The golf industry is actually thriving, according to a new report

No matter how you slice it (golf pun), there are some positive trends in the golf industry right now.

The National Golf Foundation included driving ranges, Topgolf, and indoor simulators in its annual Participation Report for the first time this year. So, perhaps not surprisingly given the expanded metrics, the foundation found golf’s consumer base increased from 31.1 million golfers to 32 million in 2016.

Source: Instagram @topgolf

The NGF has come to believe, rightly, that traditional golf-course participation figures don’t represent the totality of the ways people are playing the game. Even so, it’s somewhat self-serving to add in a new category of player and point to a bump in numbers. It’s like only looking at passing yards for years then adding in rushing yards and pointing to a team’s total increase in yards.

This isn’t to say that, using the above analogy, tracking combined passing and rushing yards isn’t right. The NGF ought to pay attention to what’s going on at Topgolf or how many rounds people are logging on simulators. What that means for the health of the traditional 18-hole game, however, is unclear.

And it’s probably inappropriate to say that quantity is thriving just because people are imbibing and beating balls at Topgolf. Still, it’s notable that off-course participation was up 11 percent in 2016.

The NGF’s study revealed some interesting stuff about junior golf in the U.S. from the foundation’s report:

“The junior golf population remains relatively stable at 2.9 million and continues to show a transformation in diversity compared to years past.

“Thirty-three percent of golfers in the 6-17 age range are females, up from 17% in 1995. This significant gain is likely the result of the increased visibility of the LPGA Tour and developmental programs such as LPGA*USGA Girls Golf. By comparison, 24% of all golfers are women. Also among junior golfers, 27% are non-Caucasian, a percentage that’s up from 6% in 1995.”

Also important and encouraging: For all our fixation on new golfers and young golfers, the lifeblood of the industry in real dollars this quarter, remains the avid golfer. These players account for 95 percent of all rounds played and all spending. That segment of the golfing population rose to 20.1 million in 2016.

And a final word: For all this talk of off-course participation, it’s worth mentioning that a record 2.5 million people teed it up on a traditional golf course for the first time last year. That’s 100,000 more than the previous record high of 2.4 million back in the glory days of Tiger Woods in 2000.

So, for all the doom and gloom and the persistent dark cloud the Chicken Littles tell us is hovering just overhead, there are some darn positive signs in golf right now.

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