Opportunity knocks. Golf needs to answer

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 4, 2021 11:11

Golf has seen an unprecedented boom in the last 18 months but new data from BRS Golf and GolfNow shows the first sign of a slowdown – visitor numbers for the first half of the summer of 2021 were lower than in 2020, and in July were lower than they were in June.

For the golf industry the Covid-19 pandemic cloud has had a substantial silver lining. Similar to the ‘Tiger Effect’ in the 2000s when golf’s popularity soared, the Covid Effect created seismic shifts in behaviour that saw new people take up the game, lapsed golfers return to the course, families play together and avid golfers with more time on their hands play even more golf.

Working from home, furlough, the closure of bars and restaurants, and the lack of other sports while golf courses (for the most part) remained open, was the recipe for a record-breaking year in 2020. With its outdoor setting and built-in social distancing, golf was the perfect sport for people to take up in the pandemic. And they did, in their thousands.

Many clubs experienced a huge boom in visitor play last year. But has this trend continued? When we compare visitor rounds booked through BRS Golf and GolfNow in 2021 to rounds booked in 2019, the outlook is still positive. However, the golf industry should not ignore the clear signs of a slowdown in visitor golf in June and July this year from the levels seen in 2020.

Numbers don’t lie

The following data and insights are taken from circa 1,900 golf clubs in the UK and Ireland in the period January to July in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and cover visitor golf only.

The good news first. Over the first seven months of this year we recorded a 107 percent increase in visitor golf from the same period in 2019. 1.1 million rounds booked vs 530,000 in 2019. An impressive increase which speaks to the continued appetite for golf once clubs reopened across the UK and Ireland in the spring.

Over the last three months, however (May to July), BRS Golf and GolfNow have started to record a slowdown in the market. May was 81 percent up year-on-year (YOY), but it should be noted that golf only reopened in mid-May last year with very little visitor play. June this year saw 270,000 visitor rounds booked, which was a drop of seven percent or 20,000 visitor rounds YOY. In July 240,000 visitor were rounds booked, which equates to a 30 percent drop on 2020 or 105,000 rounds less YOY.

The graph in this feature tracks monthly visitor golf and shows the spikes golf has experienced over the past 18 months, and the flattening of the curve and drop from when golf restarted in April 2021.

  • May 2020 saw the first post lockdown boom
  • Apr 2021 saw the next post lockdown boom

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?

Golfer engagement

Despite the renewed interest in golf, It has been a difficult 18 months for clubs with revenue impacted by clubhouse closures and a lack of overseas visitors. 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.

There are now more than 500 clubs across the UK and Ireland allowing visitors to book and pay for casual tee times and open competitions directly through their club website with BRS Golf’s Payments and Visitor Booking technology.

And to cater for visitors considering a membership but who are hesitant about making the commitment, an increasing number of clubs are enabling BRS Golf’s Flexible Memberships for free. This self-managing, green fee points-based solution has been used to great effect by customers including Golf South Ayrshire. They enabled Flexible Memberships in June 2020 and by August the same year had over 4,700 members using the system.

Another increasingly popular option for BRS Golf clubs is Membership Finance. This allows golfers to apply for a loan from V12 Retail Finance to cover the cost of their subscription and more than £1.14 million in membership loans have been processed since its launch in early 2020.

Knowing your audience is key to engagement. Last year brought with it huge increases in the number of women (a 123 percent rise YOY 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.

Marketing investment

Through our partnership with Sky Sports, GolfNow invests £2 million every year in promoting golf and encouraging people to get out and play. Our marketing campaigns reach millions of homes via TV, video on demand and online advertising. And our course partners feel the benefits of that.

GolfNow’s most recent TV campaign went live during the Open in July and highlights the memories we can create every time we pick up a club. The ads were shot at three of our partner courses – Caldwell Golf Club, Glasgow; Peterstone Lakes, Cardiff; and Romanby Golf Club in Yorkshire – and have driven huge visitor interest.

Golf has been given a massive opportunity, and it would be naïve to think that without affirmative action this boom will continue. The hard yards start now.

Find out more about how our software can help you grow visitor green fee revenue and membership.

Web: www.brsgolf.com Email: sales@golfnow.co.uk

Tel: +44 28 9568 0288 (UK) +353 1800 852 935 (IE)


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 4, 2021 11:11
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