New data reveals first participation slowdown since the pandemic started

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 25, 2021 08:12

New data taken from nearly 2,000 golf clubs in the UK and Ireland has found both a month-on-month and year-on-year drop in visitor rounds, when clubs were open, for the first time since the pandemic started.

While the numbers still show a huge increase in participation levels compared with pre-pandemic data, and the figures only look at visitor rounds and not membership rounds (there has been a large overall increase in memberships at golf clubs in the last 18 months), this is the first survey to suggest that the unprecedented boom in golf participation since the pandemic started has come to an end.

This will also be a test for the industry to manage any decline to ensure it stays minimal.

BRS Golf and GolfNow examined visitor rounds data from approximately 1,900 golf clubs in the UK and Ireland in the period from January to July in three successive years: 2019, 2020 and 2021.

They found that in the first seven months of 2021 visitor rounds were up an incredible 107 percent compared with the same period in 2019; or 1.1 million rounds booked versus 530,000 in 2019.

However, when May, June and July 2021 are compared with those same months in 2020, only May saw more visitor rounds (81 percent), and golf clubs only reopened in England in mid-May 2020, and late May in Scotland.

Therefore, June and July provide more reliable data, and June this year saw 270,000 visitor rounds booked, which was a drop of seven percent, or 20,000 visitor rounds, year-on-year.

In July, which included ‘freedom day’ in England, 240,000 visitor rounds were booked, which equates to a 30 percent drop on 2020, or 105,000 less rounds year-on-year.

Writing in the September issue of The Golf Business, BRS Golf states: ‘The last two months have coincided with a relaxation of restrictions as the world starts to get back to some form of normality. People are returning to the office – though many are taking a more flexible approach with a mix of home and office work – furlough is ending, bars and restaurants are open, and youth and team sports have started again. Golf now has to compete with all these factors again for its share of peoples’ recreation time. Now is the time for all people involved in the golf industry to take a long hard look and ask the question: What can we do to ensure those currently interested in golf stay engaged?

‘Clubs need to be agile and adapt to retain the new customers sent their way during the pandemic. Trends among BRS Golf customers show golf clubs are embracing technology that makes it easy for golfers to engage on their own terms.

‘Knowing your audience is key to engagement. Last year brought with it huge increases in the number of women (a 123 percent rise year-on-year in 2020 on our platforms) and young people playing golf, which has continued into 2021. The 18-34 age category now makes up 35 percent of all GolfNow users, whereas in 2019 this was just 21 percent. Women now make up 20 percent of users. Demand for shorter formats of the game also remains undiminished this year. The golf market is changing, so offering choice and flexibility will help clubs adapt to this diverse customer base’s needs.’

Golf club owner Colin Jenkins said: “The relentless desire for golf has quietened a little, and operators are able to take stock of their facility and assess how it is now trading. Most courses and ranges are still enjoying substantially improved trade on 2019 figures. Almost all have come off the peaks that they achieved in visitor numbers last year. From my conversations with various colleagues in the industry the sense is that the golfers we found during the last 18 months will continue to play and a legacy of 10 to 12 percent more customers since 2019 is the likely result across the industry.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 25, 2021 08:12
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  1. DaveT August 25, 17:04

    Sadly, visitor numbers will continue to plunge if they don’t bring their charges back down to pre-covid levels – Some courses have uplifted prices by over 50% – pay and players as well as many Societies will reply with their feet to those course and clubs that continue to give value for money. One course that I know have increased their Society green fees from £30 to £50 – I politely advised them that my bringing 35 players at £30 is a lot more income than nil at £50. And visiters and Society organisors have long memories!

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  2. freehandicaps August 25, 10:57

    Be interesting to survey clubs as to what percentage of green fee revenue from visitors is forecasted vs achieved and what % that value is in achieving club revenue goals? I imagine a goal of 80% members, 10% corporate, 10% visitors?

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