Golf Participation on the Rise

The modern game of golf originated in Scotland, eventually migrating to the United States where it has become the No. 1 outdoor pay-for-play, individual participation sport. Almost one in nine Americans plays some form of golf — more than participate in sports such as basketball, tennis, baseball and skiing.

U.S. golf participation peaked at about 30 million golfers in 2005 — not coincidentally when Tiger Woods was at the height of his game — and dropped to about 24 million, a number that’s held steady since 2014.

New Ways to Play the Game

According to the latest industry report from the National Golf Foundation (NGF), an estimated 2.6 million Americans played on a golf course for the first time in 2018. The NGF refers to this as a historical measured high. It was also the fifth year in a row the game has attracted more than 2 million newcomers. This pushed the number of people ages 6 and up who played at least one round of golf on a golf course from 23.8 million in 2017 to 24.2 million in 2018.

The total golf participation numbers from NGF from this year illustrate that golfers play, watch, engage and consume the game in different ways than in past years. When factoring in off-course forms of the game — golf-entertainment venues such as Topgolf, indoor simulators, stand-alone driving ranges, and off-course school or youth programs — U.S. participation climbed to 33.5 million in 2018, an increase of 1.4 million participants from 2017.

“More and more people are getting a taste of the game by taking swings with a golf club,” writes Forbes contributor Erik Matuszewski.

Whether this off-course participation will lead to course play depends on the industry’s approach to converting those who play for entertainment to committed course players.

The Future of the Game

The NGF reports that non-golfers are expressing an interest in the game at record levels, with 14.7 million people saying they would like to play golf on a course. Some of these are players with some experience who haven’t played on a course within the past year, whereas the rest are people who have never played on a course.

Making the game easier and more approachable could be the key to winning over new players and getting them interested in playing on course. Garmin offers a range of GPS golf watches and handhelds that give you precise distances and other features for thousands of preloaded courses so experienced players can refine their game, and beginners can discover their love of being out on the course.