The ‘huge opportunity’ we’re missing to grow the game, according to Rick Shiels

If there’s one person who knows a thing or two about reaching people with golf content, it’s Rick Shiels. Over the last few years, Shiels has amassed one of the biggest online followings in the game, with nearly two million subscribers to his YouTube channel alone.

But with a reported 65 million golfers in the world, Shiels is keen to expand his platform even more.

On this week’s episode of Off Course with Claude Harmon, Shiels described what he thinks is working when it comes to driving people to the game, as well as areas that could use improvement.

“I think we are maybe blindly missing a huge opportunity, because right now even though playing golf has kind of stagnated,” Shiels said. “But participation level is at a world high. And I honestly think that’s because of the introduction of things like Topgolf and facilities like that.”

Rick Shiels smiles
The surprising moment Rick Shiels realized the magnitude of his success
By: Jessica Marksbury

The general scene at Topgolf locations Shiels has visited has been a packed crowd of non-golfers, he said.

“If we can take that participation level and then move it into whatever the next stage is — for me, I would love to see golf courses or small plots of land turned into three- to six-hole golf courses, that almost have a very similar vibe to Topgolf,” Shiels said.

Shiels said he likes the idea of maximizing the fun factor — a loose dress code, loud music, light-up golf balls — and encouraging the players to hit to targets but take their time to work their way up to playing actual holes and putting.

“This is the pyramid effect,” he said. “If we’ve got let’s say, a million people at Topgolf, if we can get 100,000 people at the little six-holer, if we can get 50,000 people at the next stage, and then we can get 10,000 people into golf. We’re not going to get all the million, we know that, it just doesn’t happen. But over time, year after year, that cycle continues. Nobody will be ever to book a tee time because golf courses will be the busiest they’ve ever been.

“So I do think there’s an opportunity right now,” he continued. “They’re queuing up at these driving ranges. Like, they’re queuing up down the car park to get in these places! And I’m not just talking Topgolf, I’m also just talking cool, modern driving ranges. You only need a few locations, and then you feed out onto the golf course or wherever it may be. I do think there’s a gap in the market for a Topgolf-esque facility.”

For more from Shiels, including the moment he realized the magnitude of his success, and the “addictive” thing he says he misses most from coaching full-time, check out the interview in its entirety below.

The next frontier of game improvement

The next frontier of game improvement

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Jessica Marksbury

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on