The Numbers Are In for Golf

By | May 2, 2018

15 numbers you need to know about the U.S. golf economy | via Dylan Dethier for Golf.com

A coalition of golf’s governing bodies and industry partners known as WE ARE GOLF unveiled its latest U.S. Golf Economy Report in time for National Golf Day at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. last week. Their analysis of data from the 2016 season — and their comparison to their last report in 2011 — included a lot of numbers, from big and small to positive and negative.

You can view the report here if, like me, enjoy pouring over statistics and trying to find the real meaning in them. Here are a few thoughts that came to me after reading the article and scanning the 30-page report:

It feels odd that in the age of instant Internet feedback and real-time statistics that we are trying to determine the current condition of the game using numbers that are already so old. Does comparing numbers from 2011 to 2016 really give us any clarity on where we are today? Would you invest in a company because of what they accomplished over a year ago?

I think we all knew that the game had lost a number of courses over the period covered by this study. Seeing that the total net loss was 737 facilities was a bit shocking. Combined with the rather small $210 million spent on new course construction in 2016 and it’s clear that while the bleeding is slowing down we have a long way to go before golf is completely healthy again.

Investment in new home construction in golf communities being up 230% since 2011, to $7.2 billion, is proof that those with the means still see the golf life as very desirable now that the housing bubble seems to be fading from memory.

The big number is, of course, how many golfers there are in the United States. The report puts that number at 23.8 million, down from 25.7 million, in the period studied. Hardly good news but the report points out that the number is actually trending back in the right direction which is encouraging.

The other statistic that jumped out at me is the number of people who indicated that they want to play golf, but for whatever reason do not, doubled in the period from 6.4 million to 12.8 million. “Not having the time” is the reason most often discussed as a solution to bringing these folks back into the game. Initiatives like “Play9” and the recent revisions to the rules to make the game faster are clearly pointed at addressing the time issue. I have to wonder though, given that the numbers indicate an overall growth in golf revenue of 22.2% in the period even with fewer active facilities and a smaller core group of participants, is the real reason for so many staying home cost? If it is cost, and I’m guessing it’s a big factor, the game is going to struggle to get more of those 12.8 million folks back onto the course until the trickle-down economy has more time to flow or they find ways to make the game more affordable.