National Golf Industry Overview
Written by: The National Golf Foundation (NGF)
Despite significant negative press, the golf industry was healthy and was continuing a macro trend toward stabilization in 2019. As we begin to consider the lasting effects of Covid-19, we note that golf activity has increased in the U.S. during 2020 and the first half of 2021, in many was as a result of the Pandemic, not incidental to it. Ultimately, golf is at the mercy of “discretionary time and income,” and the activity held up rather well during the great recession (2008-2010) and during Covid-19 (2020-2021).
We note that in the Naples, Florida market, demand for golf memberships and golf rounds is in many ways immune from negative national trends, as golf at this level and in this market is highly “aspirational,” and supported by demand from all over the country. Total spending on golf and club memberships will always be vulnerable to forces such as the economy, but the game remains popular and is fortunate to have a deep well of interested prospects.
In the last 12-18 months, golf received a strong, though perhaps temporary, boost in demand from the Covid-19 crisis. While research indicates that the number of golfers has not changed markedly, some new golfers have joined the game and rounds activity by existing golfers increased significantly.
Some additional findings from NGF:
- Rounds Played 2019-2021 – Despite the loss of 20 million spring rounds due to Covid-19 closures and restrictions, the almost 502 million rounds played at U.S. courses in 2020 was the most in more than a decade. The 61 million additional rounds over 2019, a 13.9% rise, is second only to the industry’s 63 million jump in rounds in 1997, when Tiger Woods had his breakout year. In Florid, the results were less significant as activity had been up in 2019. Florida recorded rounds increases of 3.7% in 2019, followed by a strong 6.9% increase in 2020. Through May of 2021, rounds are up 33.6% nationally, and by 11.3% for Florida
- Golf Activity Drivers – The observed increase in golf activity is driven by several intertwining factors. NGF surveys show golf was considered a “safe” activity at the height of the pandemic, as players felt they could participate, compete and socialize with friends, and never have to come in close contact with other people. Many golf courses were forced to adopt changes (longer tee-time intervals and single-rider carts) that ended up adding to golf’s popularity. In addition, our research shows that already avid golfers found an opportunity to consume more rounds through increased time availability related to work-from-home arrangements and flexible schedules. As other activities begin to open up and take attention away from golf, some decline is inevitable, but some trends are expected to take hold and provide a longer-term benefit to golf.
- Beginners – The NGF counted 3.0 million beginning golfers taking up the sport for the first time in 2020, the highest number ever counted by NGF. This beginner group was also more diverse than in previous years, with over 33% of the beginners being female and a larger portion over the age of 50 than ever before (22% in 2020 compared to 5% in 2016). This level of new beginners bodes well for continued interest in golf and makes a rapid decline in activity very unlikely.
- Golf Course Supply – The correction in golf course supply continued in 2020 at a level comparable with the previous several years, dropping by 1.4% (193 total 18-hole equivalent permanent closures in 2020 compared to 160 in 2019). NGF data shows that Collier County has seen its share of course closures, largely due to the underlying value of property. A total of three golf facilities (totaling 54 holes – all public) have closed in Collier County since 2017, including the Golden Gate CC (closed 2020), Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club (2021) and the Riviera Golf Club (2017).
- Baby Boomer Effect and Generation G (the “Golf Generation”) – As Baby Boomers age and retire over the next 15 years, we expect to see a measurable increase in both golf membership and rounds played demand in the U.S. Golfers born between 1946 and 1964 are currently 56 to 75 years old, and about 6 million of them are golfers (1/4 of all golfers), and they currently play about 1/3 of all rounds. While not technically a generation, the 46-65 age cohort is a vital group for the golf industry, accounting for the most golfers, rounds and spend in the industry – more than $9 billion in total annually. Generation “Golf” includes younger Boomers and older members of Generation X.
- Golf Equipment Sales – In reviewing the demand for golf, one metric NGF is tracking on a regular basis is the sale of golf equipment, most significantly the sale of golf balls. The surge in equipment sales that began last May is showing no signs of letting up – as combined golf club and ball wholesale dollar sales are up 77% in 2021 over 2020 and 35% over 2019 (through the end of June). All this equipment is not gathering dust on store shelves. Retailers we’ve talked to tell us that sell-through has been very good and inventories are not getting bloated. Clearly, this data is another layer of research to support a real surge in golf demand that is being felt at individual golf course facilities.