Golf Play Trending Upwards, Heralding Increase in Tournament Participation

12 Aug, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Want some good news? Golf is growing. Not just growing, in fact, it’s exploding. And that bodes well for event owners – including those who incorporate amateurs and weekend golfers.

According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of rounds played increased 13.9% nationally in June, a continuation of the recent surge in golf participation amid quarantine. This rise translates to approximately 7 million or 8 million more rounds than June of 2019.

June play was up in every state in the continental U.S., including a rise of at least 20% in golf-rich states such as Arizona (+29%), Florida (+25%), Georgia (+24%), Texas (+23%), Pennsylvania (+22%) and Ohio (+21%).

The NGF saw a 6.2% bump in rounds played in May. (More than half of U.S. golf courses were closed in late March and throughout April, so this is welcome news).

And there’s even a positive aspect for golf-related business. U.S. sales of golf equipment jumped a mind-blowing 51% in June alone. This follows the 22% growth recorded in May.

Sales of a full set of golf clubs rose by 68 percent in June, and golf balls were up 45 percent a trend that is tied to new, entry-level players, said Matt Powell, the NPD Group’s sports industry advisor. Glove sales increased by 51 percent for the month, and tees grew by 49 percent.

Chip Brewer of Callaway Golf noted that NGF is now projecting a 20% increase in participation of juniors and either new or returning golfers this year, which led to the increase in rounds.  

Brewer joked, “For those of us trying to book a last-minute tee time, it probably felt even stronger than this.”

Summer is the traditional time for golf nationwide; approximately half of annual rounds are played from May through August, so a continued surge throughout the summer months will help the industry fully recoup its earlier losses.

According to MediaPost, golf has successfully positioned itself as one of the most viable options for outdoor recreation and socialization during closures and quarantines. In ongoing research, the organization's researchers are also seeing golf facility operators draw strongly positive evaluations from golfers for adhering to safety and sanitization protocols, concurrent with favorable sentiments that the game is providing an “oasis from the chaos.”

Even more encouraging, according to Sporting Goods Business, sales outside of resort locations remain very strong as well. Sales of a full set of golf clubs rose by 68 percent in June, and golf balls were up 45 percent a trend that, it was suggested, is tied to new, entry-level players. Glove sales increased by 51 percent for the month, and tees grew by 49 percent.

Training aids – specifically golf nets and screens, as well as swinging and putting mats – is an area of the market that continues to perform well. These products saw their fastest sales growth in March and April, up more than 140 percent. Sales grew 78 percent in June.

With their own equipment and having improved their games, these players are likely to enter competitive tournaments – not on the pro level but in events offered by clubs or local golf associations. Therefore, marketing to these golfers at the places they play, from municipal courses to private clubs to upscale resorts, could be key to tapping into a revenue stream. Events that benefit youth, such as The First Tee and LPGA Girls Golf, as well as other fitness initiatives, will have a broader appeal.

The golf leisure concept also appears to be flourishing. Topgolf, which had been on the grow anyway, has begun announcing open-air venues in Augusta and Chattanooga. Topgolf is apparently going from strength to strength, and recently announced the e-Open, a virtual game available to its 28-million person player base of the free-to-play app, WGT by Topgolf. The e-Open culminates in a Grand Final showdown on September 8. The winner will receive a trip to The 149th Open at Royal St George’s, July 2021.

In other news, the USGA and the R&A issued a statement about their plan to release updates to their Distance Insights Report. The report had noted that hitting distances had increased significantly over the course of a century, creating a cause for concern for a number of reasons. The two organizations recently changed their timeline and are now targeting March of 2021 as the next date for the release of further information and recommendations. The full statement can be found here.


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