Every week it seems like there’s a new story with the headline “Cycling Is The New Golf.”
While golf “still commands the highest portion of participants with household incomes above $US100,000 among popular sports,” according to Reuters, its popularity is waning, and the number of courses has been on the decline in the U.S. the past eight years.
The Economist says “golf’s appeal has become its undoing. Its meditative quality does not suit the frenetic pace of modern life.”
(That Tiger Woods is playing worse than ever before, and is now taking a break from golf, does not help.)
So when I recently profiled Max Levchin — who cofounded PayPal, sold Slide to Google for $US228 million, sits on the boards of Yahoo and Yelp, and is now busy leading Affirm and Glow — I asked him if he actually thought cycling was the new golf.
In Silicon Valley — and the East Coast as well now — there are lots of successful companies with younger executives. The sport of choice where deals are made and ideas are thrown around and relationships are forged is definitely traditionally golf. That’s where you don’t have to sweat — you just walk around with people you like, and occasionally pretend like you’re doing something physical […] but it’s not very quantified. It’s just kind of aim, hit the ball, and pray. I’m sure the skills involved eventually remove the prayer necessity, buy it’s pretty open-ended.
So you have this current generation of young executives, and they’re not particularly interested in walking around slowly. They want to do something physical, especially outdoors. They are very quantified, because that’s definitely a thing now: It’s not so much fitness as they are interested in fitness that they can measure. So the blooming of the Fitbits and Misfits the Jawbones of the world is all about people saying, ‘I don’t have to go to the gym, feel crappy for an hour, and be thankful that it’s over.’ You can actually see what you’ve done. The quantified-self stuff has perforated the popular conscience.
Numbers from the National Golf Federation bear out Levchin’s analysis. Golf is becoming less popular overall every year, according to the NGF:
Meanwhile, according to USA Cycling, the number of people taking out a cycling licence from 2002 to 2013 increased a whopping 76%:
But it’s not just about quantifying workouts. There’s the bling factor, too, says Levchin:
There’s also the combination of quantified and social, and — for better or worse — the showing off of the equipment, which for cyclists is basically road jewelry. For golfers, it’s about having clubs of some special alloy or whatever craziness. It’s definitely very out of fashion to have an amazing house to show off, at least I feel that. The real-estate showiness is fading, and showing off your fitness and your fitness equipment is increasing.
Sure, cycling is expensive. You can easily spend 20 grand on a bike and full set of kit, but it’s easier for me to justify than spending 20 grand on a set of golf clubs I’ll never use.
So if you’re seeing fewer and fewer young entrepreneurs and executives out on the links, it could be because they’re out on the road.
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