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A Publication of the National Golf Foundation

Questions, Answers and Insights for Everyone Interested in the Business of Golf

NATIONAL GOLF FOUNDATION

INDUSTRY UPDATE

tRACKING THE IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON THE GOLF BUSINESS
JANUARY 2021

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the NGF shifted its research focus to study the pandemic's effects on the golf business throughout the United States. We hope you find this complimentary information to be interesting and beneficial.

Member support helps us provide accurate and objective insights on the game. An important part of the NGF mission is helping those in golf better understand their market and strengthen their business. 

For as little as $250 annually, join the community made up of thousands of leaders, facilities, businesses, and associations who support and enjoy the benefits of the NGF. To learn more or to join today, please visit NGF.org, contact us at Member@ngf.org or call 561-354-1617.

Recent NGF Perspectives

Jan. 14, 2021 | Written by: David Lorentz, NGF's Chief Research Officer

As the broader U.S. economy limps into 2021 and stimulus measures work to stave off a double-dip recession, the sentiment in golf remains optimistic, although there are certainly questions about how the industry will fare amid vaccine rollouts and the eventual return to public life. On the whole, golf has been a clear beneficiary of the stay-at-home economy.

Back in November we discussed how the increases in 2020 play and spend were being fueled, to a significant degree, by a passionate cohort of existing players. We estimated that roughly 20% of the Core golfer population had really upped their engagement, taking full advantage of favorable weather, limited travel and other transient pandemic factors, like working from home. Among non-retirees in this group, 4 out of 5 are still operating on a hybrid or full-time-remote work schedule, compared to just 60% of other Core golfers (8+ rounds annually).

As we look ahead to the next 12 months, it would seem that our ability to match (or at least come close to matching) rounds totals from 2020 would hinge greatly on whether these zealous golfers continued to lean in as they have over the past seven months. Indeed it’s worth rooting for, although our most recent consumer pulse data suggests there will be some ‘regression toward the mean’ for these consumers in 2021.

Last week we asked Core golfers to consider two scenarios – one where widespread vaccinations occurred, face coverings and distancing were no longer needed, and life returned to relative normal by early summer. The other scenario, which may be the more plausible of the two, assumed that the coronavirus situation persisted throughout 2021.

In both scenarios, this ‘zealous’ group expects that their play in 2021 will fall back by 10-15% (their self-reported rounds were up, on average, by almost 40% in 2020). It’s a disappointing but perhaps inevitable reality, that there will be some eventual fallback in engagement among the 2020 fanatics, and yet there’s a bigger force at play here – one that could, and probably will, positively shape the industry in 2021.

Our research indicates 4 to 4.5 million Core golfers reduced their play and spend in 2020 (and they outnumber the ‘zealous group’ by as much as 50%). It’s this group that could really move the needle in 2021. In the ‘back to normal by summer’ scenario, these golfers predict their play would rebound to pre-Covid levels, while even under a ‘prolonged’ scenario they expect to cut their 2020 shortfalls in half, which would still provide a significant boost to rounds this year.

There will be other factors at play – like the weather, which couldn’t have been much better in 2020, some rebounding in travel golf and event golf (leagues, outings, etc.), or the inflow of new and returning players, and how they’ll respond in 2021. But the important takeaway here is that U.S. golf rounds were up significantly in 2020 despite the fact that a large swath of the Core golfer population (roughly a third of them, myself included) was actually pulling us in the opposite direction. So the bigger question is not whether the zealous golfers will keep charging this year, but to what extent the ‘underperformers’ will bounce back. Certainly our data gives hope.

Dec. 31, 2020 | Written by: Joe Beditz, NGF President and CEO

As I considered this last message of the year, I realized I really just wanted to say “Thank You” to everyone in and around golf who helped turn a terrible situation at the start of this year into something positive for golf.
 
Thanks to the golfers who came out in record-setting fashion – whether they were seeking to get outside, get exercise, get together with family … or all of the above. Thanks to the newcomers, to the returners, and to our most dedicated and passionate participants who seized the opportunity to play far more frequently.
 
