New research figures revealed by The R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) show golf has enjoyed a significant increase in popularity worldwide since 2016 with over five-and-a-half million additional golfers taking up the sport.
The number of total golfers globally has increased from 61 million to 66.6 million in a five-year growth period, surpassing the previous high mark of 61.6 million set in 2012. The measure includes club members and non-member independent golfers playing nine or 18 holes and users of driving ranges in markets where course availability is limited.
The new figure reflects a positive trend in golf in which participation levels are now rising worldwide after a period of decline. This was recently highlighted in the 2021 European Golf Participation Report, which highlighted that over 10.6 million golfers now enjoy playing full-length courses on the continent – a healthy increase from the 7.9 million last monitored in 2016.
Popularity of sport
Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “Golf is enjoying a real boom in popularity at the moment and we are seeing substantial increases in participation in many parts of the world, particularly in the last two years when the sport could be played safely outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The new figures are very encouraging but we need to work together as a sport to make the most of this opportunity by retaining those people who have returned to golf or tried it for the first time. We can achieve this by offering a variety of attractive and flexible options that encourage golfers to play more regularly and enjoy its many health and wellbeing benefits with family and friends.”
SMS collected participation data reported by national federations in different regions around the world, using nationally representative studies and expert estimates to calculate the global number of total golfers.
Regions experiencing the largest rises include Asia (20.9 million to 23.3 million); Europe (7.9 million to 10.6 million – driven largely by Great Britain and Ireland 3.6 million to 5.7 million); and North America (29.9 million to 30.6 million).
The research figures indicate the growth trend began before Covid-19 and then accelerated during the pandemic as the popularity of golf grew due to golfers being able to socially distance in a safe outdoor setting and stay active to boost their physical and mental health.
In Great Britain, the number of adults playing a nine or 18-hole course began to gradually increase before the onset of Covid-19, rising from 2.5 million in 2017 to 2.8 million in 2018, then to 3 million in 2019, before surging to 5.2 million in 2020.
Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, The R&A sought to carry out additional research into this rise in demand and how different types of golfers were engaging with the sport.
The Post Covid Opportunity Research, along with findings from Bayfirth Research, details experiences of golfers during the pandemic, motivations for playing and long-term plans for the future. Among new golfers, 98% of those interviewed identified they are enjoying playing golf and 95% see themselves playing golf for many years to come.
The research also outlined recommendations clubs can take to retain new players, including feeling welcome and valued; a friendly culture and relaxed atmosphere; participation options based on ability and experience; good customer service; having an efficient booking system; the quality and maintenance of the course; and, importantly, playing in an encouraging environment.
The R&A also launched a Covid-19 Support Fund to help golf deal with the impact of the pandemic, with the £7 million funding package largely aimed at national federations and other affiliated bodies in Great Britain and Ireland.
Further support for national federations is set to come in 2022. The R&A is creating a series of new assets to help market and promote the sport so that more people are encouraged to take up golf and existing golfers are retained.
Three participation reports researched by Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) – the European Golf Participation Reports in 2019 and 2021, produced by The R&A and the European Golf Association (EGA), and The R&A Participation Report 2021 (excluding Europe) – were utilised to provide comparisons and to publish the new data.
With The R&A governing the sport worldwide outside of the USA and Mexico, the data from the USA was taken from the 2020 National Golf Foundation (NGF) Participation Report, where SMS completed the fieldwork for the NGF and were involved in producing the report.