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How Covid-19 has Affected Golf: 2 Years In

It is well documented at this point that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on the participation and popularity of golf. This was especially true throughout the first year of the pandemic as mandates kept citizens from doing most other activities they had enjoyed. The question we have been asking at Golf Reimagined is if that trend would continue to grow or is it simply an artificial shot of adrenaline for a previously declining industry? Well, we now have another full season of golf come and gone that has yielded more information on the direction of the industry. However, maybe more important than the information itself is what to do with it all. Let’s discuss.


The 2021 season saw golf hit a record high number of golfers globally, estimated at around 66.6 million. This breaks the previous high of 61.5 million recorded in 2012. With that amount of growth, there must be increases in participation over a wide range of diverse demographics. Europe was the largest region in terms of participation increase, with nearly 2.7 million new golfers over the year. This uptick was mostly seen in Great Britain and Ireland, going from 3.6 million to 5.7 million players in those countries. However, North America and Asia also saw substantial increases in new players, contributing over 3 million fresh golfers combined. These numbers come from a recent study done by The R&A, an organization out of Scotland that engages in various activities in support of golf worldwide. The R&A even launched a covid support fund that has generated over $9 million to support national golf foundations, with more expected to be contributed over 2022. The National Golf Foundation did a deeper dive into the North American industry, particularly providing good information on how diversity in golf has been growing in America. Net golfer growth was the largest amongst the junior demographic, with a 22% increase over pre-pandemic times. This is a vitally important area of growth as the game will need to continue to attract younger players for continued expansion. The next biggest growth was seen in the black community. This demographic showed an 18% increase in participation, while female golfers also grew by 11%. These increases have allowed women to comprise 25% of golfers in this region, with people of color representing 21%. NGF reports that this is a meaningful increase in these demographics over the past five years. With all that being said, there are still other diverse areas that are contributing to the current boom of the sport.


The same report from NGF found that off-course options are becoming substantially more popular, and likely one of the biggest factors propelling the popularity of golf. They found that of all the golfers in America, 12.6 million are on-course only golfers, with the average age of this group being 45 and consisting of 30% women. Both on/off-course golfers ring in at 12.5 million, with an average age of 42 and being the wealthiest group with 51% at a household income of $100k or more. Still, the most diverse group is off-course only golfers. Not only are 42% of this group female, but 40% are non-white, the largest percentage of the three groups. On top of that, the off-course golfers still make up 12.4 million of the total golfers in America. This means golf participation in the U.S. is almost split evenly among the three classifications of players. David Lorentz, of The National Golf Foundation, said that seven or eight years ago, they wouldn’t have even reported the number of off-course players as there wasn’t a story there. This has clearly changed with the expansion of venues like TopGolf, of which there are now 70 locations in over 6 countries worldwide. Facilities like this, coupled with the rise in popularity of other tech, like golf simulators, are allowing the sport to reach a much vaster audience than ever before. In a previous article, we mentioned how 75% of non-golfers are interested in trying traditional golf after visiting TopGolf. Offerings like this are now accepted as a launching point for converting previously uninterested patrons. While not the only way to get people to try golf, this method has clearly been working as the same report from NGF shows 98% of new golfers say they are enjoying the game, and 95% plan to play for a long time.


This brings me to the final point, retention. I believe the most promising statistic so far is the most recent one stated. While it is wonderful to have an expanding and varied wave of newcomers to the game, the important tactic to take from the boom that Covid-19 has given the industry is making sure to apply appropriate updates to the golf offering as to not lose the current influx of participants. The recent record high of worldwide players would simply not be possible without retaining those who were already actively involved. This is further evidenced in the number of courses closing in the U.S. alone. In 2020 the number of golf courses that closed was 180. The year before that? 270. 2021 saw only 118 courses across America closed, a substantial decrease over past years that is very telling to how many golfers are choosing to stick with the game. The R&A stresses this opinion as well, with Phil Anderton (Chief Development Officer) stating “The new figures are very encouraging, but we need to work together as a sport to make the most of this opportunity by retaining those people who have returned to golf or tried it for the first time. We can achieve this by offering a variety of attractive and flexible options that encourage golfers to play more regularly and enjoy its many health and wellbeing benefits with family and friends.”


So, after two years of the pandemic where does the sport stand? With consecutive annual increases over a wide range of metrics like on and off-course players and new record high numbers of diverse groups such as women and juniors, it is clear that the growth in popularity is a trend. Even celebrities are helping grow the trend, with golf posts from A-list influencers like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber gaining millions of views and likes. Covid-19 has brought a huge opportunity in growth to the industry as a whole, even equipment sales are up consistently over the last two years. Again, the most important thing to consider going forward is retaining as many golfers as possible while restrictions are eased all over the world. Golf Reimagined has a plethora of ideas for upgrading the experience you can provide at your golf location, in order to do just that. As well, there are many other insightful articles on different trends in the industry to stay up-to-date with the biggest changes in golf. Head over to golfreimagined.ca for more information.