After golf enjoyed a pandemic-fueled resurgence in 2020, the question was whether that momentum could be sustained. As 2021 draws to a close, the answer is a resounding yes.
We’re not just talking about the professional game, mind you. That continues to thrive, as evidenced by the PGA TOUR’s $427 million in tournament purses in 2022 – an average jump of almost 14% per event thanks in part to the debut of a new television rights deal – and the LPGA’s 12% prize money increase to almost $86 million.
Professional golf is indeed in a good place, but of broader importance is the health of a game that’s played by almost 25 million Americans in the world’s biggest golf market. The National Golf Foundation recently reported that the total number of rounds of golf played nationwide will surpass last year’s totals by 4% to 5%. With more than 16,000 golf courses from coast to coast – more locations than either Starbucks or McDonald’s
In 2020, golf boomed after coronavirus-related shutdowns were lifted, with a net increase of 60 million+ rounds that was the biggest since 1997 – the year a 21-year-old Tiger Woods spurred the game to new heights with his breakthrough major win at the Masters Tournament.
In 2021, golfers continued to turn out to the course in droves. This was predominantly driven by a dedicated core of participants, but it was aided by continued flexibility in work schedules, generally friendly golf weather, the ability to hold on to the new and returning golfers who came to the game in 2020, and a renewed appreciation for the physical and mental escape that golf provides for men and women, young and old.
“Last year’s second-half surge was unprecedented, and most people we talked to were going to be happy if the industry could retain most of those rounds. We did,” said NGF President and CEO Joe Beditz, adding that the total number of 2021 rounds will likely be 18% higher than the three-year, pre-pandemic average from 2017-2019.
Beyond filling up tee sheets, golfers went on trips, took lessons and made purchases, from golf clubs and balls to shoes, apparel and accessories.
At PGA Tour Superstore, the golf industry’s biggest retailer, business has been up about 70% over the past two years.
“We’re seeing numbers that are far exceeding what we expected. Historically, it’s being up or down 1% to 2%,” said Superstore CEO Dick Sullivan. “These numbers, as long as we continue with the stickiness, it’s making me very bullish on the future.”
Like other industries, golf retailers and equipment manufacturers have been challenged by supply chain issues. That means, in some instances, fewer golf clubs were available to meet existing demand. But manufacturers with loyal followings, from Taylormade and Titleist to Callaway, Cobra, PING and PXG, have been prepping new product for the start of the 2022 season that golfers are eager to get their hands on.
The hybrid work model that still exists for many employees is conducive to getting out to play golf here and there during mornings or afternoons. It’s also had a positive effect on golf apparel sales.
“People who last year were wearing pajamas to go to work in their houses, they’re now wearing golf shirts,” Sullivan said. “They’re not wearing jackets and ties. The whole world has changed. Our apparel business is certainly significantly stronger than we’ve ever seen.”
The big question for recreational golf coming into 2021 was whether it could sustain the level of engagement and interest seen in 2020.
After all, youth and professional sports made their return, as did other activities and travel opportunities that compete for discretionary time (and money). But golf has continued to shine as one of the country’s top participation sports, all the while bringing in greater diversity throughout its record pool of new golfers.
So, the question looms: what will 2022 bring for golf?