The Blessing and the Curse of Tiger Woods

The Blessing and the Curse of Tiger Woods

The high times for golf and Tiger Woods have returned.  He entered this weekend’s Masters tournament as the top-ranked player in the world and favourite to win a fifth green jacket.  Accompanying his return to number one is an increased interest in the sport with much higher television ratings.  The ‘Tiger Effect’ is well-documented and undeniable; the popularity of golf soared to new heights as he racked up major championships and ratings dropped following his absence due to scandals in his personal life that came to light during a period when he was recovering from injury.

Now that golf is benefitting again from Woods’ resurgence, it is worth contemplating what golf will be like post-Tiger.  Now is the time for leaders in the sport to figure out a strategy for the post-Tiger era.  Perhaps there is no way to guarantee golf’s popularity without Tiger Woods in the same way that the NBA struggled post-Jordan (post-Bulls retirement).  Golf thrives on having a dominating champion and superstars that consistently battle for the major titles.  Viewers tune in to watch greatness, not parity.  But is there a way to develop the next Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, or Tiger Woods?

Unfortunately, there is no formula for creating a revolutionary athlete.  Woods was revolutionary because he dominated as a boy amongst men and he looked so different from all the other golfers in the professional ranks.  Woods was the next-generation golfer; young, powerful, athletic, with an outwardly competitive demeanor.  He respected the game and his competitors, but he was not shy in showing his emotions.  Woods attracted a new audience to the sport that was youthful and diverse.  Now that he has done that, the sport will need someone else to come and revolutionize the sport in order to fill his eventual void.

But golf’s leaders can not wait around for the next revolution.  Despite being a sport built around its traditions, a fresh approach to delivering the game will be needed to maintain its popularity.  Golf is still an expensive sport to pick up and carry on playing, but growing participation will be the key to creating momentum in a Tiger-less golf world.  The professional tours and national associations will need to find ways to make the game more accessible with cheaper equipment and cheaper course fees.

Then again, golf has mostly been an elitist sport and maybe the elites will be happy to sustain it without having to revolutionize the way business is done.  The existing fan base may be content without the sport being as popular as it is today.  But will they be able to support an industry with growing prize money and pressure to keep growing from broadcasters and apparel and equipment manufacturers?

The groups who have an interest in growing golf as a business should enjoy the ‘Tiger Effect’ while they can.  Thankfully for them, golf careers can be much longer than in other sports, so they could be riding on Woods’ success for the next decade.  But fame and fortune can be fickle when it depends on one man, a lesson that golf’s leaders have hopefully already learned.


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JB Hacking

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