Global golf participation ‘surpasses previous highest mark’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 14, 2021 12:09

New figures from The R&A and SMS show 66.6 million people around the world are golfers – a figure that is significantly up on the previous highest number of 61.6 million in 2012.

The extraordinary growth is due to the participation boom the game has seen during the pandemic, and represents a more than five and a half million people increase in five years.

The measure includes club members and non-member independent golfers playing nine or 18 holes and users of driving ranges in markets where course availability is limited.

The new figure reflects a positive trend in golf in which participation levels are now rising worldwide after a period of decline. This was recently highlighted in the 2021 European Golf Participation Report, which highlighted that over 10.6 million golfers now enjoy playing full-length courses on the continent – a huge increase from the 7.9 million last monitored in 2016.

Phil Anderton, chief development officer at The R&A, said, “Golf is enjoying a real boom in popularity at the moment and we are seeing substantial increases in participation in many parts of the world, particularly in the last two years when the sport could be played safely outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“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.”

SMS collected participation data reported by national federations in different regions around the world, using nationally representative studies and expert estimates to calculate the global number of total golfers.

Regions experiencing the largest rises include Asia (20.9 million to 23.3 million); Europe (7.9 million to 10.6 million – driven largely by Great Britain and Ireland 3.6 million to 5.7 million); and North America (29.9 million to 30.6 million).

The research figures indicate the growth trend began before Covid-19 and then accelerated during the pandemic as the popularity of golf grew due to golfers being able to socially distance in a safe outdoor setting and stay active to boost their physical and mental health.

In Great Britain, the number of adults playing a nine or 18-hole course began to gradually increase before the onset of Covid-19, rising from 2.5 million in 2017 to 2.8 million in 2018, then to 3 million in 2019, before surging to 5.2 million in 2020.

Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, The R&A sought to carry out additional research into this rise in demand and how different types of golfers were engaging with the sport.

Roisin Scanlon during Day Three of the R&A Womens Amateur Championship at Kilmarnock Golf Club on June 9, 2021 in Kilmarnock, Scotland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

The Post Covid Opportunity Research, along with findings from Bayfirth Research, details experiences of golfers during the pandemic, motivations for playing and long-term plans for the future. Among new golfers, 98 percent of those interviewed identified they are enjoying playing golf and 95 percent see themselves playing golf for many years to come.

The research also outlined recommendations clubs can take to retain new players, including feeling welcome and valued; a friendly culture and relaxed atmosphere; participation options based on ability and experience; good customer service; having an efficient booking system; the quality and maintenance of the course; and, importantly, playing in an encouraging environment.

The R&A also launched a Covid-19 Support Fund to help golf deal with the impact of the pandemic, with the £7 million funding package largely aimed at national federations and other affiliated bodies in Great Britain and Ireland.

Further support for national federations is set to come in 2022. The R&A is creating a series of new assets to help market and promote the sport so that more people are encouraged to take up golf and existing golfers are retained.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 14, 2021 12:09
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  1. Rimpiläinen December 16, 12:06

    Good to be a member on huge international golf family.

    Reply to this comment
  2. freehandicaps December 14, 22:59

    Huge jump in UK thanks to Covid19 and remote work adoption…..

    Reply to this comment
  3. Peter December 14, 19:55

    Great !! Now what ? Knowledge is power !! Knowing how many people play, in you local community and primary markets, is the important metric !! How many do you think know ? Likely, one or two !! Nobody takes the time to use, “listening devices” like surveys and focus groups to get the information they need !! Get into your communities and find out what you’re dealing with, where new members can come from and how many you need to convert !!

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