It’s been hailed as one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time, and for those in the golfing world, Tiger Woods’s Masters win may be one of the most inspirational too – specifically in ushering in a new generation of players.Twenty-two years after Woods first won the Masters, golf is still often perceived as having stuffy attitudes, restrictive dress codes and high costs. But there is hope that the 43-year-old’s success in Augusta, Georgia, on Sunday will encourage a younger audience to tee off.
Nick Pink, chief executive officer at England Golf, said he believed the sport still struggled to attract BAME participants, but Woods’s resurgence might help to change that.
“Golf is often driven by middle-class and white men, and I think he appeals to a more diverse audience,” he said. “Him coming back into the fore alongside players like Tony Finau will help the perception too.”
Woods became a huge global star with his series of major wins, which began in the late 1990s and ran through the 2000s, and he inspired a generation to turn to the sport. His decline seemed to be echoed in the levels of grassroots participation, but his win could see another boost.
Tiger Woods of the US celebrates after winning the Masters on the 18th green during the final day of the 2001 Masters.
A spokesperson for the British Golf Industry Association (BGIA), which represents some of the biggest brands in the golf industry, said: “Woods’s journey sends an important message to all, but perhaps especially to younger people – that it is not perfection which drives success, it is talent, effort and hard work. Woods’s very human flaws have been well-documented, but the fact that he appears to have learnt from his mistakes, grown from them and risen again to such dizzying heights is a great sporting story.
“The BGIA works very closely with other organisations in the golf industry to attract younger people to the game, on programmes with the PGA [Professional Golfers’ Association] and the Golf Foundation amongst others. There can be little doubt that golf will receive a boost from Woods’s win and attract new, young players to golf.”
Andrew Witherup, club professional at Formby golf club in Liverpool, said: “This will definitely attract the generation who grew up with Tiger Woods but were too young to see him in his prime.” Witherup, 50, says the pool of new starters is already diversifying. Around 50% of their junior section is made up of children whose parents aren’t golfers.
For the influx of outsiders, he credits Woods’s transformation of the pastime into one that’s perceived as good for overall fitness and wellbeing. “It’s not like how it used to be, you don’t see anyone on TV smoking anymore,” he added.
The sentiment was shared by Sam Jones, 29, an assistant golf professional at Sundridge Park golf club in Bromley, Kent. “Before Tiger, golfers were never considered to be athletes but now a lot of them are embracing that. They’re always down the gym – it’s slowly but surely becoming a young person’s sport,” he said.
For its own part, one way Sundridge has been trying to embrace younger players is by introducing them to younger members of its golf academy in an effort to counteract the sport’s cliquey and sometimes solitary nature.
Another barrier, believed Jones, were the stereotypes which still exist within the game – of white, older, wealthy men parading around in tartan trousers. He said that “people like Woods are doing a lot to dispense with that stigma”.
“I like to think his win will encourage more young people to play,” said Jones. “It’s certainly a really [good] time to be in the sport.”
Neil Randall, a director at British Junior Golf Tour, a not-for-profit company that provides junior golf competitions around the UK, has already witnessed first-hand the pervasiveness of Woods’s influence.
“If you ask any junior of any age who their favourite golf player is, they all say Tiger,” said Randall. “My son in particular admires his focus.” Randall, who insisted Woods’s latest achievement won’t be the first time a generation with access to YouTube will have witnessed his prowess, added the win was “great for golf”.
For Paul Wiseman, executive director for education at the PGA, a surge in youth participation is not a prediction but a given.
“Whenever Tiger’s involved there’s always an increase in people getting involved in the sport,” said Wiseman. “He always draws people in who’ve never watched golf on TV.
“When anybody gives that intensity to achieve something, I think it has an impact on people who are just ticking along to push themselves.
“He’s definitely made it cooler – just look at the clothes he’s wearing. The cool factor is inevitably part of making young people want to play.”
Source: The Guardian