Golf was off to a good start in 2020. Unseasonably warm weather led to an early start for golf in parts of the country typically still in their offseason during January and February. Double-digit growth in rounds played had the industry up 15% for the year entering March and the real start of the spring season.
Then the virus and associated shutdowns hit and we saw 9% and 42% drops in March and April, leaving us down 16%. Talk about a reversal of fortune.
So how many spring rounds were lost to the virus? We estimate as many as 20 million, mostly due to forced closures but also to virus-induced anxiety. This latter effect is seen clearly in a market like Phoenix, where courses remained open but rounds plummeted upon the announcement of a national emergency, only to rebound (and then surge) after the initial scare had passed.
Monetarily speaking, we are looking at a loss of about $1 billion in golf course revenues alone. (This doesn’t include related losses in F&B, retail sales, events, etc.)
Can we hope to make up these lost rounds this year?
We’ve developed an initial forecast for rounds in 2020 based on certain assumptions. It is fraught with uncertainty, not unlike the National Hurricane Center issuing a storm track while the threat sits somewhere around the Cape Verde Islands.
Consider this – the months of January through April account for a third of the calendar but only a quarter of annual rounds. So, while we were down 16% Y.O.Y. for those four months, if the balance of the year is flat, we’d end up down only 4% versus 2019. That line is shown on the graphic below, resting in the middle of NGF’s current “cone of uncertainty.”
For those in the golf business, hope springs from solid performance in May through August, when nearly half of annual rounds are played. There’s evidence both anecdotal and scientific that rounds in May might be up significantly over last year as a result of a surge in demand, not only from core golfers, but from beginners and lapsed players too.
If this surge proves true (we’ll know in a few weeks when Golf Datatech releases their rounds report for May), and if it persists even partially into the summer months, then we could recoup the rounds and revenue lost in March and April. Put another way, we’ll break even with last year if rounds are up 5% for the period May through December.
Is +5% a lot to ask for? Kind of.
The industry has seen as much gain over an entire year only twice in the past 21 years – the same number of times over that period we’ve recorded a 5% loss. And Mother Nature will have to cooperate. But golf is due for a break after the past two years, which have been among the wettest on record.
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