Thanks to the tireless employees at the more than 14,000 golf facilities around the country who handled unforeseen challenges, from interacting with customers and booking rounds in new ways to juggling safety and staffing issues. And to the operators at those facilities who share rounds-played data with us every month, helping us keep our finger on the pulse of play.
 
Thanks to the superintendents and their dedicated crews. Heavier play meant more divots, more pitch marks, more golf cars and the turf compaction issues that come with them. They’ve been busting their butts to keep up, so kudos to these hard-working men and women.
 
Thanks to the golf retailers and manufacturers, who overcame early-season calamity to meet the surge in consumer demand that followed.
 
Thanks to our hometown courses. Destination golf is special, but golf is primarily local and that’s why the game was able to provide safe haven this year.
 
And a very sincere and special thanks to the members of our passionate and committed NGF community who make our research possible, and to our readers, who let us know what we do here at NGF is relevant and important.
 
No doubt there’s still some tough sledding ahead. But we’re looking forward to tomorrow, which will usher in a new year, a rebounding economy, the eventual death of the virus, and a return to normalcy for you and your families.

Dec. 17, 2020 | Written by: David Lorentz, NGF Chief Research Officer

This week the Commerce Department reported that U.S. retail sales dropped 1.1% in November – the second straight month of decline and a bigger dip than most economists predicted, with softer spending at department stores, restaurants, and car dealerships. That, alongside weakening consumer confidence, increases in jobless claims and the uptick in Covid-19 cases, has some rightfully concerned about a sputtering economy as we head into winter.

Since May, the overall golf economy has shown tremendous resilience amid the turbulence, and there are good reasons to expect (or at least hope for) continued buoyancy. November, although a much lower-volume month for sales (~5%), was another strong one for the equipment business, with wholesale shipments of clubs up 100% versus a year ago, and shipments of golf balls outpacing last November by more than 30%. We connected with a number of leading golf retailers this week – both brick-and-mortar and online – and hear that strong sales have continued in recent months (since the $1 billion Q3), as the buying season has stretched deeper into the year than we can ever recall.

There’s also evidence that holiday golf gifting could outpace historic levels.

Online search interest for “golf gifts” reveals a 25-30% increase vs. 2019 and the highest point in five years, at least. Partial data for December suggests this search term could reach its highest popularity mark in a dozen years. Looks like more golfers could be finding golf balls, apparel or gadgets in their stockings this year.

Self-gifting among golfers may be on the rise too. We recently surveyed a sample of 350 Core golfers and learned that three-quarters of them expect to spend as much or more on golf-related gifts for themselves this holiday season – lining up with broader consumer trends towards “treating yourself” to cure the coronavirus blues.2 The most popular gift, they say? Golf clubs, which supports their reported increases in spending and the upsurge in shipments mentioned above.

Here’s to hoping the golf economy doesn’t sputter anytime soon. From the entire research team at NGF, we hope you have a safe and joyful holiday season.

December 3, 2020 | Written by: Joe Beditz, NGF President and CEO

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 this week 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.

November 19, 2020 | Written by: Joe Beditz, NGF President and CEO

Back in 2009, towards the end of the Great Recession, we surveyed U.S. golf courses and clubs regarding their financial health. We did it again in 2016 to see how things had changed, and again over the course of the past few months.

In both 2009 and 2016, roughly a quarter of public courses admitted to being in bad shape, financially. Among private clubs, 21% were doing poorly in ’09, but seven years later that proportion had dropped to 14%.

Did these self-reported financial health measures have any predictive validity? Yes, they did.

  • Nearly 20% of the public courses in our previous samples who rated their financial health 0-4 on a 0-10 scale are no longer in business – a 4x higher ‘closure rate’ compared to those on the upper end of our health assessment scale
  • A third of private clubs who rated their health 0-4 in those previous studies are now either closed (7%) or converted (26%) to semi-public or public facilities (8x higher rate

So where do things stand today? Much improved. See graphic below.

