Latinos & Golf

Golf's New Face

A more diverse game is the right thing, and it's good business

Golf's New Face

Jonathan De Armond, 25, at Pico Rivera Golf Club, is in his third year of golf with a best score of 97 for 18.

December 2013

"My dad couldn't afford to pay $1 a bucket. They said, 'You pick up a bucket, you can hit a bucket.' I just wish there were more opportunities like that."
Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez

For some, it amounts to altruism: Deliver the values and tradition of a wonderful game to an untapped community. For others, it's the opposite: Bring the benefits of diversity to a sport that can use a new vibe. Make it "look more like America." You hear that a lot, too.

But the appeal of the Latino golf market, ultimately, is also about numbers. It's about economics. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's about survival.

If golf does not significantly increase its penetration among Latinos, now about 3.2 million of some 26 million golfers, it will find itself on the losing end of a math equation fifth-graders can grasp, one the Republican Party got a crash course in during November 2012. It's why Walmart, NASCAR, the NBA, MLB and Procter & Gamble have spent so much time speaking Spanish for the past decade, why the NFL has Hispanic Heritage games and ESPN has Hispanic Heritage Month, why Kathie Lee and Hoda hosted a morning special called "Girls Gone Latina," and why a singer named Ariana Grande appeared on the "Today" show because she has the No. 1 album in the country.

Latinos are growing and prospering as fast as any ethnic group in this country and will continue to do so for the next half century. But will they play golf? One hopes so, because:

• One in four children in America are Latino.

• Twenty-one percent of young Generation Y millennials—key to most marketing efforts and of special concern to the golf industry because their participation rates are down—are Latino.

• By 2050, Latinos will become 30 percent of the U.S. population (up from 17 percent today). Whites, now almost 70 percent of the population, will account for less than half of it by 2050.

• In 2010, Latino buying power was $1 trillion, and it is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2015—against a national average of about half that.

• The U.S. Latino market economy makes it the 16th-largest in the world—ahead of Australia and Turkey.

If you're Steve Mona, charged as CEO of the World Golf Foundation with "growing" the game, the numbers say this: "White males have perhaps the slowest population-growth rate and the highest golf-participation rate. Latinos have the highest population-growth rate and among the lowest participation rates in golf. It's of deep concern to us." Mona is one of those who argue that to grow, golf must look like America. "But candidly," he says, "we are counter-current to that right now."

"It's more about what we have not done," says Octavio Jacobo, a Mexican-American marketing consultant, longtime advocate for more industry outreach and a passionate golfer. "We have meetings. We talk, we say we have to look at it. But I still don't see much happening."

Here's where we are:

Latino golfers account for more than half of "minority" golfers, more than African-American and Asian-American golfers combined. The Latino golf participation rate is just shy of 8 percent, against a national average of about 9. The rate for African-Americans is 3.9 percent, Asian-Americans 8.9 percent. Whites are at about 12 percent, though retirees and millennials are playing at lower rates than previous generations.

Median income for Latinos, though growing, is still just shy of $40,000, but households of $125,000 play at a 13-percent rate (versus 19 percent among whites in that category). "That's big," says Joe Beditz, president and CEO of the National Golf Foundation. "And you have to figure that in the $75,000-to-$125,000 group the participation rate is probably 9 to 10 percent already."

Amaya Brothers
The Brothers Amaya: Oliver, 55; Gilberto, 58; and Benito, 59.

Beditz says NGF research reveals 5.8 million "interested nongolfers" among Latinos, also "huge." Golf Channel's Latino viewership has increased 23 percent over the past five years, to 4 percent.

Why then, given these numbers, hasn't golf moved more resoundingly toward what one marketing panel called "The Next Gold Rush"?

It's not sure what to do, that's why.

Given that Latino participation rates rise as affluence does, and confronted with the challenge of a fragmented market—Mexican-Americans are almost 65 percent of the Latino population in the United States, Puerto Ricans just shy of 10—can golf pull off a dedicated outreach program? Won't including them in grass-roots programs such as The First Tee and Get Golf Ready, or the Executive Women's Golf League, work just as well as launching new programs specific to them? Keep the doors open. Be fair. Build it, and they will come.

"What does Apple do?" asks Beditz, who says that more liberal access for everyone is the key. "Does an iPad work differently because it's being held by a Hispanic? Does a golf club know who's making the bogey? I doubt that affluent Hispanics feel unwelcome. It's not that they have been excluded. It's more that they have not been proactively included. We'd do better welcoming all—not just Hispanics."

Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today