arccos 360 help players analyze their swing via sensors that attach to their clubs and deliver a multitude of data, including tempo, face angle and club shaft lean, to their smartphones. The rentable, battery-powered GolfBoard combines a scooter with a surfboard to turn your day on the links into a multidisciplinary experience, and Australian golf legend Greg Norman recently unveiled his Shark Experience golf cart, with an HD touch screen, 4G network and built-in speakers.
Like many sports, golf is adapting to meet the wants and needs of a changing society. The result is a more vibrant and global game that should survive for generations to come. “I believe people are seeing golf as a true sport now,” Horschel says. “The public is starting to see golf as cool and fun – yards away from the stiff, stuck-up stigma it held in the past.”
Marilyn Monroe on the golf course at Fairmont Banff Springs.
Top Spots to Tee Off
Fairmont’s courses of action.
Course par: 72
Length: 7,226 yds.
Course designer: Cabell B. Robinson
Commune with nature as you golf at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. This course is designed to respect its natural environment, which includes a river and borders of bougainvillea.
Course par: 71/36
Length: 6,938/3,287 yds.
Season: May to October
Course designer: Stanley Thompson/Cornish and Robinson
Stanley Thompson’s world-renowned course has attracted celebrity golfers, including Bing Crosby and Clint Eastwood, since opening in 1928.
Course par: 72
Length: 7,000 yds.
Course designer: Greg Norman
The El Camaleón course winds around sand dunes and cenotes. The hotel also hosts the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the first PGA event outside North America.
Course par: 54 Length: 2,684 yds.
Course designer: Theodore Robinson
This course offers bunkers, multiple tee-off areas, dramatic elevation changes and top-notch views of the Atlantic, making it the perfect course for players of all levels. It was named one of Golf Digest’s Best Places to Play.
Course par: 72
Length: 7,160 yds.
Course designer: Tom Fazio
The Los Peñasquitos Canyon oversees bunkering and lush fairways. PGA-certified instructors are available for one-on-one instruction, and nighttime family events feature glow-in-the-dark golf balls.
Course par: 72
Length: 7,230/7,192 yds.
Course designer: Sam Torrance/Bruce Devlin
Fairmont St Andrews offers two award-winning courses: the Torrance, featuring a Scottish-links-style design, and the Kittocks, which hugs the Fife coastline. Voted 18th in “The World’s Top Golf Resorts” in Condé Nast Traveler’s readers’ poll.