October rounds played came in 32% higher than last year, according to Golf Datatech, raising the national year-to-date figure to +10.8%. Several multi-course operators we checked with recently told us that the surge in play continued in November, putting us on track for an annual increase of somewhere around 50 million rounds over 2019. Pretty amazing.
Record setting? Not quite.
Can you guess the last (and only) time we had an increase bigger than that?
It was Tiger’s breakout year – 1997 – when the number of rounds jumped up 63 million over the year before. Rarely has coming in second place felt so good. I doubt that anyone around for both surges would argue if I said that this year felt better. We were in the serious pits back in March and April, when we lost about 20 million rounds to virus-related shutdowns, and the climb out has been stunning.
Both of these “surge” years are standouts. Over the past 20+ years, rounds played have generally moved up and down no more than a few percent each year, typically weather-related fluctuation. A “big” jump would be something like 5%.
Globally, the pandemic has not been good for too many businesses. Golf has been one of the lucky few. For reasons well-documented, people have been more attracted to and engaged with golf in 2020, helping to drive up rounds played.
But weather has helped quite a bit too. It has been (mostly) an exceptionally warm and dry year. Following two of the wettest years on record, the weather has been very favorable in places where a lot of golf is played … from lower New England to the Great Lakes states. (Click here to see a map.)
Tiger won the Masters by 12 back in 1997. This year I’m guessing we’ll finish up 12% in rounds. It’s just a coincidence.
Joe is in his 35th year with the NGF and has served as President and Chief Executive since 1989. One of the industry's leading experts on the business of golf, Joe has published a myriad of studies and reports about the state of the game and, as a speaker, is frequently asked to provide insight and information on consumer and economic trends affecting golf's present and future.