While the hallowed tradition of golf was in full swing this past weekend in Augusta, Georgia at The Masters, very untraditional thoughts were simultaneously building within the PGA (Professional Golfers Association of America). Yes, as the green jacket was being meticulously awarded for golf's newest and youngest king, deep behind the scene the organization running the sport is truly worried. "How are we going to attract NEW and YOUNG GOLFERS to play this ancient game and more important...watch this beloved sport on television?" Uh oh.
It's interesting that recent very unofficial data has estimated that up to $2.8 billion dollars is BET on golf "illegally" but most action comes from other countries outside the United States. In fact, as the Masters coverage was all over ESPN and major U.S. networks, enthusiasm for golf continues to diminish. According to a Harris Poll, only 3 percent of American adults say that men's golf is their favorite sport, just above boxing, swimming, and track and field. Evidently, something is truly missing. And it's not one thing, it's many.
The Economics of Golf
The list start with the most obvious, money. Beyond purchasing the equipment including clubs, shoes and supplementary equipment to play, the cost of green fees can average anywhere between $50 to $100 per round or more depending on where you play in the U.S. and what time of year. Add in the length of the golf season, which further increases the cost, making it tough for the average millennial or twenty-something to absorb golf into their discretionary spending budget on a weekly basis.
The second and more troublesome factor may be time. Time to actually play the game. An average 18 holes of golf within a foursome can be 4 to 5 hours. Way beyond the attention span and quick interest fix of high energy, multi-task younger generations. And those all-important cell phones are a distraction, not a help to improve your game.
So, how can we preserve the fine traditions of golf? A sport where the rules are like a religion. And at the same time interest a new U.S. generation (primarily male) that is shorter on disposable income, time, patience and willingness to accept an event that is non "action-oriented"? Hmmm . . . Online Gambling to the rescue?
Learning from DFS
There is no doubt the PGA took note last year in the incredible amount of U.S. interest in Daily Fantasy Golf Wagering on each of the "Grand Slam" events. Big prizes rivaling lottery jackpots were put up by Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) market leaders Fan Duel and especially Draft Kings in offering up to million dollar payouts for drafting perfect order of finishers in The Masters, British Open, etc. The final Sunday ratings soared and were inundated with DFS commercials helping to promote golf both commercially and professionally. All while golf purists might insist that this "wasn't gambling" by pure definition. It will be interesting to see comparable television ratings this year for golf's major events while the DFS industry is laying low at the moment awaiting state by state legal outcomes and regulation judgements.
What is 'gambling on golf' by pure definition, of course, occurs in Nevada and at all top online sportsbooks. Traditionally, the bulk of the action takes place at market leaders Bovada, BetOnline, Diamond Sports, etc. right before the tournament at straight odds for individual players to Win. For example, bettors were counting the money with 9 holes to play last Sunday on favorite Jordan Spieth, listed at 6.5-1 at Bovada. Only his historic meltdown allowed out of nowhere Danny Willett to come from behind to win the green jacket at anywhere from 40-1 to 65-1 at most preferred offshore sportsbooks. A nice payout for a few but it would have really caused some monumental headlines IF gambling options were as wide-spread as other sports.
For example, many sportsbooks are starting to experiment and see more action in live betting, where they can offer a new wager with virtually every club stroke. A handful of sites already offer this kind of gambling on golf and expect it to significantly increase into the future. Spieth's epic mid-round flop on Sunday would have paid big longshot odds for anybody willing to take chances. Similar to second half betting on a football game or maybe proposition wagering during the NFL playoffs.
Let's face it. Straight golf betting can be boring. In comparison to baseball betting, if you thought you were out of it down 9-2 in the 7th inning, imagine your golf or golfer bet being behind 6 strokes with a day to play. Certainly no reason to watch five hours of play to keep awake. But maybe a Dustin Johnson vs. Jason Day head-to-head bet would keep you around the TV or your computer.
There is also no doubt the growth of this kind of point-by-point wagering has created a lucrative opportunity for all sports leagues. In December, statistic tracking provider Sportradar renewed its data contract with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for $14 million a year over five years -- six times the value of the company's original deal with the ITF in 2012. I don't know how much tennis betting is going on but think how much golf would be worth if wagering were legalized, regulated and promoted. Enough for other U.S. team sports to begin teeing off if this actually could happen.
Only "Gentlemen's Bets" For Now
As much as I'd like to see this happen for golf tomorrow and as a catalyst for the other major four U.S. sports, don't wager on it anytime soon. The best bet is likely to see some kind of subtle rise again through the DFS realm. The type of play where a bettor would need a highly unpredictable outcome to win any type of wager or "contest" as their legal guidelines dictate.
For every Phil Mickelson or even Spieth with lucrative million-dollar endorsement deals augmenting their winnings, remember there are very young PGA newcomers just coming through the amateur ranks with no guaranteed earnings. All it would take is one scandal to kill the most promising plan. And with a sport like golf that dates back like 600 years, it won't be easy to get an overwhelming consensus of opinion.
Here's hoping I am wrong and U.S. golf proposition betting quickly becomes wildly popular at BetOnline, Heritage Sports and every other major offshore sportsbook. At the same time Draft Kings gets back to advertising at the British and U.S. Open this Summer. Believe me, the PGA will be taking notice in the clubhouse. And quietly, so will be the NBA, NHL and MLB. Chances the NFL will ever wake up to reality remains my hole in one dream.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding previews and picks from Glenn, click here.