There’s been a dramatic rise in the proportion of U.S. golf facilities reporting to be in good financial shape compared to our previous studies, including more than half of public courses and nearly 2/3 of private clubs. And, fewer than 1 in 10 (public and private combined) suggest that they’re currently in bad shape (0-4).

For public courses especially, the summer swell has had a profound impact on financial well-being. Coming into 2020, 14% of public courses would have rated themselves in financial distress (down from 25% in 2016), but today that proportion has been cut almost in half (8%), thanks to over 2,000 extra rounds on average.

NOTE: Our 2020 sample consisted of 876 public courses and 337 private clubs, but because 9-hole and value-priced (<$40 rack rate) facilities are under-represented in our sample, a slightly higher overall percentage of public courses may be distressed than our results show.

So, what do the courses and clubs who remain in trouble have in common?

• They are disproportionately 9-hole and/or value-priced facilities (<$40 rack rate)
• They claim to be in oversupplied/bad markets
• They have made little/no investment in capital improvements over the past 5 years, and don’t have plans to make any

The takeaway here is that the overall financial health of U.S. golf facilities has improved significantly since 2016 – a function of stabilizing participation, an improved overall economy and the closing of many lower-performing courses, and now the surge in rounds played. And, with fewer facilities now financially “at risk,” we should expect the rate of closures/conversions to slow down, and the marketplace to find its way closer to equilibrium.

November 5, 2020 | Written by: David Lorentz, NGF Chief Research Officer

There’s an adage in business that 80% of sales come from 20% of customers. This phenomenon – known also as “the law of the vital few” – may not be the universal truth that some suggest, but it does have pretty broad acceptance and application, and is viewed by many as a powerful tool for growing business.

Coincidentally or not, this principle applies nicely to the pandemic-induced lift that golf has experienced over the past five months, as it’s become pretty clear that a certain 20% of existing customers are contributing disproportionately to the outcome. (What follows begins to answer the question we’ve been asked more than any other in recent months: Who’s driving the surge?)

Since March we’ve surveyed several thousand Core consumers, chronicling their sentiments and behaviors and drawing distinctions between different groups, time periods and locations. Within this pulse survey we’ve also inquired about current and expected 2020 golf spend, asking respondents to compare these amounts to 2019 and/or their “typical” annual spend.

The data here is more directional than scientific/projectable, but it’s showed us that 20% of Core golfers will be “over-spenders” this year, while roughly 30% will be “same-spenders” and, believe it or not, half will actually underspend this year versus last (or typical).

This increased spend among the 20-percenters – who represent 2.5 to 3 million golfers nationwide – applies to both equipment and rounds. Over-spenders are 44% more likely to have purchased a driver and/or set of irons so far in 2020 (despite entering the year with equal expectations to buy). And when it comes to rounds, they’re estimating an average increase of 37% for the year (compared to +23% for same-spenders and -6% for under-spenders).

So, who are these over-spenders, you ask? Well, two-thirds are under 50 years old and half are in households making $150,000 or more, which is about 1.5x and 2x more common, respectively, than the average Core consumer. This group is also 23% more likely to live in the Northeast and Midwest Census regions, which supports the state-by-state rounds increases we’ve detailed in previous weeks.

But perhaps the most obvious or expected difference is that this group of over-spenders appears to be a bit more serious about the pandemic. Compared to other Core golfers (8+ rounds annually), they’re:

  • 15% more likely to believe that “normal” isn’t returning until the second half of 2021 (or later)
  • 15% less likely to feel that their work and personal lives are “getting back to normal”
  • 16% less likely to have dined out in the past seven days
  • 63% less likely to have visited a crowded outdoor spot in the past seven days

All of these observations lead to two important points. The first is not new but worth revisiting – that golf and the pandemic have a bit of a synergetic relationship going, both broadly speaking and, more specifically, as it relates to the 20-percenters who are doing a lot of the heavy lifting. It seems the emotions they harbor towards the pandemic are stimulating some of this golf-crazy behavior.

