By Brendan Ryan

About a year ago, I was on social media connecting with college friends when I noticed something: many of these former elite college players didn’t appear to play any golf anymore. A couple months later, I brought the topic up to Dr. Laura Upenieks at Baylor University and a study was born to examine the motivations of mid-amateur golfers.

With the support of Golf Ontario, Jussi Pitkanen (Finnish Women’s National Coach) and Khan Pullen of Australia, we collected data from 69 mid-amateur players trying to better understand key elements of their development and motivation. This included 20 questions over a 5-minute survey which covered everything from their family, their demographics, their competitive history, and their current relationship with golf.

So what did we find? In a forthcoming study entitled, “A Lifespan Approach to the Social Correlates of Motivations of Elite Mid-Amateur Golf Competitors in North America,” forthcoming in the International Journal of Golf Science, we found that the players who still competed in elite mid-amateur competition still showed a healthy love of the game of golf. According to our findings, 58% of our respondents were motivated by the prestige of winning, and 37% by the fact that their skill level allows them to be well-regarded. In addition, 54% of the sample was motivated to feel good about oneself. This suggests that some level of extrinsic motivation was present, but that many of our respondents were not motivated by extrinsic factors. On the other hand, almost 75% of our sample reported that they derived personal satisfaction from mastering the game (the highest level of agreement), and 62% reported competing because playing competitive golf was an integral part of life. These latter statistics suggest that more than anything else, those who stayed involved in elite mid-amateur competition were driven by extrinsic motives.

The study shows an interesting counter narrative to the current thought of many coaches and parents, which pushes junior golfers to use golf as a career and to secure a scholarship. The evidence suggests that this creates the wrong motivations and can eventually drive people away from golf. In fact, we found that those who continued to play elite mid-amateur golf reported very high levels of intrinsic motivation, motivated by a desire to master the game.

So many of my former college teammates no longer play our wonderful game due to burnout, pressure, and/or the failure of not ascending to the PGA Tour. As researchers, Laura and I love this game and hope that this research can help start an informed discussion about why juniors should play golf. Our study shows that encouraging junior golfers to play for reasons that are intrinsically motivated and do not involve capitulating to the goals set forth by parents, coaches, or sport organizers is a good place to start.