Golf participation in the USA sees first rise in 14 years

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 10, 2019 13:04

The number of people playing on American golf courses rose 1.7 per cent to 24.2 million in 2018 – the first reported increase in 14 years.

The data comes from the National Golf Foundation and the figures predate Tiger Woods’ astonishing Masters’ triumph this year, which, it is thought, will have a positive impact on participation. It also comes after several months of encouraging financial data about the state of the US golf industry – which had experienced a similar slump to what was seen in the UK since the start of this century. Furthermore, the suggested reasons for the turnaround point to good news ahead for British golf clubs.

“Two percent growth may not sound heroic, but for those who view the sport of golf as ‘dead,’ we believe this should serve as a potent correction,” analyst Randal Konik told Reuters.

The news agency states that analysis suggests that the growth is down to an increase in the number of Americans who are retiring and savings wiped out by the 2008 financial crisis have increased to a level where more people are willing to spend more money on leisure.

The share of those 65 and older in the US population is expected to grow from 15.8 per cent in 2016 to nearly 17 per cent in 2020 and more than 20 per cent by 2030, according to the United States Census Bureau.

In addition, market research firm NPD estimates mass market sales of golf equipment rose eight per cent in the 12 months ending November 2018, after a four per cent fall in the prior year.

This comes after more than a decade of poor financial data for the American golf industry, which resulted in Adidas AG selling golf club maker TaylorMade in 2017 and Nike Inc exiting the equipment business in 2016. Golfsmith and Sports Authority, two retailers dependent on golf goods, also went out of business in 2016 and numerous golf clubs have closed down.

Analysts also expect clubmaker Callaway Golf Co’s sales to rise 35 per cent in its current fiscal year, largely as a result of rising sales of newer, more expensive equipment.

A strong economy was underpinning the business, but demographics were helping too, Harry Arnett, Callaway’s executive vice president for global marketing said.

“Baby boomers retiring could positively impact participation in the sport, and thus, potentially equipment sales as well,” he said.

Course operators say older players tend to spend more time and money on their hobby than younger ones.

Robbie Kearney, general manager at Cimarron Hills Golf & Country Club in Austin, Texas, said, among members between 50 and 70, several would play four to six times a week and did not scrimp on equipment or instruction.

“Those individuals are looking for the new putter and the new driver. They’re spending money on golf instruction trying to get better and beat their friends,” he said.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 10, 2019 13:04
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  1. Philippe June 17, 13:40

    Thanks Alistair for this article. Should Golf Courses open their eyes on this evolution and answer efficiently

    Reply to this comment
  2. Peter June 7, 15:10

    Love this one ! This is good news and we should celebrate those numbers ! As for the sport being dead ? No, the sport is still very much alive, it’s the business that’s on life support. While many clubs are at full membership and yes, some have waiting lists. Usually those on the higher end of the value proposition equation. Many more are on life support. Yes, more people are picking up a club for the first time, more women are participating and yes even spending money on equipment. Numbers though make people lose sight of reality. Few want to belong to today’s clubs, can afford a membership or think belonging is fun ! Those watching golf on T.V. is higher than ever, those visiting websites on golf higher than ever, those reading and buying golf related magazines and articles higher than ever ! Organizations like Topgolf, while doing a great job, have skewed the numbers and blurred the picture ! Young people would rather spend money there than join a club ! They see it as having fun, while belonging to a club is something their father’s or worse grandfather’s would do, play golf ! Until clubs change and give youth a seat at the table, becoming a fun zone, participation will be steady but membership will suffer !

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