The other point is about retaining and “leveling up” your best customers. Do you know your vital few? Their differentiating characteristics? How are you identifying, serving and rewarding this group? Finding look-alikes?

We talk often about attracting new golfers, and there’s a tendency in business towards investing disproportionately in customer acquisition, but sometimes (maybe most times) the easiest source of new and sustainable revenue is right under your nose.

October 8, 2020 | Written by David Lorentz, NGF Chief Research Officer

In a recent article about pandemic winners and losers, New York Magazine described golf – one of its winners – as “slow and expensive.”

These are just two of the game’s unflattering perceptions (there’s also “difficult” and “exclusionary”), and are used by non-golfing/non-endemic journalists almost as a matter of course. Whether a function of bad experiences, skewed exposures or innate human ‘negativity bias,’ the reputation of golf among those who don’t play has leaned unfavorably for years. As industry researchers we’ve not only tracked these sentiments, but have long been curious to understand their origins and impacts.

Perceptions as you know are formed based on relatives. Golf is “slow” because most sports require running and jumping and other lively exertion. It’s “expensive” because most of the recreational equipment in your garage can be used for free at any time (and just about anywhere). In a way, that’s what makes golf “exclusionary” too – since there are certain places that many of us can’t play, as they’re prohibitive in cost or access or both.

These contrasts aren’t worth apologizing for, necessarily, and they certainly don’t stop roughly 1 in 9 Americans from actively engaging with the sport each year (or another 2 in 9 from doing so passively), but I needn’t tell you that perceptions matter in business. They influence behaviors and strengthen loyalty. Or, they push people away. Roughly 75% of non-golfers with a negative opinion of golf also express zero interest in taking it up. By comparison, only 27% of non-golfers with neutral perceptions have closed the door on the game. The difference there is intuitive but it does underscore the importance of managing golf’s brand and owning its narrative. It’s said that the market will define your story if you don’t give it a story to talk about.

So what’s our story, and how do we present a better one? A few thoughts:

  • For starters, we can do some counter-punching with better information and context. Take “expensive” as an example. Golf obviously has startup costs, but in terms of ongoing expenses it’s actually quite practical for the majority of Americans. Right now our database shows a median maximum rate of $48 for 18 holes†, including cart, at a regulation-length public course in the middle of peak season. If you’re willing to steer away from the busiest times, that median rate drops to almost $30. That’s somewhere between an $8 and $12 hourly rate for recreation, give or take, which would seem to be as good as anything else that’s pay-to-participate. And that’s just the median! Context can change perceptions. Just ask Ikea, who used the approach successfully in their “It’s that affordable” campaign.

  • We also don’t have to counterpunch every negative opinion or misperception, but instead can use certain ones to our advantage, which marketers often accomplish through irony or self-deprecating messaging (remember Golfsmith’s #AnythingForGolf campaign, which cleverly faced up to the difficulty of the game?). Satire can be an effective way to capture attention, but perhaps more importantly can appeal to emotion and earn trust

 

  • Finally, we can tell a better story by focusing more on our customers (and prospects) than ourselves. Branding is inherently self-centered but ultimately your customers care a lot more about themselves than they care about you. So make it about them! Last year we piloted a marketing program in Denver that aimed to activate interested adults by using strategically-crafted messages directed at various consumer targets. Before going to market with those ads, we tested their effectiveness among samples of Denverites and other Americans. In doing so we discovered that our message about dress code, and needing “More golfers who don’t dress like golfers,” was most effective in making golf seem relevant, approachable and fun. The message wasn’t about sprawling fairways, challenging greens or timeless traditions – it was about them, and us needing their unique sense of style.

The good news is that opinions of golf have been improving. Seven years ago, 43% of non-golfers had neutral or positive things to say about the game. Earlier this year (pre-pandemic), that proportion had risen to 55%. It’s significant progress but there’s room to keep going. Golf has a lot of people’s attention right now, and with that comes the opportunity to create impressions – new and better impressions. And while we have the power to do this through words and storytelling, the real convincing is going to happen at the course.

