As cabin fever hit a frenzy this past year, more and more people found solace and some respite out on the golf course, resulting in the golf industry seeing one of its best seasons in years.
If there were ever a sport suited for a pandemic, it would be golf. By design, golf is a naturally socially-distanced game, and it offers players open spaces, fresh air, exercise, and a safe escape from the confines of their homes and of the daily stresses of pandemic life.
And after the initial shutdowns back in March and April, golf courses reopened to an outpour of interest from players both new and old.
New Pandemic-safe Protocols
Players felt especially safe to return to the golf course with new pandemic-safe protocols in place. Many courses only allow walking the course or single-rider carts unless playing with immediate family. Other pandemic measures include spaced-out tee times to prevent crowding, no ball washers or rakes, no shared equipment, and asking players to keep flagsticks in the cup.
With these new policies, players have flocked to golf courses eager to enjoy a pandemic-friendly activity.
Starting in May, play was up 6%, and it was up 14% in June compared to the previous year. The surge continued in July with golfers playing 10 million more rounds, a 20% increase over last year, and in September, play increased 20.5% year-over-year.
But it’s not just the usual suspects hitting the links. A young crowd has joined in the golf frenzy, particularly junior golfers between the ages of six and seventeen.
Without access to other team sports like football or soccer due to the pandemic, many young athletes have turned to golf, discovering the game for the first time.
According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), the number of junior golfers may increase by 20%, or 500,000 golfers, by the end of the year.
Families have also taken to the game. As the pandemic forced students and office workers into work-and-learn-from-home situations, many have the new-found freedom to adapt their own schedules, allowing them the flexibility to get out during the weekday and maybe hit a few balls on the golf course.
New Players and Returning Golfers
The industry has also seen a spike in returning golfers who, after along hiatus, are picking up their clubs again, happy to partake in a safe, fun activity.
And as new players and returning golfers head out to play, equipment sales have soared as well.
Golf Datatech reported record-high sales in July, reaching $388.6 million in revenue. The highest increase in sales since the company started tracking sales data in 1997.
Junior golfers and others brand-new to the game are buying up new equipment. Returning golfers mainly need repairs, replacement clubs, re-gripping, and lightweight bags to more comfortably walk the course as carts may be limited or not even an option.
While data from the NGF shows beginner players and returning players were both up 20% in the first half of 2020, the question always remains, will these players stick around?
Naturally, much of a player's commitment to the game revolves around their experience on the golf course. But golf in 2020 is more than just the game.
In this rollercoaster of a year, golf has provided a much-needed outlet for both our mental and physical well-being. Many golfers this year are playing the game simply for fun and as an excuse to get out of the house and safely socialize, rather than worrying too much about lowering their score.
With less pressure on the outcome of the game, it’s likely both beginners and returning players will remember the joy of golfing and continue to play well after the pandemic is over.