Is recent surge in golf participation a forecast for future?

Study reveals that core and avid golfers are driving golf’s uptick in increased play during the pandemic

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles that look at trends within the golf industry.

The golf media have reported exhaustively that the game has experienced a robust summer of increased play and equipment sales. Sports and Leisure Research Group’s Back to Normal Barometer, a twice-monthly consumer pulsing of attitudes and behaviors, corroborates this and adds further insights on the motivations and rationale behind this golf surge.

A perfect storm of conditions has seen golf fill a void in viable options for outdoor recreation and socialization, while a majority of golfers continue to work primarily or exclusively from home.

Sports And Leisure Research Group — Rounds Per Capita

The question continuing to be heard surrounds the sustainability of this surge. A number of critical success factors, many beyond the industry’s control — weather conditions, the duration and extent of COVID-19 related shutdowns and restrictions, and public acceptance of an anticipated COVID-19 vaccine — will drive the answer. There are also foundational components of the golfer experience, that will impact sustainability.

But one underlying element is visible upon closer examination of where the surge is coming from. While mostly anecdotal reporting suggests an influx of lapsed and new participants this summer, the Back to Normal Barometer yields an interesting observation about share of customer.

As the chart reveals, 46 percent of those who played golf at least once in 2019 are playing more golf during the pandemic. However, the increased play is driven mostly by core (8-plus annual rounds played) and avid (25-plus annual rounds played) golfers. The more casual players (1-7 rounds played) are statistically just as likely to be playing less as they are to be playing more.

The logical follow-up question is: When do we reach a ceiling among the more profitable customers? Barometer data and seasonal impacts suggest the current wave will last through at least the first quarter of 2021. After that, things become less clear.