The latest monthly rounds numbers are out and show something we haven’t seen in a while – a decline in play. But there’s a bit more to unpack as we look back and look ahead.
February is a relatively low-volume month, accounting for less than 5% of annual U.S. rounds, and year-to-year fluctuations are very weather-dependent. This was evident in 2020, when well-above-average temperatures were observed in most parts of the country, helping to lift play by 19% nationwide before the pandemic took its spring toll. The weather this February was, generally, less agreeable for golf. I certainly don’t need to tell that to those in parts of the Plains states and Texas who were hit by the mid-month polar vortex, or to those in Northeast regions who were dumped on by snow and didn’t see their courses thaw out for the entirety of the month. Mother Nature giveth, then taketh away.
February’s 4.7% decline, reported by Golf Datatech, was the first notable year-over-year drop in rounds (outside of last year’s course-shutdown period) since May of 2019. And yet we continue to see strong indicators for demand.
Shipments of the game’s ultimate consumable, golf balls, are higher than they’ve been in over seven years, which is corroborated by online search data showing golf ball searches are higher than at any point since 2005. Our consumer “Itch Meter,” which asks core golfers to characterize their desire to get out and play, is higher right now than at any point last spring, reflecting the coming to an end of a hard winter up north as fewer snowbirds got their usual golf fix with seasonal trips to places like Florida and Arizona.
So there are signs that if the weather cooperates, play should remain strong. But in the months ahead, it’ll be important to put rounds numbers in context, as year-over-year comps could be misleading. March through May should see significant jumps given last year’s widespread course shutdowns, while numbers in the latter half of 2021 may be down as state economies open back up and golfers begin expressing their demand for other things (travel, ballgames, etc.)
While February’s rounds numbers reflect the first monthly “drop” we’ve seen in a while, we shouldn’t be overly concerned or overreact to seasonal, single-month fluctuations. Other demand indicators are looking healthy.
 Analysis of 12-month rolling averages for shipments and search
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.