Is Golf Dying?
When looking at the surface level statistics, it would appear that golf is on a steep decline. This is especially prevalent when looking at the number of millennials lacing up their golf shoes. According to the National Golf Foundation, at the beginning of the decade golf participation amongst Americans 18-34 was 9%, down from 15% in the early 1990’s. Couple this with the amount of golf courses that have turned over in the same amount of time and we are looking at a scary trend for the beloved sport. However, North America still saw around 30.2 million people golfing in 2018; so it might not be as dire once we look below the surface.
With the downturn in the economy less people have the time or money to get out and golf. This includes the people who already had memberships at private or semi-private courses. With the closure of many courses throughout North America, the ex-members have either had to accept the loss of their membership or try and move to a different course. It’s no secret that golf is also a time-consuming event, usually taking 4-5 hours to complete one full round. Add in the practice balls at the range, a drink at the clubhouse afterwards, and travel time you could spend 7-8 or more hours for a single outing. Not a lot of people, especially younger adults, have the luxury of spending this amount of time and money on the sport.
Golf has also seen dwindling numbers as a spectator sport. The Majors have seen a decrease in millions of viewers on average, and seemingly there is one standout reason for this. Like it or not, Tiger Woods’ lack of ability to perform after his huge scandal has hurt golf viewership numbers for years now. In 2008, when Woods won the US Open, the tournament saw a viewer count of 12.1 million people, the second largest number since 1995. In the last 3 years that number has dropped to a measly 5.1 million. All that being said, there has been a substantial increase in the viewer count since Woods has returned to the upper echelon; with the 2019 Masters tournament (that saw Woods reclaim victory) seeing the best numbers for the Golf Channel in almost a decade.
So, we know people are still interested in Tiger, but are they still interested in golf? We talked about the decrease in participation at golf courses, but there have been surges in other areas that show promise. TopGolf is a company that has been thriving during the “golf recession”. Now with 64 locations across North America, this venue provides an indoor bar/event space, paired with a driving range including mini games and golf clubs. Their “entertainment first” approach to golf led them to over 13 million customers in 2017, half of which did not even consider themselves golfers. This trend has interestingly been echoed in other analytics; according to the National Golf Foundation while our nation has over 6 million golfers, there is now an extra 12 million that are somewhat to very interested in picking up golf in some capacity now. Even though the time and money conundrum is keeping most of them from acting upon that, venues like TopGolf provide this demographic with the option of golfing without the normal restrictions of full golf courses.
While the millennial market has been especially hard to target for golf, TopGolf is succeeding through updates to the game in technology, accessibility, and increased food and beverage options. These updates are being used not only by this franchise but also some more modern courses around North America. Even though the turnover rate for golfers seems to be unsustainable for traditional golf courses, the large market of latent demand for the sport has led to clever organizations revamping the method of attack. Changes of this nature have been keeping people of all ages swinging clubs, and this beautiful sport very much alive.