Sports Marketing

Meet the golf brands that are changing the landscape of the sport

Drinks, joints, and a healthy dose of social media marketing are encouraging more people to take a swing at golf despite its historically elitist image.
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Grant Thomas

7 min read

It’s been more than 40 years since the release of Caddyshack, which follows several country-club members and their caddies as they golf and socialize. (Also, Bill Murray hunts a gopher.)

Sure, they have their differences, but the vast majority also have something in common: they’re white men.

These days, golf looks a little different than it did in the Caddyshack days: 66% of Americans believe the sport is becoming more inclusive, while nearly seven in 10 (69%) said it’s becoming more diverse, according to a survey of 2,013 US adults conducted by Marketing Brew and Harris Poll last month.

So golf has that going for it. Which is nice.

Still, the sport has a well-documented history of racism and sexism, and while nearly one-quarter of respondents (23%) said they play at least occasionally, men and those with high total household incomes (equal to or higher than $100,000 before taxes) are among the groups that play the most.

While there’s still work to be done, the sport is attracting new players, thanks in part to emerging golf brands that are focusing more on creating fun, accessible experiences than perpetuating old-fashioned trends like plaid knickers or pom-pommed hats.

Puff puff putt

Traditional golf is still an option, but there’s also a host of modern-era golf brands looking to attract those who want a different experience.

Pro skater Jack Fardell teamed up with five of his friends from Australia to start Walker Golf Things in June. The brand sells “things you want to wear to the course and the pub,” according to its website, while also aiming to “show off Australian golf,” Fardell told Marketing Brew.

“It’s not as elitist as it is in the US,” he said. “Here, you’ve got expensive memberships and crazy country clubs that are super private, hard to get into, and in Australia, it’s more like you go down to your local club and you can join for a reasonable price.”

Other golf brands like Topgolf and Five Iron are also trying to make the game seem less stuffy.

Five Iron, an indoor golf simulator that opened five years ago, has a full kitchen and bar at each of its 14 locations, according to director of marketing Danielle Kindelmann, serving drinks like the “John Daly,” a spiked Arnold Palmer named after the golfer known for his “freewheeling attitude.”

Kindelmann said Five Iron doesn’t publicly share revenue figures, but noted that the company has opened three new locations this year, with three more to come before the end of 2022, and seven planned for next year.

Topgolf, a self-described “sports entertainment complex that features an inclusive, high-tech golf game,” serves drinks and plays loud music in an effort to to remove “some of the intimidating factors and barriers” associated with golf and “replace them with something that’s going to make you feel more comfortable, more at ease, and more included,” its CMO, Geoff Cottrill, explained. The company has more than 70 locations globally.

It merged with Callaway Golf last year, helping drive a year-over-year increase of about 22%, or $202 million, in net revenue for the combined company in Q2. Net revenue for Topgolf specifically increased by about 24%, or $78 million, during that time.

Eastside Golf, a golf apparel and accessory brand founded in 2019 to “inspire culture and promote diversity,” especially among young people and non-golfers, according to co-founder Earl A. Cooper, has a partnership with Corona that includes ads and co-branded swag.

Eastside has also collaborated with Jordan Brand. Cooper declined to share sales figures but said “we’ve been doing very well business-wise.”

In addition to beer, players might also catch a whiff of something green on the course these days—other than the grass under their feet.

“The more the conversation around cannabis has shifted, the more people are willing to come out of the woodwork and be like, ‘You know what, I’ve always smoked on the golf course,’ even people who you never would have traditionally pinned that way,” said Chris Shaw, founder of golf lifestyle brand Puffingtons, which sells cannabis-inspired golf apparel and cannabis accessories.

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In its early years, around 2012, Puffingtons was doing about $10,000–$15,000 in sales per year, Shaw told us. This year, he said, it’s on track for $100,000.


Some newer golf brands are still experimenting with what works well when it comes to marketing.

Shaw said Puffingtons has had more success with earned media than marketing stunts it’s tried in the past. A recent piece in Bloomberg, for instance, led to $20,000 in sales, he said.

The brand is, of course, on social media and has even done some paid promotions with influencers on Instagram, according to Shaw. But ultimately, Puffingtons is intentionally not very active online.

“We’ve felt all the toxicity that everybody else has [felt] relative to being on social media,” Shaw said. “We’re just not willing to feed that marketing beast in the way that we need to to keep up with the algorithm of the day.”

Meanwhile, Eastside Golf has never paid anyone to wear its clothing because “our brand is all about being authentic,” Cooper said.

Eastside does show off its merchandise (like its “Be Authentic” t-shirt) on its Instagram page, but also posts content related to other topics, like a post about landmark Supreme Court case Holmes v. Atlanta.

“We’re not afraid to speak on things that we believe in, and I think that’s why people relate to our brand,” Cooper said.

Instagram seems to be the platform of choice for many of these modern golf companies, but they’re increasingly infiltrating TikTok, too.

Topgolf has more than 500,000 followers on TikTok and uses social to “reflect the fun that’s going on in the venues,” Cottrill said, often relying on user-generated content to do so.

One player recently posted a TikTok of himself raving about Topgolf’s donut holes that got a million views, according to Cottrill. The original account and audio was deleted, but Topgolf’s repost lives on.


Topgolf’s social team also recreated the video and got about 10 million views, plus hundreds more people coming to its venues to film similar videos of their own, Cottrill said. By the next month, Topgolf’s donut-hole sales had doubled, he added.

Other golf brands that are newer to TikTok can still recognize the importance of video content in their marketing. When Matt Grech-Smith, a former ad agency exec in the UK, co-founded mini-golf venue Swingers in 2014 with his business partner, they saw early success in part because their space was “very photographable” and appealed to people on Instagram, he explained. But videos performed even better.

“One or two shots on Instagram goes some of the way, but for us, video is an incredible format,” Grech-Smith said. “We see that when we put a video on Instagram, it just performs incredibly strongly. We get so much engagement in the comments and the likes, and you can see people tagging their friends and underneath saying, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to go to this place.’”

The company is “in the process of launching on TikTok,” Grech-Smith told us. Five Iron’s Kindelmann also said her team is “moving into TikTok.”

Abby Liebenthal, founder and president of nonprofit Fore the Ladies, which is dedicated to introducing more women to golf, said she’s “dabbling” in posting on the platform, and Fardell said that while TikTokers are “maybe a little bit under the age range” of Walker Golf Things’ target audience, “it’s still important to try and have presence on it.”

That could be because TikTok is the platform of choice for many Gen Zers, who weren’t even alive when Caddyshack took the world by storm in the ’80s. You might not find many members of older generations on the platform (with Caddyshack star Chevy Chase as one notable exception), but that doesn’t mean they’re abandoning golf in favor of pickleball.

“I don’t think country-club and traditional golf is going to go anywhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Cotrill said. “The game itself is great, the game is steeped in massive traditions, but it doesn’t have to only be that.”

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