“Why is Golf Dying?” is one of the most Google searched golf questions.
In some ways it is a valid question.
Since 2006, an incredibly large amount of golf courses have closed in the United States.
However, the sport saw record numbers of rounds played in 2020 according to the National Golf Foundation, while many other industries struggled.
The current state of golf is incredibly complicated and to truly understand it, we need to explain its recent history.
The 1990s and 2000s
Golf hit its peak in popularity in the 1990s and 2000s.
To put it into perspective the National Golf Foundation estimates that there were over 30 million golfers in the United States at its peak in 2005. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, Tiger Wood’s domination of the professional sport brought many new eyes to the sport.
Likewise, real estate developers realized that properties close to, or even on golf courses were valued extremely high.
This led to over 50% of new courses being built in this time period being connected to real estate development.
So how many new courses were built?
Well between 1986 and 2005, there was an increase of 44% in the number of golf courses in the United States.
At its peak it was said the United States needed to build a golf course a day to keep up with demand.
Golf was booming and golf courses couldn’t be built fast enough. It seemed too good to be true…
Golf Industry Post Recession
Unfortunately for the golf industry, what goes up must come down and when the housing market collapsed, so did golf.
By 2012, there were only 25.3 million golfers nationwide.
This was an almost 16% decrease in the player base compared to its peak.
The number of annual rounds played per player had dropped as well.
The demand was gone and the thousands of golf courses constructed merely years before began closing.
All signs pointed to a slow death for the industry.
Each year leading into the 2010s, there were fewer and fewer reported golfers nationwide.
To make matters worse, golf’s largest decreasing demographic were young golfers. This led to golf being deemed a “dying industry”.
Golf in Recent Years
Since around 2015 to 2016, the number of golfers nationwide has appeared to stabilize with around 24 million.
Likewise, each year roughly 1% of golf courses close.
Some sectors, like women under 18, were growing rapidly.
Golf was certainly not growing, but it was hardly bleeding out either.
Most experts believed that eventually the number of golf courses and the number of rounds played will equalize. At least this was until the global pandemic in 2020.
In 2020 the global pandemic shut down most businesses, at least temporarily, in the United States. This resulted in most people having more free time.
Most other industries shut down, but in most places golf courses were continued to be allowed to operate. Hence, golf saw a massive uptick in both players and rounds played.
The National Golf Foundation reported that the summertime saw the largest year-over-year monthly increase since the data was first tracked two decades ago.
The report also found that there was a 20% increase in children golfing in 2020 compared to 2019.
Golf equipment sales skyrocketed as well.
Many players were golfing for the first time or the first time in a long time.
Several major equipment categories were up over 50% compared to the past years.
It remains to be seen whether these new players will continue to play golf after things return to normal.
All eyes are on 2021 to see how golf continues to perform.
Perhaps we are seeing a revival of the sport, but at the very least the past year has solidified that golf is far from dying.