Depending on who's doing the talking, golf is either flourishing or failing – without much middle ground. A new report, however, shows a mixed bag, with some cause for celebration and some for concern. So what can the results tell event owners? Read on.
First, some background: The Golf Industry Report (GIR) was compiled by the National Golf Foundation. It was released to provide data on golf participation, engagement, rounds-played, latent demand, golf course supply and development, retail supply, golf equipment sales, and golf’s reach.
Some of the bullet-point-worthy notes are as follows:
People are still playing consistently: Golf’s participation base remains stable, with an estimated 24.2 million people (ages 6+) who played golf on a course in 2018 — a slight increase from 23.8 million a year earlier.
But off-course participation is growing: Almost as many people play off-course forms of the game, with 23 million also hitting golf balls with clubs at golf-entertainment facilities like Topgolf and Drive Shack, indoor simulators and driving ranges. (Note: That figure does not include mini-golf.)
Here’s what off-course participation looks like: Topgolf remains the leader in the off-course participation space, with more than 50 U.S. venues, as competitors such as Drive Shack and BigShots are moving into the market. The NGF also continues to track the proliferation of commercial indoor simulators, from single-bay units at stadiums, casinos and hotels to multi-bay locations at green-grass facilities and off-course stores and other golf-specific locations.
The NGF wants to include those people in their figures: With 9.3 million people exclusively playing golf off-course, the game’s overall participant pool has increased 4 percent to 33.5 million.
Winning Tiger, increasing interest: A 30 percent increase in tournament television ratings was seen as coinciding with the return of Tiger Woods.
The number of rounds fell in 2018: There were 434 million rounds of golf played in 2018, a nearly five percent year-over-year decline.
Blame it on the rain: NGF says this decrease is attributable in part to the third-wettest year on record nationally dating back to 1895 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association).
NGF’s travel statistics don’t include the metrics of tournament play: But the numbers are still impressive. The NGF noted that while the majority of golf is played locally, a total of 8.2 million golfers played 57.6 million rounds of golf while traveling for business or leisure in 2018. Golf travel rounds represent about 13 percent of total play and about 72 percent of golf travelers said their trip was leisure-related. Golf travelers play an average of 26 rounds a year, almost 45% more than the average played by all golfers.
Facilities are suffering: 2018 brought the closure of 198.5 course closures – and the opening of only with the opening of 12.5 new 18-hole equivalent golf courses.
And that downturn is an ongoing trend: The NGF notes, “Closures have outweighed new openings nationwide since 2006, an ongoing correction of supply and demand within the market that followed an unsustainable 20-year building boom during which more than 4,000 courses opened, boosting the U.S. supply by 44 percent.”
Course closures are often driven by developers’ purchases: The NGF says demand for land to develop residential and commercial real estate continues to provide an exit strategy for golf course operators in over-supplied markets.
Course renovation is ongoing: The NGF notes, “Investment within the golf course industry remains noteworthy, with renovation the largest source of U.S. development activity. Since the correction of the market began in 2006, facilities have invested more than $3.5 billion in an estimated 1,200 major renovation projects. Those figures only include projects in which a minimum of nine holes were closed for at least three months.”
Smaller reno projects are also ongoing, aimed at making courses more player-friendly: Many of these projects, both large and small, involve courses constructed during the industry’s building boom from 1986-2005.
The U.S. still has more courses than anywhere else: The U.S. remains the best-supplied golf market in the world with 14,613 facilities and 16,693 courses
…And lots of those courses are public: Of those 14,613, more than 75 percent are open to all players, the highest public-to-private ratio in history.
Nobody else comes close: Japan has 3,169 courses, Canada has 2,633, Englad has 2,270, Australia has 1,616 and Germany has 1,050; other countries mentioned in the report are in triple digits. (Vietnam is an “emerging international golf market, with 78 courses and another 43 in various stages of development.”)
The full report has more: The full NGF report includes additional information on course management, retail supply and equipment sales, per-player expenditures and other data. NGF members are eligible to receive a copy of the full report; others can find information on it or purchase a copy here.