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Syngenta study a wake-up call for the golf industry

The results are startling: a new study by Ipsos commissioned by Syngenta, titled Golf & Social Media: Sustainability, “found that golf is widely perceived to be wasteful with water and bad for the environment”. The study was conducted from 2019 to 2022 in the U.S. and U.K., and the data analysed included 16.1 million social media posts that included golf.

Communication must be significantly strengthened

For Mark Birchmore, Syngenta Global Head of Marketing, Turf and Landscape, the results are a wake-up call for the golf industry. “This study highlights a major challenge for the industry: there is strong negative sentiment across social media in relation to golf and sustainability.” In view of the fact that numerous golf facilities are definitely environmentally conscious, a change in communication is needed, he says: ” Golf needs to speak up on sustainability and communicate positive case studies and stories.”

Water and land use the main issues

A closer look at the study reveals that the negative voices against golf mainly concern two issues: firstly, water consumption on golf courses, and secondly, land consumption. Claire Martin of Ipsos explains that “the negative image of golf is a common theme throughout the study. During droughts, people are especially vocal in their opposition to golf courses using water for irrigation.” On the issue of land use, “there are calls for the repurposing of golf courses from developing the land for housing to meet the needs of growing urban populations to making golf courses nature reserves.”

In view of the fact that the study singles out the U.S. and the U.K., two regions in which golf is actually very well established and also socially accepted, the result is particularly shocking. Especially when you consider that golf has long struggled with a much more elitist image in other European countries, such as Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and even France, than it does in the U.S. and the U.K. A social media study could possibly produce even worse results here.

What are the consequences?

Nevertheless, the question of the consequences remains: What conclusions do associations and golf courses subsequently draw from the data material that they have been provided here by the industry? Do you change your communication plans, do you focus on new topics, do you address new target groups, do you work more closely with partners who have a much better reputation than you do when it comes to water and environmental protection?

These questions touch a fundamental problem in every federation as well as in every small golf club: the budget and the staff take care first of all of the pure sector of sport. A logical and obvious approach. However, the social media study proves once again that external social and environmental issues are increasingly forcing their way into golf and need to be addressed at all levels.

Grassroots work through the on-site golf facility

The golf facility itself has a decisive role to play in this: it is the on-site player, in exchange with suppliers and employees from the region. Golfers from the neighbouring town come to her, and she contacts local sponsors. People walk along its borders, cyclists ride across its public paths. The impression she makes with her performance largely forms the image of golf in its entirety among local people.

The call for more communication of sustainability issues in golf therefore affects not only the associations at a higher level, but also the golf facility itself in particular. However, the latter often struggles with staffing problems, small budgets and the fact that the topic of sustainability is very brittle to communicate at first glance and hardly interests the member at first.

So how big is the gap between aspiration and reality? And how can it be reduced in the future? Questions about questions.

One thing is certain, however: the social media study, and with it solid data, proves that there is a need for action for golf in terms of external presentation on social media channels. The solutions must be provided by the golf scene itself.