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A Publication of the National Golf Foundation

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




Tracking the Turnaround

The May rounds-played report from Golf Datatech showed play was up more than 6% nationally – the equivalent of about 2.4 million rounds more than in May of 2019. It’s noteworthy, but perhaps not quite as positive as some had hoped given the anecdotal reports about full tee sheets as more than 90% of U.S. courses reopened by the second week of the month.

Still, given the uptick in May play – which by the way translates to a revenue bump of about $120 million – has improved the industry’s long-term prospects of recovering from the approximately 20 million rounds lost to Covid-related shutdowns and anxiety in March and April. If the rest of the year is flat in terms of rounds played (i.e. no different than last year’s figures), we’d end up falling about 2.8% short of last year’s 441 million rounds.

However, a continued strong turnout in summer would offset those losses.

Can 20 Million Lost March/April Rounds be Offset?

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 us entering March up 15% for the year. 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.

Monetarily speaking, the 20 million March and April rounds lost to forced course shutdowns and golfer anxiety reflects a loss of about $1 billion in golf course revenues alone. (This doesn’t include related losses in F&B, retail sales, events, etc.)

The rebound in May is an encouraging sign, as nearly half of annual rounds are played from May through August. A continued surge through the summer (June, July and August) in line with May's numbers (+6.2%) would help the industry match last year's rounds played total.

June Shows Momentum in Key Markets

Anecdotal reports and initial data regarding June play continue to be very positive. In talking with operators, engagement has been strong -- full tee sheets, lapsed golfers making their return, more families and new faces out on the golf course, etc.

Sagacity Golf shared some new rounds data showing significant June and year-to-date gains in golf markets that never completely closed, like Orlando and Phoenix. On the other hand, markets that were completely shut down, like San Francisco and Palm Springs, remain behind (or even well behind) in their year-over-year positions.

Google trends logo 2

What Are Golf Consumers Searching For?

As another measure of increased play and demand, Google data shows that searches including the terms ‘golf balls’ and ‘golf clubs’ are both about 20% more popular right now versus their previous 5-year high marks. To an extent this could reflect a shift – whether fleeting or lasting – towards buying online (given recent store closures and/or golfers not wanting to visit physical retail), but given intel from equipment manufacturers and retailers we suspect that this lift in search popularity is largely a sign of increased purchase interest and behavior.

Golf ball search popularity 6-30-20 (002)

Approximately three-quarters (76%) of the golf entertainment venues in the U.S. have reopened their doors, up from 61% a week ago and 18% in late May. Drive Shack recently reopened their Raleigh, NC location while Topgolf reopened eight more of its 55 locations.

GolfEntertainment 2020_06_29

Off-course golf retail is almost back to full operational capacity. By mid-June, 94% of stores were open -- the equivalent of 98% of total off-course square footage.

In early April, 96% of the 6.5 million square feet of total off-course golf specialty space had been closed to in-store traffic.

National retailers such as PGA Tour Superstore and Golf Galaxy have reopened all of their locations. Among Worldwide Golf Shops' portfolio of stores, only a few Roger Dunn locations in Hawaii remain temporarily closed.


Closed or temporarily suspending foot traffic


Retail Map Trend 2020_05_04
Off-Course Sqft 2020_06_15 (002) - reopening trend
Source: National Golf Foundation
Source: National Golf Foundation


Golf Consumer Sentiment Tracking: Wave 11

0 respondents

Our ongoing consumer research focuses on golf's best customers - known to us as "Core golfers" and defined as U.S. adults who've played a minimum of eight rounds of golf in the past 12 months. These golfers account for almost 90% of all golf spend and therefore are of particular interest when studying golf behaviors and consumption. The map above shows the locations of over 5,000 study respondents to date. Online surveys have been conducted March 31-April 3, April 9-11, April 14-16, April 21-23, April 27-30, May 4-7, May 12-14, May 21-22, May 27-28, June 4-5 and June 11-12, 2020. Approximately 500 adults selected from our opt-in panel were surveyed each time. Sample is considered to be representative of Core golfers.

Recent play among Core golfers continues at an exceptional clip and shows no signs of slowing, supporting both anecdotal and scientific evidence of mini surges in a number of markets.

This trend should continue to boost consumable spending (e.g.: balls, gloves, shoes and apparel), and, hopefully, spending on golf clubs and other durables as well.

June 15 golfer scratching golf itch

The inclination to get out and play golf goes against the broader trend toward a "homebody economy."

Among golfers and non-golfers alike, there is still widespread reluctance to resume normal activities outside the home. This might be an advantage for golf, potentially leaving more discretionary dollars for things consumers are doing and using, from health and home products to golf and other safe recreation (a Peloton bike or other workout and home-gym products).

June 16 golfer outside home activity v4

While distancing guidelines remain in place, more than half of golfers now say they're comfortable being within 3 feet of others.

This measure is a bit of a Catch-22 -- you'd of course prefer that people respect distancing guidelines, but at the same time there is a heavy economic cost to distance anxiety and mitigation efforts to slow the spread. The minimal hope here -- selfishly, you could say -- is that golfers at least respect these spacing guidelines at the golf course, as official opinions on golf’s safety as a recreational activity can change based on golfer and operator behaviors.

June 16 golfer distancing trend graphic v2

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.

No states restrict play, though some golf courses (an increasingly limited number) remain closed in metropolitan areas such as New York City and Chicago due to local government mandates. There are also a number of golf courses affiliated with resort properties that have yet to resume operations.

Breaking 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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LumpCo Pop-Up Tour: A Minnesota Exemplar

At 6-foot-6 and about 280 pounds, Mark Haugejorde chuckles at the use of the word “nimble” to describe his efforts in making youth golf tournaments a successful reality amid the pandemic. “Nimble isn’t the word most people would use around me,” says Haugejorde.   “But in business it’s what we’ve done.”

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Studying Golf Consumers: COVID-19

In early June, as the pandemic wears on, the outlook seems to improve for golf. Fewer “core golfers” show serious financial vulnerability and are adding to discretionary budgets.

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The GIR Podcast – NGF’s Greg Nathan

On the latest episode of the Golf Industry Roundtable podcast, NGF’s Greg Nathan shares how the organization was founded during a similar time of uncertainty, and how that may bode well for the game’s future.

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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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In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, 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 beneficial and interesting.

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