What’s driving golf’s 2020 surge?

An August survey conducted by Sports and Leisure Research Group suggests that, despite the pandemic, 2020 will be kind to the golf industry

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

If there is a silver lining of irony amidst this train wreck of a sports year, then it’s that golf in 2020 actually may turn out to be a banner year for the sport, according to research conducted by New York-based Sports and Leisure Research Group.

The Golf 20/20 initiative that began in November 2000 strived to increase participation significantly, but that did not come to pass despite a valiant effort by the industry. Now, in our COVID-19-fueled world, the industry is seeing evidence of a potential new boom.

Anecdotally and empirically, there are full tee sheets and encouraging reports of increased play as evidenced in our ongoing research, in which 75 percent of golfers indicate that the courses where they play have been very busy. As a result, golf successfully has positioned itself as one of the few viable options for outdoor recreation and socialization during a time of lockdowns, closures and quarantines.

In our ongoing Back to Normal Barometer research — a bi-weekly, multi-modal consumer pulsing through surveys, one-on-one interviews and digital meta scans — we also are seeing golf-facility operators draw strongly positive evaluations from golfers for adhering to safety and sanitization protocols, concurrent with favorable sentiments that the game is providing an oasis from the chaos.

Sports and Leisure Research Group — Industry Survey

(Graph: Sports and Leisure Research Group)

A survey of a random and representative U.S. population sample conducted Aug. 17-19 asked 136 golfers to reflect on why they were playing more golf this season. The chart shows a perfect storm of factors that have fueled this summer’s golf surge. And while our research shows that the preponderance of play is still coming from the small segments of engaged players who have historically driven the overwhelming majority of rounds and related expenditures, we also see evidence of previously lapsed and new players as well. [Note: The above graph displays the response distribution across a close-ended question. Respondents could select multiple responses. The data are projectable at the 95 percent confidence interval, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.]

Could this be an inflection point that allows the game to leverage sustainable growth? Our research suggests that the initial exuberance may be premature. As seen during the Tiger Woods-fueled boom in the latter years of the 2000s, facilities that fail to address some of the foundational challenges of providing a welcoming environment may see things recede once people venture back to other activities. Hopefully, we can align as an industry to strike while the iron is still hot.

Sports and Leisure Research Group provides customized research services to clients in the sports, travel and leisure categories.