We’ll continue to track how sentiments change during and after this Covid-fueled boom.

† The cost to play golf has actually fallen over the past decade – had we kept up with inflation since 2007, that median maximum rate would look more like $53, not $48.

September 10, 2020 | Written by Joe Beditz, NGF President & CEO

The big question in March and April was whether golf courses and retail would reopen and remain open. In May and June, we wondered how quickly and strongly the golf economy would bounce back from spring losses. Then, in July and August, our curiosity turned towards understanding how golfers were behaving differently in the new normal, and which consumer groups were contributing to the summer spikes in play and spend.

Now, the big unknown seems to be the extent to which we might retain new golfers and sustain increased levels of play when COVID is finally in the rearview. That’s of course a longer-term question, but we can certainly speculate based on past and current knowledge.

Let’s first recognize how we got to this point. There’s no question the leading driver of golf’s nationwide surge is less resource competition – fewer commitments, fewer trips, fewer available activities, and fewer ways to spend disposable income. There’ve been other transient factors too, like favorable weather, extended shutdowns at golf entertainment venues, and perhaps even a pandemic-induced need for mental and physical escape.

But nothing about the past few months seems structurally different for golf, whether with the product itself, the service that supports it, or the overall user experience … unless you count extended tee time intervals, which for a time seemed to produce faster, smoother and more enjoyable rounds. Either way, we weren’t suddenly marketing ourselves differently, onboarding new players differently, or managing customer relationships differently. (In fact, remote check-in procedures may have made it more impersonal.) Which is to say we should expect a similar churn rate as before, because nothing changes if nothing changes.

The ability to retain customers has been golf’s Achilles heel for some time now. In the past five years alone we’ve “welcomed” more than 12 million people to the traditional game, and yet our ‘sea level’ has risen by only 200,000, give or take. It’s almost inexplicable, and signals a serious issue with the experience and/or perceived value among new customers.

We can certainly hope that the pandemic reorients consumers – making them appreciate open space, fresh air and less crowded activities than before. But those are probably fleeting effects.

Perhaps the one thing that may be different these days, and should contribute positively to golf’s retention rate, is the fact that more and more beginners are coming in with off-course experiences under their belts – specifically golf entertainment – which means more competence and confidence. Our data shows that beginners who’ve played at a golf entertainment venue are 20% more likely to say they’ll stick around, barring health or financial setbacks.

This message isn’t meant to be a tub of ice water dumped over the hopes of those currently celebrating golf’s surge, but it is a ‘bucket challenge’ of sorts. If it motivates some to fight the natural tendency to relax and enjoy the extra business, and instead strive to identify our newcomers and make an extra-large effort to ensure that their experience is sticky … then it was worth the risk of dampening some of the enthusiasm out there right now. Encouragingly, we’ve had recent dialogues with operators about this very topic (experience and retention), and can sense a different level of determination.

July 30, 2020 

Based on NGF research at the midway point of the year, there’s evidence the number of junior golfers (ages 6-17) could swell by as much as 20% this year. With approximately 2.5 million kids having teed it up on a golf course last year, that’s a potential Covid-related bump of half a million junior golfers by year's end.

If we had used the first quarter of 2020 (January, February and March) as any indication, we’d have seen no real change in the junior ranks, as the numbers were relatively normal. But in Q2, the rise has been significant from a directional standpoint.

It makes sense, with golf celebrated as a safe and healthy outdoor activity for all ages as the coronavirus rages on. With many youth sports on hold or slowly coming back, and families seeking activities they can do together, especially as schools were out, golf has emerged as a terrific alternative. Our data also suggests that these newbies may actually be a little bit younger than usual, with an increase in the number of girls and about the same racial/ethnic diversity (~25% non-Caucasian) that we’re now accustomed to seeing among the junior set.

The number of overall beginning and returning golfers during the Q2 stretch appears equally significant – both about 20% higher than in recent years.

