NGF Top 100 Businesses in Golf
The NGF’s Top 100 Businesses in Golf is a biennial list created to recognize the most influential, successful and innovative companies, organizations and associations in the golf industry.
Also called the NGF GOLF 100, the initiative is a strategic fit with the NGF’s business model and unique standing as the only trade association that serves every vertical within the golf industry.
The NGF GOLF 100 is a list – not a ranking – that is broken down by sectors and provides the opportunity to celebrate the sport’s vitality, size and depth. The diverse list of companies and organizations contains not only the well-known brands that golfers see on TV, but celebrates the innovators and influencers throughout various business segments that contribute to golf’s almost $70 billion impact on the economy. The inaugural list, which focuses on the U.S. market, highlights those businesses that are of fundamental importance in the game, both to facilities and consumers.
Candidates were evaluated on eight criteria, with financial success being the key component, in addition to growth rate and trajectory. Other assessments included influence throughout the golf industry, innovations, prominence and leadership within a particular category, and contributions to the growth and vitality of the game or society as a whole.
While created as an effort to celebrate the success stories within golf, all lists such as this are meant to generate dialogue. The NGF GOLF 100 is no different. Some may perceive notable omissions, yet those companies or organizations might have just fallen short in our informed evaluations or instead will be included in next year’s international list that focuses on businesses that are based or chiefly operate outside the United States.
Golf may be particularly unique in the number of different companies that contribute to its economy; perhaps no other sport has such a broad array of businesses. Ultimately, the inaugural GOLF 100 is the NGF’s effort to recognize that depth and vitality.
The equipment industry is the most commercially visible sector in the golf business, with a host of households brands that produce the clubs and balls found in millions of golf bags around the world. Many of them also pay big money for endorsement deals with the game’s top professionals, hoping to further enhance their recognition and appeal.
The equipment category is a $2.6 billion annual market and, beyond clubs and balls, includes club components such as shafts and grips.
Based on wholesale equipment dollars, golf is actually among the largest recreation sports in the United States, trailing only camping and fishing. More money is spent every year on new clubs and balls than on equipment for sports like basketball, baseball and football combined. Thus, it perhaps comes as little surprise that the equipment sector, with 22 companies, is the most heavily-represented segment of the NGF GOLF 100.
The course management side of the golf business continues to grow, with the number of golf courses in the United States working with third-party management companies increasing from 10.6 percent in 2006 to almost 16 percent today. That figure is estimated by some in the industry to surpass 20 percent of all golf facilities by 2020.
There are more than 230 companies with at least two golf facilities under management and 76 percent of those manage less than five facilities. Together, these businesses have in excess of 2,130 properties under management, including 10 companies with 40 or more courses in their portfolio.
In total, 13 management companies claimed a spot in the inaugural NGF GOLF 100.
The apparel & accessories sector in golf is diverse, ranging from companies that sell shoes, socks, polo shirts and outerwear to those that manufacture hats, gloves, sunglasses, golf bags and travel gear.
There’s little question that looking the part is almost as important to many golfers on the course as actually playing the part. As anyone who has attended the annual PGA Merchandise Show can attest, it’s why a seemingly growing host of companies specialize in golf apparel or have a dedicated golf division.
Even so, some clothing or shoe brands that might be identified as Top 100 worthy in their own right won’t be found in this category as they fall under the umbrella of a bigger parent company in equipment; think names like FootJoy (Acushnet), TravisMathew (Callaway) or Puma (Cobra). Apparel & accessories still remains one of the biggest sectors, featuring 13 representatives in the NGF GOLF 100.
While there’s a diverse range of products, goods and high-tech gadgets and software in the media & technologies sector, the underlying theme is that the 11 companies included in the NGF GOLF 100 are all geared toward helping golfers play better or improving their experience.
There are rangefinders, indoor simulators, shot trackers and advanced launch monitors that pros have taken to traveling with. There is software for both club management and event management, including one that will soon be in 2/3 of the golf courses in the United States.
