The introduction of social media to golf has been long overdue. Whilst other sports have been slowly integrating it into their game golf has not been quick enough to catch up. There have been many reasons for this and the perception of golf is one of those major obstacles for it to push into the digital world. Making the introduction of social media into the game so much more difficult.
Football clubs all have Twitter and Facebook accounts; the Rugby Football Union has launched its own social media hub called RFU Labs and I am sure London 2012 has a host of social media plans this year. The list of sports clubs and organisations who have embraced a use of social media is endless but how is golf using social media, if at all?
The US Masters is the epitome of tradition and standards within golf but it’s the last place you would think to set new standards in sports social media. And yet it did in 2011 when it launched a number of digital platforms ranging from on-demand video highlights on Twitter to an IPad app that mapped out the golf course yard by yard. Similarly the Open Championship 2011 used Score Centre + to add a new dimension to their digital coverage. In fact most professional tournaments have at least a Twitter feed or so
However, the key to sports social media is the way it incorporates not only the athletes and organisers but also the everyday fan and enthusiast. Although individual golfers regularly share their views on Twitter, there is no social network that links the average weekend golfer to other amateur players, to courses, to professional bodies or to media. Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Natalie Gulbis are all particularly heavy tweeters but the problem lies in the difference between connecting teams and connecting individual people, particularly if they have smaller fan bases. A sport played by individuals against other individuals seems much harder to market in social media than something like a professional team.
But there is good news because golf is evolving to use social media more and more. Divotr is a golf social networking site launching this year that will be a place where golf fans can interact in real time during events in a way not unlike Twitter, except everyone can interact with everyone rather than just your own ‘followers’. Since fans of all sports tend to have a better time sharing event experiences with other people this site looks to fill the gap in golf. In terms of playing the game, Howdidido is a site purely for golfers to input their scorecards and handicaps and to share their statistical ups and downs of the game. Although it is a handy site for players it’s not a game changer in terms of fan interaction and social media.
The biggest launch of golf social media this year is the Back9 Network which is replacing its twindling predecessor the Golf Channel. Its mission is “to offer entertaining and edgy content that fuses the sport of golf with the exciting lifestyle that surrounds it”. It will provide golf fans with a multimedia lifestyle and entertainment network distributed over many different digital platforms. The Back9 Network then appears to be step in the right direction by giving the 60 million people that play golf a voice. Its impact on the perception of golf will be hotly anticipated but whether it inspires a bright new generation of golf fans nobody knows.
As more and more sports integrate social media into their daily routine the sports which are not fully utilising it are the ones which suffer. Golf as a global sport will suffer if it does not integrate social media into its structure. But luckily it’s getting a shake-up and its perception to the average person as an elitist, dusty game is going to change very soon; most importantly with the use of social media to bring players and fans together.