The question, as always, is whether the industry will be able to convert these golfers into committed customers. That will depend on the experience they have at the golf course, which can no doubt be managed in a way that enhances satisfaction, fosters loyalty and improves retention.

Bear in mind, this inflow of new golfers will be offset, to some extent, by a natural churn that occurs every year. This may end up even more pronounced in 2020 due to Covid, as some golfers will elect not to play this year because of financial hardship or health and safety concerns.

Rounds Update

November Play Jumps 57% to Set New Record Rise for 2020

November rounds were up almost 57% nationally over a year ago, extending an upward trend in the U.S. since coronavirus restrictions were lifted on golf operations.

With only December play left to account for in 2020, the industry is 13.1% ahead of last year’s pace despite the loss of 20 million spring rounds due to virus-related course shutdowns and anxiety.

November continued a streak of notable upward monthly increases, with play up in all but two states (Florida and New Mexico) in the continental United States. June play was up 14% YOY, followed by increases of approximately 20% in July, 21% in August, 26% in September and 32% in October.

While November is a lower-volume month, typically accounting for less than 7% of annual play, the increase translates to approximately 16.5 million additional rounds nationwide than in November 2019.

“Typically, it’s a time of year when much of the country is starting to wind down for winter and it can be uncomfortable to be outside to play,” notes Golf Datatech Partner John Krzynowek. “This year, however, we had above average weather for playing the game, continuing a lengthy streak of minimal precipitation and warm temperatures.”

Since June, the surges in play have yielded almost 70 million incremental rounds compared to a year ago.

For the year, the net gain is almost 57 million extra rounds over 2019, when 441 million rounds of golf were played at the nation’s more than 16,000 golf courses.

While Hawaii has experienced a significant drop in play since March due to restrictions on travel (-35% for the year), November marked the first time in the past six months that states within the continental U.S. were down year-over-year. Florida (-4.5%), particularly the southern part of the state, was affected by rain and flooding caused by tropical storm Eta early in the month while New Mexico (-19.4%) was under a statewide order that closed non-essential businesses, including golf courses, for two weeks.

For the year, play at public courses is up almost 12% over 2019, while rounds at private clubs have jumped by almost 19%.

A similarly-strong December could leave the industry up a record 14% YOY at year-end.

Weather-related fluctuation usually accounts for a 2% to 3% difference in the total number of rounds played from year to year. The only year in the past two decades that the U.S. saw an increase of more than 3% was in 2012, when play rose 5.7% in part because of an early-season heatwave that contributed to heavier offseason play in some parts of the country.

It's improtant to note that all these extra rounds do not benefit everyone in golf equally. There are several business segments, such as resort golf, that are not enjoying a “V” recovery. Additionally, significant increases in rounds played don’t necessarily indicate the same is happening with golf participation. While NGF has recorded noticeable increases in juniors, beginners and returning golfers in 2020, the stocks and flows of golf's consumer base may end up evening things out in the end.

Rounds of golf were up year-over-year in every single state in the continental U.S. for the months of June, July, August, September and October. That translates to over 50 million more rounds nationwide than a year ago, an unprecedented turnaround for an industry that lost 20 million rounds in the spring due to virus-related course shutdowns.

But away from the mainland, that hasn't been the case. With travelers (and golfers) from the continental U.S. forced to stay away from Hawaii for most of 2020, play dropped 35%. For a state in which tourism accounts for more than 20% of the economy, the impact has been acutely felt. 

The Emergency Nine

Did you get out to play nine holes at some point in 2020? If so, you weren't alone.

During the summer months in particular, when there were extra hours of sunlight, golf course operators reported that afternoon and evening tee times were exceptionally popular, which seems right given that Covid-19 changed the contours of the work day for many. Sorting through our golf participation and engagement research, the number of short loops (as a percentage of total loops) was up over 15% in 2020.

