Golf is enjoying a new round of popularity, breaking records not seen since its glory days. Around the nation, a staggering 502 million rounds were recorded — 61 million more rounds played than in 2019. Numbers not seen since the year Tiger made his debut.
In 2020, Minnesota golf facilities saw a 30% spike in rounds compared to 2019. In 2021, golf courses reported 30,000 rounds played — an average year only logs around 21,000 rounds. Play is up all around.
Golf became the perfect pandemic pastime. Played outdoors and with social distancing naturally built into the sport, more and more people turned to golf as other sports canceled games and businesses shuttered their doors.
While it’s no secret the pandemic created a surge in golf’s popularity, the sport’s success hasn’t dipped even as the world starts to open up again.
Golf’s Newfound Popularity
One of the biggest explainers of golf’s continued growth and popularity during the second year of the pandemic is that people discovered they actually enjoy the sport.
Tom Ryan, Minnesota Golf Association (MGA) executive director and chief operating officer ventured,“I’d like to think it’s probably … the result of people realizing this game is fun and it doesn’t cost too much," he said in a recent interview with Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal. "There weren’t a lot of things that families could do together in 2020. They kept room for golf in 2021.”
Golf shed its reputation as solely a sport for retirees or country clubbers, attracting younger generations, families, and women.
In 2019, women comprised nearly a quarter of all golfers and in 2022 are forecast to make up 40% of all off-course golfers, which includes golf ranges and facilities like TopGolf.
From the Green to the Screen
Golf’s popularity has also experienced an increase in television viewership with more people tuning in to golf’s biggest events.
This past year’s final round of The Masters garnered 9.45 million viewers, up 69% from 2020. The PGA Championship attracted 6.58 million viewers, a 29% increase, and the U.S. Open averaged 5.7 million viewers, up 76% from 2020.
Netflix is also banking on the increased viewership and interest in the sport. Jumping on the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive docu-series featuring FORMULA 1 racing, the same producers at Netflix partnered with the PGA Tour to create a new docu-series.
The yet-to-be-named docu-series will follow “the lives and stories of top professional golfers across a season of high-stakes competition,” according to a Netflix press release.
Five of the top seven pros in the world, including Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland, and Xander Schauffele have all signed on to the new docu-series.
Better Understanding of Golfer Needs
As remote work offered (and continues to offer) office workers much more flexible schedules, many found they were able to sneak in a quick 9-hole round during the day or with their families after work. According to the MGA, 9-hole and short courses in Minnesota saw a 3.5% increase.
Short courses and 9-hole rounds make the game far more accessible to the everyday golfer. Riding the wave of this trend, golfers can expect to see more courses offering shorter rounds with 6- or 9-hole courses, complementing the traditional 18-hole course.
Since the pandemic began, golf course owners understand their customers better. They know the type of courses golfers prefer, how to market their facilities to a wider and more inclusive audience, and how to price rounds more competitively to encourage more play for everyday golfers and those just beginning the sport.
Adapting to Changing Demographics
Golf’s ability to adapt may be the sport’s greatest asset.
Implementing new technology on ranges, local courses, and opening facilities such as TopGolf have been successful at attracting millennials and generation z. Younger generations are big fans of the new technology and how it enhances their golfing experience.
Healthier Food & Beverage Options
Golf courses are also revamping their food and beverage menus to meet the needs of younger generations. Clubs and resorts are moving toward healthier alternatives as young (and also older) golfers search for more health-conscious options.
Many now offer vegan and gluten-free choices as well as cocktails and craft beers.
Attention to golf’s environmental impact is another shift in the industry. Courses that become a model in water management, biodiversity, conservation, and reducing carbon will draw in more golfers looking to reduce their own footprint.
With nearly a 14% increase in rounds played around the nation, making it the second-largest one-year gain on record, and with every type of golf facility in Minnesota generally reporting increases in rounds played, with an average increase of 6.9% across the board, the hope is to build on the success of the past two years.
By successfully implementing new technology and adapting to golfer needs, the sport will likely continue to attract new players and keep the current ones happy and loving the sport.