It wasn’t long ago that a thought of the R&A collaborating with a global pop megastar would be inconceivable. Now Niall Horan and his agency Modest Golf are looking to bring more people into the game. We spoke to co-founder Mark McDonnell
There aren’t many companies quite like Modest Golf.
Founded in 2016 by popstar and golf enthusiast Niall Horan and marketing expert Mark McDonnell, Modest is a progressive golf management company that aims to challenge the perception that it is an elitist sport for the few and not the many.
Among their clients are Ryder Cup winner Tyrrell Hatton, a seven-time champion on the European and PGA Tours, former Amateur World No 1 Leona Maguire, and Brendan Lawlor, who became the first disabled golfer to compete in a European Tour event when he entered the UK Championship at the Belfry last summer.
Modest Golf is also the driving force behind the ISPS Handa World Invitational – a mixed-gender tournament co-sanctioned between the European Tour, LPGA Tour, and Ladies European Tour.
Now that work has been recognised by the R&A, who have appointed Modest Golf to develop grassroots programmes across the UK. The partnership aims to raise participation across a younger audience, using their own talent and online influencers to inspire people who haven’t previously picked up a golf club.
“Niall was super keen to set up an agency which really gave back and really supported young people,” McDonnell tells NCG. “He has a 60-million reach on social media. That’s a huge group of people we could talk to who couldn’t be talked to through the normal golf channels.”
With social media now a permanent fixture in our lives, Modest Golf hope to call upon their contacts to offer a new perception of the game to an otherwise disengaged audience.
“There are so many different profiles of people that love the game of golf,” McDonnell explains. “We want them to play a part in encouraging their audiences to give it a try – whether that be Harry Kane or Justin Timberlake.
“These are hugely respected and followed people and we want to look at ways of engaging those guys into talking about the game as well.”
One of the top priorities for Modest Golf’s new venture will be “targeting groups of people who, for whatever reason, haven’t tried to access the game”.
McDonnell adds: “There is a big push on groups like mothers and daughters, but we also want to target minority groups, disability golfers, and people from different backgrounds in life.
“It will be about reaching out to those non-golfing audiences and breaking down the barriers to help them to get playing.
“We are going to try and make golf accessible to people, and one of the barriers is financial. Golf has historically been quite an expensive sport to get into, and we are going to look at ways to help with that.
“We do not want people to make the decision not to take up golf, or learn about golf, because of a financial decision. That is on us to figure out.”
This vision is part of a long-term plan, but McDonnell is confident this is the start of a powerful partnership that is capable of creating positive change.
“We are realistic,” he says. “We can’t change everything overnight – but we are excited about this.
“For the first time you’ve got a giant like the R&A, with funding to go out and make programmes happen, recognising the fact we need to do our bit and make golf more accessible.
“They also understand, which is the first time we have really seen it, that there are new ways to connect to audiences, like social media influencers, which were never really around 20 years ago.
“It is a really exciting time to see such a powerful organisation have a vision, and recognise the new ways and the new mediums of contacting people.”