Inevitable Ryder Cup success cannot distract from task at hand

Nick Totten

The times, they are a-changing.

Not just a catchy hook for Bob Dylan’s 1964 classic that so aptly described the cultural revolution the acoustic wordsmith had observed around him at the time, but a prophetic statement that would transcend the era in which the Minnesota native found himself.

As applicable today as back then, it seems fitting therefore that we use this message of change as a lens through which to look at one of the year’s great sporting events, which will soon descend upon the 11-time Grammy award winner’s home state.

Set to take place on the rolling fairways of Hazeltine National in Chaska, located some 200 miles south of Dylan’s birthplace in Duluth and just a 45-minute drive from the Minnesotan state capital of St Paul, the 41st instalment of The Ryder Cup will once again see the 12 best golfers from the US and Europe respectively do battle.

The transatlantic clash has become a rare chink of light in an otherwise gloomy vision of golf’s future, as it haemorrhages recreational players as quickly as its top-class sponsors. The Majors have been no less immune to this increasing disinterest either, as TV audiences drop in line with the declining commercial appeal of the sport.

Golf can therefore no longer afford to rely on the innate talent and marketability of a single Phenom, nor can it depend upon gimmicks that would alter what is at its heart. We do not need to make the hole bigger; it is not the game
itself that is broken; it is the lack of imagination from those involved that is holding it back.

This is where the players and their sponsors can step up and do the game a favour.

Look at other sports and this is where much more proactive relationships between sponsorship of talent and the resultant brand awareness this brings can be seen.

The perfect example of this is Manchester United and Adidas’ #Pogback campaign, in which they drew on the appeal of a global story, mixed in an artist (in Stormzy) that had cache amongst an important demographic for both, and it had everyone talking as a result.

Proof that brands can no longer rely upon logos on shirts as a viable form of brand activation. In golf, the same could be said for corporate hospitality units and sponsor golf days – fine for the initiated, but unattainable and elitist for those outside.

What the game needs to find is the right vehicle through which they can engage the personality of the sport and, in turn, a new audience.

Look at the Every Shot Imaginable videos run by The European Tour five or six years ago, in which the talent of the golfers was demonstrated in different ways – whether that be clay pigeon shooting, a gong in the middle of a lake or Rory McIlroy taking on a robot. A good start.

Or maybe Bubba Watson is more your cup of tea, with his Oakley-clad hovercraft and jetpack launch ahead of the Olympic Games. This was an image that went round the world and one that leveraged one of golf’s great personalities as a brand ambassador.

This is where the game can grow; this is where it will reach its new audience. Entice them with exciting content, personalities and a few metaphorical fireworks and the world will be its golfing oyster, yet these are too few and far between.

As a sport built upon a platform of precise physical ability, mental fortitude and integrity; once people are in, the glorious feeling of a sweetly struck five-iron will take care of the rest.

So, as attention turns to the opening tee shot in Minnesota on September 30, let’s see how brands activate around this global golfing spectacle. With digital channels more impactful than ever, it will be interesting to see who it is that gets everyone talking.

However, as the dust settles on the 41st Ryder Cup, the same questions will remain and we must not let this distract us from the task at hand.

Those at the top of the game must still realise that the metaphorical waters around them have grown; that they may soon be drenched to the bone; and that they better start swimming or they’ll sink like a stone.

For the times, they are a-changing.

Well said indeed, Bob.