With clubhouses and golf shops closed in some areas for an extended time in 2020, golfers embraced new approaches – whether it was reserving tee times, checking in or posting scores. For many, the solution was in the palm of their hand.
Last year, two-thirds of golfers who posted scores for handicap purposes did so through the USGA’s GHIN mobile app. Consider that in 2016, that frequency was 24%. It’s a dramatic jump and one that doesn’t show signs of reversing course, as 67% of scores in 2021 have been posted via the GHIN app.
This adoption has significant reach, with NGF’s recent consumer surveys indicating that more than three-quarters (78%) of Core golfers who play 8-or-more rounds annually have at least one golf-specific app on their phone. This is up from 56% in 2018 and 37% in 2011. Among those with one of the hundreds of golf-related apps on their phones, more than half have three or more, with an overall average of 3.5. As different technologies gain footing throughout a traditional game, it’s a topic that speaks to the modernization and evolution of golf as well as the effort to enhance the golf experience for an ever-connected segment of consumers.
Considering there are more connected mobile devices in the world (almost 8 billion) than people, it makes sense society is in many ways being shaped by how we interact via handheld devices. And that’s only been accelerated by the Coronavirus pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020, there were 37.8 billion global app downloads, according to app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, an increase of 32% from the same period the previous year and +129% from five years earlier.
The average smartphone owner uses 10 apps a day and 30 apps each month, according to mobile app builder platform buildfire. While many apps are businesses themselves, companies are also turning to them with greater frequency to improve the customer experience, add value to their brand and drive sales.
In the golf world, there are golfer-targeted apps for scheduling tee times, handicapping, scorekeeping, GPS, swing analysis, shot-tracking, green-reading, instruction, launch monitors, swing tracers and more. Among golfers who have a golf-centric app, 43% indicate they always or usually use at least one while playing golf, with three-quarters of those actively engaging during play. There are also apps to follow professional golf tournaments – from the PGA TOUR to the Masters and the U.S. Open – get the latest news and information, and play a myriad of golf games, from serious to silly.
Posting scores is the most popular use of a golf app, cited by more than 58% of Core golfers. The USGA says more than 2.6 million golfers post scores via its GHIN Mobile App, with usage up 112% year-over-year in 2020 and 211% since 2017.
Apps that provide GPS distances and course guides are the second most frequently used, followed closely by those for scorekeeping and stat-tracking.
“The more we move towards a seamless and effortless mobile app experience on the course, like we have with V1 Game, the process will become second nature to play with apps like ours running during each round,” said V1 Sports CEO Bryan Finnerty, whose app provides GPS yardages, post-round statistics and analysis, and game improvement features such as Virtual Caddie and Virtual Coach. “Ultimately, we all just want to go play golf and not worry about the technology that’s running in the background. From there, the more you play, the better the system works for you and ultimately that’s a win-win for every golfer.”
Apps from GolfNow, TeeOff, Chronogolf and Supreme Golf that allow for tee time reservations (and in some instances much more) also continue to gain in popularity, with at least some level of engagement by 39% of Core golfers. Meanwhile, 34% of Core golfers said they use apps for reserving tee times at a specific course or club.
For GolfNow, mobile app bookings first surpassed web bookings in 2017, finishing the year at 52% of the total. Since then, the platform’s mobile adoption has continued to grow, reaching 68% by the end of 2020. Over the past three years, GolfNow’s annual app downloads have increased by 24%.
“There has been an undeniable shift in consumer behavior within the GolfNow ecosystem,” said Jerramy Hainline, SVP and GM, GolfNow, attributing it to two primary factors. “The first is the explosion in SmartPhone ownership, which reached 85% of the American public as of Feb. 2021. The second is ease of use. A golfer can see all available tee time inventory near them in a matter of seconds with just a few taps and check out with a saved payment method in under a minute. We believe this shift will continue into 2021 and beyond.”
Instruction, coaching and swing analysis apps also continue to gain traction, with an ever-growing number of options that can be used off-course, from GOLFTEC Clubhouse and GolfPass to FlightScope, SkyTrak and SportsBox AI. Others incorporate connected devices beyond the phone — launch monitors or wearables, for example.
Another growing appeal among golf apps is offering integrated solutions. While many remain specialized, in other instances, the more they can do for consumers the better.
Take the USGA’s aforementioned GHIN app, for example. It’s now adding GPS functionality for users who want an “all-in-one” solution. And yes, it complies with the rules of golf.
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