Core golfers report that 33% of their rounds were of the nine-hole variety, while occasional golfers told us that more than 40% of the rounds they played were nine holes. This will be seen as good news by many, especially the USGA given their PLAY9 initiative, and would indicate that the “time barrier” to golf is being overcome by more golfers.

We've talked about the increase in beginners and youth golfers, so clearly the late-day tee times weren't just for the work-at-home crowd. Those nine-hole twilight rounds on late summer days presented the perfect opportunity for families to get to the course after an early dinner, or newcomers to get more comfortable with the game.

A Look at U.S. Nine-Hole Golf Facilities as a Proportion of Total Supply

Did you know that up until 1974, there were more nine-hole golf facilities in the U.S. than those with 18 or more holes?

18 holes wasn't always the preferred layout. Indeed, many of today’s 18-hole courses were built in two stages -- nine holes at a time. Today, there are 3,777 nine-hole golf facilities in the U.S. that account for about 26% of the total supply.

There are actually seven states that today still have more nine-hole facilities than 18 or 27:

Iowa -- 248 vs 135
Kansas -- 137 vs 101
Nebraska -- 123 vs 90
North Dakota -- 88 vs 28
South Dakota -- 79 vs 40
Maine -- 72 vs 60
Alaska -- 14 vs 6

And yes, Iowa has more nine-hole golf facilities than any other state in the nation. The only other state with more than 200 nine-holers is Texas, with 202.

Record $1B Golf Equipment Sales in Q3

U.S. golf equipment retail sales topped $1 billion in total for the months of July, August and September, an all-time Q3 record since Golf Datatech started its tracking in 1997.

Mirroring the surges in rounds following the industry’s spring shutdowns due to Covid-19, total Q3 sales of golf equipment on- and off-course were 42% higher than the same period last year and almost 18% higher than the previous measured Q3 high of $852 million in 2007.

The sales increase was led by strong showings in golf bags, wedges and irons, and is the second highest quarter in the more than three decades of Datatech’s tracking. Only Q2 in 2008 – a period capped by Tiger Woods’ last major victory (his U.S. Open playoff win over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines) – was slightly higher, at $1.013 billion. 

Currently open

Not yet open or operations suspended temporarily

Non-sampled golf facilities

The map above represents a sample of approximately 10% of all golf courses in the U.S., and is intended to provide perspective as to the geography of courses that are either open or have temporarily suspended golf operations.

While not representative of a complete view of golf course availability, it is the most nationally representative sample of courses available in the industry -- one that includes daily fee, private, municipal, resort and residential communities.

Trend in Course Openings

Less than 50% of golf courses were open to play for more than a month during the height of the coronavirus pandemic -- a combination of governmental efforts (state and local) to reduce the spread of the virus as well as seasonality (wintry weather in the northernmost parts of the country).

The percentage steadily increased from the last week of April through mid-May as more than a dozen states lifted bans on golf while others -- most notably California and Florida -- eased significant local restrictions. By early June, no states had restrictions on play.

Golf Industry Momentum

Beyond courses and clubs, other consumer-focused sectors in golf are also thriving during the pandemic. Here’s what executives in various sectors of the industry have experienced.

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Pandemic Could Spur Junior Jump of Half-Million Golfers

The second quarter participation surge revealed 20% jump in the number of junior, beginner and returning golfers.

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Latest News on Golf and the Coronavirus

A repository of coronavirus-related breaking golf news from states and communities around the country.

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Historical Tracking of Government Orders and Golf Course Status

At one point in mid-April, as many as 19 states had restrictions on golf, either at a statewide or local level. The following is an overview of how governmental executive orders affected golf operations nationwide.

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This Age Cohort Has Been Especially Engaged During Pandemic

As the pandemic stretches on, NGF’s ongoing national participation study shows that 35- to 49-year-old golfers have been especially engaged. 

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98% of U.S. Golf Courses Are Open

The NGF’s latest nationwide survey of U.S. golf facilities shows that 98% were open to play as of the week beginning June 1, just 1 1/2 months after half the courses in the country were closed. 

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