There is also a group of established media properties that includes the sport’s first 24-hour dedicated television network, a channel that’s evolved over time from a traditional media company into a new media technology platform.
The landscape in golf’s retail market continues to shift and evolve.
The most successful companies in the space have continued to adapt during a time when market consolidation prompted a decline in the overall number of off-course golf retail locations.
E-commerce in general is growing, as online convenience influences the way consumers are purchasing products. Many traditional brick and mortar stores are migrating toward having a broader experiential, technical position, meaning locations where consumers can swing the clubs and get real data and feedback relative to the performance of a given product. And on the secondary market, other businesses are thriving as major manufacturers gravitate toward longer product cycles and some of the game’s most frequent players are price-shopping.
In total, five golf retail companies – some of which feature sub-brands – are represented in the NGF GOLF 100.
The turf and course supplies category might not have the most well-known companies in the NGF GOLF 100 (with the possible exception of golf car manufacturers), but the businesses and brands in this sector help golf courses look their best, operate efficiently and, ultimately, keep customers happy.
On the turf side, that includes companies that make and sell mowers and maintenance equipment, irrigation technology, and the fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and growth regulators to keep a facility’s most important product -- the course -- healthy and green. On the course supplies side, it’s the biggest golf car businesses and companies that make all the other essentials a course needs to operate: from bunker rakes, cups and flags to tee markers, stakes and ball-washers.
A strictly business-to-facility (B2F) category, turf and course supplies is a deep and diverse mix, with 18 businesses included in the NGF GOLF 100.
Some of the well-known associations in golf may be the most noteworthy businesses of them all – in terms of making money, growing the game and influencing the industry.
There certainly aren’t many organizations with more clout in the sport than the professional tours, which make millions of dollars from corporate sponsorships and television deals while also activating player-development and charitable initiatives. Other noteworthy trade associations in this category provide vital education, information and advocacy to their nationwide, and often global, membership.
The First Tee, meanwhile, is more than a player development program; it’s more about providing youth with educational programs that build character, instill life lessons and promote healthy choices – all through the game of golf.
Another diverse bunch, there are seven associations in the NGF GOLF 100.
The golf landscape is diverse indeed, necessitating a catch-all miscellaneous category for businesses that don’t necessarily fall into a specific bucket.
Some companies have essentially created their own niche within the industry while others have grown into corporations with a varied portfolio of interests that run from course design to innovative technologies and consumer products.
There are club-fitters, instructional companies, golf course builders and construction companies, and a true pioneer in the field of golf travel and tourism. Also featured among the 11 noteworthy businesses in the miscellaneous category is perhaps the golf industry’s fastest-growing company, one that has helped shape the golf-entertainment market and redefine the sport’s participation measures.
The inaugural NGF GOLF 100 was created to celebrate the totality of the golf business, but the sheer size of the industry -- and it’s many sectors – inevitably mean many successful, innovative and noteworthy companies and organizations don’t quite make the list, at least this time around.
In addition, there are other businesses of prominence within the golf world, but not necessarily endemic to the industry, that are deserving of recognition.
It’s why the NGF created an Honorable Mention category for the GOLF 100, one that includes and extends beyond the major categories such as equipment, retail, media & technology, turf & course suppliers, associations and management companies. The Honorable Mention group also features professional management and services companies as well as the business partners and broadcast partners that are absolutely critical to the game’s success, visibility and growth.
Additionally recognized are the game’s architects and design firms -- the creative minds who develop and shape the courses that ultimately drive everything in and around the game – through the inclusion of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. While the NGF GOLF 100 includes a few course designers because of their varied other business interests, the ASGCA is able to better acknowledge the contributions of influential names like Coore-Crenshaw, Doak, Dye, Fazio, Hanse, Hurdzan, Jones, McLay Kidd, Richardson and others.